Ask Jackie Online by Jackie Clay Published 061026

Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

October 26, 2006
Jackie Clay

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Broken seals

We picked are first batch of beans and we tried to can them. Every thing went well until the next day. All my beans had sealed the night we did them. The next day I noticed that the jars looked cloudy, and sure enough the seals had broken loose. What causes this to happen when they all sealed and popped the night before? Can you give me some tips please, because that was a waste of time.

DKatte1092 at

The only time I had this happen was when I was canning a pickup load of sweet corn. I had canned all day and all night. The last batch, I was so exhausted that I didn’t let the pressure gauge return to zero; I tweaked the pressure petcocks a bit to let the steam escape quicker. The jars all sealed when I took them out. But in a month, I noticed a “smell” in my pantry. All 22 pint jars had come unsealed and were very spoiled. (I didn’t check them after I had them cooled down and put on the shelves in the basement.)

This can also happen if you didn’t let the canner exhaust steam long enough to drive the air out of the canner before you closed the petcocks. You need to exhaust it long enough that it drives a steady stream of steam from the petcocks forcefully, not sputtering. Or follow your canner’s directions in this regard.

This was an unusual happening, and I hope your next batch works out much better. While learning, we always make an error or two, but in awhile you’ll be an old hand. Just don’t give up. Persistence always pays.

If you catch an unsealed jar within 12 hours, you can reprocess it, using a new lid, and the food will be fine.

" Jackie

Chokecherry jelly

I have been trying to make chokecherry jelly for about a year and I have no luck. Ever time I try it, the jelly will not set up firm like jelly does. The recipe I am using is about the same as yours. I was told that I had to add lemon juice or apple juice to get it to set up because chokecherries don’t have pectin in them. But that still didn’t help.

Dana Briggs
Diamdld at

Here are a few things that makes a batch of jelly not want to set:

You doubled or tripled the recipe. You can’t do this, and must make small batches of jelly at a time. You didn’t give it long enough after it was processed. Some jellies, including strawberry and chokecherry sometimes require up to a month to set up. You might have used larger jars; jelly sometimes doesn’t want to set in pint or quart jars; this is why jelly jars are smaller. You might have used too much water to start your fruit cooking to get your juice. You only need a very little, and I even use apple juice instead of water for this reason. Sometimes chokecherries are quite dry and you really need to mash them and work them to get all the juice you can while they’re cooking down.

Check your recipe again; make sure you followed it EXACTLY. One little variation can result in jelly not setting. It is picky about this. The good thing is that even if it doesn’t jell well, you still have killer syrup. We also flavor yogurt with it and pour it into milkshakes and over ice cream. There is no true failure. Just sometimes things don’t turn out like we planned.

" Jackie

Corn for flour

This spring I planted field corn in my garden to hopefully provide corn for flour for cornbread, etc. Now I am wondering if field corn is the right kind. Should I have planted sweet corn and let it mature to the dry stage and the grind?

I am wondering how to get rid of elm trees that sprout and grow along the edges of my garden. They are in the fence so I cannot dig them out, nor douse them with some sort of plant killer. I keep cutting them back but they keep growing with a vengence. They have been there for some time, so are well rooted.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Any corn will make corn meal. Generally, you want one with at least some flint corn characteristics for corn meal. But it will all work. Some of the best-tasting cornmeal I have made was from some mature sweet corn. A newer variety I’m growing is Painted Mountain, which is a pretty “Indian corn” type, in color. It matures at 90 days (dry) and tastes real good.

As for the elm sprouts, I assume you don’t want to use brush killer on them. That does work, but I know I hate using chemicals around my garden. Depending on the kind of fence you have, you can cover the cut-off sprouts with black plastic or many layers of newspaper, weighting it down with rocks or mulch. If it’s a wire fence, you have problems. I would do one small section at a time, and pour a LOT of boiling water on each section, every time you see sprouts coming up. When that part seems to have died down, do another. But keep an eye on the treated section and re-do it at first sign of elm shoots.

Do any readers have any other ideas for Gail?

" Jackie

Holsteins for beef

My father and I have decided to raise our own beef. We don’t know much about the best breeds of cattle to use. We have been offered two baby Holsteins, both steers, free-of-charge. We want to make sure that we are going to have the best tasting beef possible. I have heard the Holsteins aren’t the best for raising cattle. Please help us make the right decision.

