Visiting the donkeysThis time of the year is the beginning of serious food preservation for me. Unfortunately, a lot of folks get the mistaken idea that I just work, work, work. Well, yes and no. Of course I work; if you don’t, you don’t have anything or get anywhere. But I’ve learned to work in cycles and take breaks (even five or ten minutes at a whack) fairly often. And in those breaks, I take time to enjoy my flower beds, the secluded spot where my late husband Bob’s memorial garden is, or just sit by the creek. One of my favorite mini-breaks is walking across our new grass in the front yard, over to the little fish pond that David and I established on the end of one of the flower beds this spring. It’s just one of those cheap plastic, preformed ponds (on sale, of course!), but it came with a pump for a fountain, now re-routed to my on sale beaver spitter and it was quick to put in.

I added some plants, an old stump, rocks and bingo! Instant relaxation. Of course my beaver doesn’t spit when the generator isn’t running, but what the heck.

Even when I work in the garden, I work, then take time to sit on the on-sale bench down there, get up, work some more, sit some more, etc. I get the job done and have a few quiet minutes to enjoy the woods around us. From that bench I’ve seen deer, wild geese only a few feet up, flying to the pond, a wolf hunting mice, red fox, song birds and baby snowshoe rabbits. It’s nice gardening in a nature preserve! And I wouldn’t have seen all that if I didn’t take those few minute breaks in between the work.

Today I canned green beans, put up my favorite bread and butter pickles, took Mom to the thrift store in town, helped David get the four wheeler back running, shoveled out the aisle in the goat barn and worked with David down in the horse pasture, bulldozing a trail for the truck down to the creek. But I also sat on the milking bench and visited with the chickens and goats, went into the donkey’s pen and worked with them some more, teaching them to pick up their feet and stood and talked to David while he took a turn at shoveling the hay dirt out of the aisle.

A nice mixture of work and “play” makes sense. Too much work will just burn a person out so they can’t enjoy anything. We’ve all met them. They’re crabby with their spouse and children, never have a smile on their face and are always in too much of a hurry. Been there done that. Sure, I could get more done in a day. But I like me better the way I am. — Jackie

I’ve put readers’ questions with my answers below:

Canning spaghetti sauce safely

Just found you and love you already — I was looking for some help concerning some spaghetti sauce I made and canned last week. I used a recipe given to me by a friend. I did not have a
pressure canner at the time. The sauce looks great in the jars presently—-but my concern is this: I cooked the tomatoes, peppers, onions for 1 hour, using a blue canner (since I had no pan large enough for all the sauce) I stirred but found out later the scorching on the bottom of the pan actually ate away at the metal!!!!!!!!! Anyway after adding all the spices and seasoning I cooked another 1 hour, then filled hot jars with the sauce and sealed the jars. Now the recipe did not call for putting the jars in hot water and boiling. I am very concerned with two things, one: did the scorching contaminate the sauce? and two: did I need to boil the filled jars in the canner?? If you could answer please, and give me a alternative to these canned jars, (12 jars in all) is it too late to boil the jars at
this time, after 1 week??? I have since purchased a pressure canner and will purchase a new canner to boil the filled jars in the future.

Katy Cole
Woodsfield, Ohio

Did you taste the sauce before you put it in the jars? This will tell you if your sauce is bad from being scorched. Your big problem is that you did not water bath your spaghetti sauce, which is necessary for safe storage. After a week, it is kind of scary as to whether it is okay to eat or not. I hate to have you waste all that sauce. I really, really do, but honey it just isn’t safe to keep.

Next time, keep stirring that kettle when it is thickening. (What I do is put it into a roasting pan like you use for roasting a turkey and put my sauce in the oven overnight on the lowest setting. In the morning it is just about right to can up. No scorching!) Then when the jars are filled, water bath process them for 40 minutes and you’ll have sauce that is tasty and safe to eat. — Jackie

Canning beans safely

I have a pressure cooker (not canner). I want to can chili beans without the meat. Can I pressure cook the pinto beans including the ingredients and then can them in a water bath canner? If yes, how long should I can the chili beans?

PS. I have pressure canned chili beans without meat. My husband is a great pressure cooker. He wants to just pressure cook the beans, add the ingredients and can the product. Less total time involved.

Deborah Nicol
Kamiah, Idaho.

NO, NO! You cannot water bath beans of any kind. They are a low acid food and are a good candidate for food poisoning if water bathed. All low acid foods (vegetables, meat, poultry, fish) MUST be pressure canned in order to be safely stored without refrigeration, i.e., on your pantry shelves. Pick up a pressure canner. They are not expensive and you’ll have so much fun with it!!! I promise. — Jackie

Canning tomatoes

I have a question about canning tomatoes. I’ve been canning for over 30 years and always canned my tomatoes by water bath for 45 minutes. Recently I noticed in the new Ball Blue Book they are saying 1 hour and 25 minutes! What???? That’s a long time and a lot of fuel! How long do you process yours? By the way, should this happen to be published please do not give my full name or town. First name and state is ok.