Rainier, Oregon

Grab those Holsteins! True, they aren’t a “beef” breed, but I’ll guarantee that they’ll provide you with some of the best tasting beef you’ve ever tasted. The reason people say they’re not a good beef breed is that they are a tall, large-boned breed of cattle. But, that won’t hurt them for homestead use. You aren’t raising them to sell as beef. So the ratio of gain won’t matter. Only the taste and tenderness of your own homegrown meat. It will be fantastic!

" Jackie

Dehydrating meats

I am trying to preserve both chicken and beef to cut the weight of my food supplies. It’s extremely difficult to find information about how to dry beef or chicken, and I’m hesitant to do it on my own for fear of doing it improperly and getting sick. Also a mystery is the actual calorie content of dried foods after they have been dried. Can you offer any guidance?

Patrick Kee
Richmond, Virginia

I don’t believe it is safe to dehydrate meat or poultry at home, except in jerky form. The dehydrated products that are sold are freeze-dried, which is a whole other ball game than air/heat dehydrating, that we do at home. If you want to stock dehydrated meats or poultry, I would suggest you buy some #10 cans from a preparedness company, such as Emergency Essentials, to have on hand.

The calorie content of rehydrated, dried meats and poultry remains the same as when it was to start with.

" Jackie

Canning cherry tomatoes

My garden is running over with cherry tomatoes. I am canning regular tomatoes but what is the process for cherry tomatoes or is it possible to can? I do not want to peel the skin off of those little things.

Stephanie Spencer
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Your best bet is to either pick up a food strainer, such as a Victorio Food Strainer, or beg or borrow a friend’s for a few days. This gadget is like a meat grinder in that a spiral blade forces the raw tomatoes down and through a stainless-steel screen, effectively separating the skins and seeds from the puree. You just pour in the little tomatoes and turn the handle. The junk comes out one place and the puree slides out the chute, as nice as pie. I can’t imagine canning without mine now. It saves tons of time and is so easy. Even for those big tomatoes.

" Jackie

Stacking pints

I have been canning for quite some time, and just realized I could stack my pint jars. My question since I cannot find my instruction book is this….I have a 22 quart Mirro canner and want to know how many pints I can stack on top. It holds 7 quart jars, and I can get 7 pint jars on the bottom, but didn’t know if there is a limit for the top. I have one rack, do I need to use one on the bottom also? I have always just done single batches! Thank you for your help.

Carolyn Riemann
Carey, Idaho

Yes, you can do double batches with your pressure canner. I do it all the time. You need the rack on the bottom or you’ll crack the bottoms out of a lot of jars. Find or make another rack for the top layer. I cut down the wire rack from a dart board! All you need is something that will hold the jars off the tops of the other jars and allow steam to circulate around all of the jars. Don’t place one jar directly over the lid of another; stagger them so there is no pressure on the lower lids. You are limited only in the amount of jars you can fit on the top layer, while not severely crowding the canner. You don’t want to squeeze and shove jars into place; they need to set nicely and easily into place or the steam won’t circulate well.

My old, huge canner will do 22 pints on the bottom layer and the same on the top, staggered of course. That’s a LOT of canning. But it does take longer to exhaust the canner when I put in raw foods with boiling water poured into the jars. The jars are hot, but not that hot.

" Jackie

Pickling lime

When they say lime what type of lime are they talking of in reference to lime pickles? If it is not lime juice, what is it?

Barry Gordon
bgweld1 at

When you use lime in pickle making, you are using pickling lime. This is available at most grocery stores, especially at this time of year. No, it is not lime juice.

" Jackie

Canner boiling dry

I’ve been canning for about 2 years now, thanks to the inspiration from your column. But, lately I’ve been having a problem with my canner. When I open it after it’s done processing and cooling, there’s only a tiny bit of water left, just enough to cover the rack in the bottom. (It has no pressure gauge, so I wait until it reaches room temperature before opening. It was labeled as a combination cooker/canner.) Until recently, there would be enough water to reach at least halfway up the sides of the jars.

The first time, I thought I just had not added enough water, but it happened again even when it was filled almost to the brim with water.

Since I was canning a soup containing meat, I put the latest batch in the fridge. The first time this happened I just set the jars aside to see if they spoiled. They did; however, the outsides of those jars were greasy, indicating that they’d boiled over. These last ones were clean and dry.

Any idea what might be wrong with my canner, and how to fix it? Or, do you know where I can get a better one for under $20? (I’ve been searching garage sales with no luck.)

Melanie Rehbein
starinthedarkness at

I’m assuming you have a pressure cooker/canner here. In most of these, you only put an inch of water in the bottom of the cooker and do not fill it up almost to the brim. (Of course, use the directions which came with your cooker.) It may be that it is developing too much pressure, which is forcing too much steam to escape; i.e., no leftover water. I do not think pressure cooker/canners are good enough for serious canning. I would much rather have folks pick up a good used pressure canner.

No, I don’t know where you can buy one for less than $20. But I know if you really ask around, advertise in local shoppers, put notes up in church or other places, you will find just such a canner, complete with an instructional folder and perhaps a new good friend. Good luck.

" Jackie

Jars boiling over

I just ran across your website & saw you had an email where I could email questions to. So thankful!

I’ve been canning green beans lately (this is now my 3rd batch that I’m on). I’ve been having problems with some of the jars boiling over so when they come out, they’re only part-way full of liquid. Not all of the jars, only some of them & they all seal. I’ve never had a problem with any of my stuff not sealing (thankfully, at least not yet). I’ve been at this for only 3 years now & this is the first time my beans have done it. Usually it’s just my carrots. Can you give me some tips/pointers to make this not happen anymore?

I do everything in the pressure cooker. I do quart jars for 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure (per another website) and my pint jars for 20 minutes at 10 pounds pressure, 4 pint jars at a time, and 1 or 2 will always come out only 1/2 full of liquid. Seven quart jars at a time & the same thing; there’s always at least 2 that come out only 1/2 full. Any help would be much appreciated. Everyone around me always uses a boiling water bath instead of the pressure cooker. I’ve always been told not to do vegetables in the boiling water…help! Thank you so much.

Laura Ries
Watertown, South Dakota

There are several possibilities here. The first is the most unlikely; your pressure gauge may be off, letting the jars process at a too high temperature. The rest are more likely. You could be filling some of the jars too much. Don’t press the beans down in the jar to get more in them. And make sure you release any air bubbles, using a wooden spoon handle or small spatula.

And don’t listen to folks saying how they’ve “always” water bathed green beans. They’re playing Russian roulette and may soon lose.

" Jackie

Old-fashioned mincemeat

Found an old recipe for fruit mincemeat and have two questions:

What can I substitute for suet?

And can I water-bath can pints of this to give as gifts?

Here’s the recipe, but it comes from Old-time Pickling and Spicing Recipes – 110 Small Quantity Favorites for Today’s Homemakers by Florence Brobeck, author of the Good Salad Book – page 44

3 large oranges, grated peel and juice only
6 eating apples, washed, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup chopped suet
1 cup seedless raisins, soaked and drained
1 cup finely cut dried peaches, soaked and drained
1 cup finely cut dried apricots, soaked and drained
1/2 cup finely cut citron
1 cup grated or ground scraped, washed carrots
2 Tbsp. powdered cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. powdered allspice
1/2 tsp. powdered mace
1/2 Tbsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. powdered cloves
2 cups light molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup boiled cider

Mix all ingredients in an agate or enamel kettle, or large bowl. Pour into sterile jars. Seal. Store in refrigerator or dark cool place to ripen at least 10 days before using. Unusually good. Makes 6 pints.

A. Eadie
Staunton, Virginia

You really can’t “substitute” something for the suet. Although it is fat and a lot of people don’t want to use it, it does give a certain “richness” and flavor. You can, however, omit the suet. Why don’t you try a batch and see if its taste pleases you? If it does you can gently bring the mixture to a boil then fill your jars and process it in a water bath canner for 15 minutes and keep it indefinitely.

" Jackie

Canning potato soup

I make a great potato soup, and my children tell me I should can it and sell it. I don’t want to sell it, but would love to can it for the winter. I include milk and sour cream in it. Do you have any recipes for potato soup that can be canned? I think I could mix everything and can it except the milk and sour cream and add it when I open it. What do you think? Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail and answer my questions.

Carrie Frye
Medaryville, Indiana

My favorite potato soup goes like this: Add just enough water to boil quartered potatoes in a covered pot. Then add powdered chicken soup base to taste. When potatoes are quite soft, run through a ricer or mash very well. You can also leave chunks if you prefer a more solid soup. I then add onion powder, and grated carrot. I make enough to can, leaving enough potato water/chicken soup base that the “soup” will pour well into the jars. Process quarts for 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure and pints for 35 minutes, unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude; consult your canning manual for instructions.

When I want to use my soup base, I pour it into a saucepan with enough fresh milk to make it as thick as I want; if it seems too thin, I’ll also add 1 Tbsp. melted butter and 1 Tbsp. flour worked into the butter, then added to the milk. This works well for me. You could also add your sour cream at this time. (I think I’ll try it; sounds good!)

" Jackie

Freezing rice

I read your column and truly enjoy all your tips and advice you offer. Have put alot of your info to good use.

My question is about long-term storage of rice and dried beans. My husband and I like medium-grain rice and can’t buy it here in Missouri where we live now, so when we go home to visit in Wisconsin, we buy 40 lbs. of rice, and put it in glass gallon jars and store in our pantry (no basement). Can I freeze the rice for about a week and then take it out and store it as usual? Same for dried beans. I did have bugs once in my rice, and had to throw out 20 lbs.

Monica Orchard
morchard000 at

Yes, you can freeze your rice, and any other dry foods you worry about having insect problems with. Just make sure they are in an airtight container so that the food doesn’t pick up any moisture from the freezer.

" Jackie

Raising asparagus

This is the first time we have tried to raise asparagus. The “ferns” have bent over. Should we clip them or let them go? Any other advice about asparagus would be greatly appreciated.

Salvatore Melone
sulmona at

While some gardeners advocate cutting the dried asparagus ferns to avoid disease and pests overwintering in them, I have had good luck leaving them right where they grew. They hold snow over winter and also mark the plants so you can more easily find the new spears in the spring. Remember to let the plants produce spears again next spring and only harvest them the NEXT year or when they have good size. And then be very sparing of them the first harvest. If you do, the plants will build a huge root system and you will have lots of asparagus nearly forever.

" Jackie

Growing and preserving citron melon

I’ve never grown citron melon before. How do I know when it is ready to harvest and how do I use it or preserve it?

Rita Flener
Cromwell, Kentucky

Citron is ripe when it is uniformly colored and you see mature seeds when you cut one of the small watermelon-like fruits open. You can pickle it, using any watermelon rind pickle recipe, sweet or sour. Or you can make preserves from it by using 11/2 quarts of peeled, fleshed rind, sliced into 1″ pieces, 4 Tbsp. salt, 31/2 quarts cold water, divided, 1 Tbsp. ginger, 4 c sugar, ¼ c lemon juice, and 1/2 c thinly sliced and seeded lemon.

Dissolve salt in 2 quarts cold water and pour over rind. Let stand over- night. Drain, rinse and drain again. Cover rind with cold water and let stand 30 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle ginger over rind. Cover with water and cook until tender. Drain.

Combine sugar, lemon juice, and 11/2 quarts water in large pan. Boil 5 minutes. Add rind. Boil until rind is transparent and syrup thickens. Add sliced lemons. Cook 5 minutes. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headroom. Process 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Or you can simmer the prepared peel, cut into smaller pieces, in a heavy syrup until tender and transparent. Then dehydrate. This citron can be used in any recipe calling for citron. (Be aware, though, that the citron you buy in stores is usually the citrus fruit “citron”; same name, different item entirely.) But, your citron melon pieces will certainly work well and be a tasty addition to any baked goods, puddings, or whatever.

" Jackie

Cloudy pickle juice

I used grandma’s recipe and put the pickles in the crock for 5 days, changing the water every day. On the 5th day I ran off the water and added the syrup (vinegar, sugar, spices, salt) and let sit for 2 days. Today I took it out of crock and brought it to a boil. My liquid is sort of cloudy " is that a problem? Maybe I didn’t get all of the water with salt out? All of the jars have sealed. Thanks for your help; just want to know if it is safe to eat.

brigadoon12 at

Not knowing your grandma’s recipe I can’t be sure, but probably your pickles are fine. The presence of a little sediment that settles on the bottom of the jars is normal. You won’t get sick from eating pickles that are nice and firm, look fine, and smell fine. If they should spoil, they will soften, the brine will get cloudy, and the jars may come unsealed. If you followed your grandma’s recipe exactly and she always had good luck, probably you will too.

" Jackie

Concentrating grape juice

I am trying to find out how to make frozen grape juice concentrate like the kind you buy in the stores; of course homemade would be much better for us. Can you help me out?

Donna Schimke
Warroad, Minnesota

To concentrate your grape juice, try freezing it. Then set it out at room temperature to thaw it. I’ve used clean, well-washed plastic jugs for this. As it thaws, the water will separate from the more solid juice. This is your concentrate. Pour off the juice (as it has natural sugars, it thaws first, before the water). Most of the time, you don’t need to add sugar, depending on the sweetness of your grapes, of course. I’ve had some very sour wild grapes! Freeze your concentrate in freezer boxes or in wide- mouth canning/freezing jars. Reconstitute and add sugar or honey to taste. This is very good, and good for you.

" Jackie

Mirro pressure canner

I inherited a pressure canner from my mother-in-law and have no idea how to use it. Can you help me? It is called “Mirro.” It has a little weight that goes on the top, but I have no idea what that means! And when I put large Mason jars in it, I can’t cover them with water, it isn’t deep enough. Is this making sense? I feel like throwing it away and getting a new one just to get the owners’ manual. But I am determined to do this. I live in Gold Country in Northern California and have been harvesting the wild berries all summer and caning them. I love it. I am interested in pressure canning now that my tomatoes will be ready soon. Thank you for answering what is probably the simplest of questions for you.

Cierra Pera
theperas at

Your Mirro is probably a fine canner. Now there are Mirro “pressure cooker/canners” and pressure canners. The canner is larger and has two handles, one on each side. The cooker is about the size of a large saucepan, only heavy aluminum. It usually has only one long handle on the side, one on the lid, and a matching one on the pot itself.

I don’t like to advise anyone to use the cooker for a canner; they just aren’t adequate for the job.

But if yours is a canner, you can safely can with it. Buy a canning manual and follow the directions in that, as a Mirro is a name-brand canner with “normal” features.

You don’t have to pressure can your tomatoes or tomato products unless they contain meat or a lot of other vegetables. Tomatoes are low acid and are easily canned in a boiling water bath canner. With this you only need to get your jars of food into the hot canner, put the lid on, and watch for it to begin boiling. Then you can do something else without hovering over the canner, watching the pressure gauge like a hawk. Just time the water bath canner’s processing and remove the jars when done.

" Jackie

Field corn and washing soda

I planted field corn with the plan to grind it for corn meal for cornbread. But when I grind it it becomes flour, which is just not the same. Should I have used ripe sweet corn? How do I get the right consistency for cornmeal instead of flour?

Is washing soda the same as baking soda? Can I substitute baking soda for washing soda when making my own laundry detergent? I am assuming that substituting washing soda for baking soda would not be good because it is not food grade. Is this correct?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Your field corn is probably a flour corn, which has a softer consistency. The kernels of this corn are dented in and shiny dull in appearance. You want a flint corn, or at least a flint/flour corn. This corn has kernels that are rounded and shiny, like popcorn. (You can grind popcorn for cornmeal, but it is more expensive unless you grow your own.)

I’ve had great luck grinding sweet corn for cornmeal by adjusting my grain mill to a coarse grind. But it is usually a more “flour” corn texture. The taste is great, but it makes a more dense cornbread.

Washing soda is not the same as baking soda. Washing soda is hydrated sodium carbonate and baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Do not use washing soda in any type of cooking or baking. It could cause severe gastric problems.

" Jackie

Purple hull peas

I am a novice home canner and would appreciate your advice. I canned several quarts of purple hull peas and the liquid in the jars looks almost black. All the jars sealed, but the color just doesn’t look very tasty. Is this normal?

Marilyn Daigle
Waldron, Arkansas

The color probably comes from the purple color in the peas reacting to minerals in your water. When you go to use the peas, just make sure the seal is good and tight and that the peas smell good and appear firm. You can drain off the dark canning liquid and heat them in fresh water if you would like, just to improve their appearance.

Next time, if you want, you could use bottled water for the canning liquid (gallon jugs from the store) and see if that gives you prettier peas.

" Jackie

Fruit juice into fertilizer

I have lots of fruit pus or the remains of fruit after juicing. I would like to turn it into fertilizer but do not know how. Can you please help?

kwongshu at

The simpliest way to use fruit pulp for fertilizer is to stir it into the compost pile. If you do not have a compost pile, you can also dig a shallow trench in your garden and dump it in there, covering it with a couple of inches of soil to prevent insects and rodents from being attracted. In a few weeks, this will have naturally rotted and provide great fertilizer right in your garden. You can also use this method in small spots under fruit trees, shrubs, and around perennial flowers. Simply dig a hole large enough to contain the pulp, then cover it up. Instant fertilizer. Don’t over-do, though, in one spot. Too much of a good thing might result in lush plant growth but no flowers or fruit.

" Jackie

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