My Ball Blue Book calls for processing quarts of tomatoes for 45 minutes, which is what I use. The USDA Minnesota Method calls for 50 minutes. — Jackie

Killing weevils and their eggs

Hi Jackie, love your articles. A reader talked about putting white flower in canning jars, screw on the lids, and heating to kill bugs and/or seal the jars. How long and what temp. I’m looking for long
term storage.

Dan Wicker
Howell, Michigan

I would prefer to kill any weevils/eggs in the flour by freezing it for several days, rather than heating it, which could kill some of the nutrients in the flour. You can put it into gallon glass jars and put those into the freezer. When you take them out, you can store them for a long, long time as long as the jars remain airtight. — Jackie


I wanted to know if you knew a recipe for rine pickles my father remembers as a boy. He was raised in West Vriginia and they were very poor. He has a fond memory of these pickles and has been
searching for the recipe for a long time. He remimbers a wood burning fire, large cast iron pot of some sort. They would soak them first in lime, then in allumn, with dill weed.

Jill Archibald
Portsmouth, Virginia

Are you talking about watermelon rind pickles or the ripe cucumber pickels? Let me know and I’ll try to give you some help here with a more “modern” way. — Jackie

Dill pickles

I’ve read your column for years and now I have a question. I just started making dill pickles this year and have 23 quarts done. My wife asked about pickle relish today. Do I grind up pickles or is
there more to it, do I reprocess after I’m done?

Jeff Gaskin

I’ve been most happy by just grinding up some of my dill pickles and packing them into a half pint or pint jar and keeping that in the refrigerator. This lasts a long time. When you try to make dill relish, the heads of dill don’t flavor the whole jar because there isn’t as much vinegar in the jar, as when you make pickles. The bottom layer is very dilly and the top not so dill. — Jackie

Canning a turkey

I am curious on how you would can a turkey? Like the ones in the store, not fresh. I am thinking of buying some when they go on sale for the holidays to can. I do not have a freezer and have to
can everything. Would you cook it in the oven first? Or maybe only cook it partially? Or maybe this is a bad idea? Thank you Jackie. I always check what you have to say about how to do things first, before any book or anyone else. You are the best! Glad to know David is ok.

Kathleen G. Lupole
Oxford, New York

This is a great idea! I’ve done it often when we didn’t raise turkeys. What I do is to cut the turkey into quarters and pop it into a large stock pot and simmer it gently until it is done. Then I bone it and separate it into breast quarters, diced white meat, diced dark meat and pack it into pint jars and half pints, too. I find that half pints come in VERY handy in day-to-day cooking for casseroles and other mixed recipes where you don’t want a meal of turkey. I use the broth and fill the jars, then process them. It’s a great way to get a whole lot of meals out of one bird. And you don’t have to eat it all up in one string, like you do after Thanksgiving; turkey this, turkey that. Eeek. I love turkey, but I do get tired of it that way.

You can also can it after your roast it, but it can become a bit stringy this way; be sure to cover with broth if you do as this helps out that problem. I find that I can cook and can a medium sized turkey in a day without killing myself. So only thaw out what you can handle. — Jackie

More on pickles

I noticed in one of the blog posts (love ’em, by the way) that you said that the “extra waterbath time on pickles and jams was to make sure the lids sealed.” Would it be okay then to use my “foodsaver
canning jar sealer” and skip the waterbath?

Sharon Duffy
Grafton NH

You could do that IF you refrigerated your pickles. They might be okay without it, but I can’t tell you to use that method as it is not approved for food processing. — Jackie

Losing hens’ feathers

I love backwoodshome magazine and eagerly read your columns and articles first. You are my hero(ine). I have a chicken question I hope you can answer. I have 9 hens, approx. 1 year old, in a 12 by 12 enclosed pen. I add hay to the pen once a week or so, and feed them corn and scratch feed in a feeder. I had a rooster in there with them until about 6 weeks ago, but he flogged my daughter when she went in to get eggs one day, so he ended up in the stew pot. Anyway, the rooster had romanced the feathers off the hens backs, literally. I had hoped when he was gone the feathers would return, but instead more fell out. They look so pitiful with featherless or few feathers, on their necks, backs, etc. I made a bigger dust bin for them to bath in, but they didn’t seem real interested and it didn’t seem to help. I was trying to find a simple, frugal solution to this problem, but all I have found is diatomaceous earth. I was told that pool DE was not healthy for the birds. Can you help? I don’t think it is their molt, as they have no little feathers coming back in, but this is my first attempt with chickens.

Ren Reeder
Monroe, NC

I wouldn’t worry about your hens’ feathers, or the lack of them. It generally takes a few weeks for this rooster wear to start growing in. But it will. You won’t have to knit them sweaters for this winter! It’s ugly, but natural. — Jackie

Sunflower seeds

The sunflowers seeds are starting to turn color (ripen). When should I take them off the flower head and after I do that do I have to roast them? I planted them to feed to the birds this winter, but I also want to salt some up for myself. How do I salt and roast some for myself? Do I have to do anything to the seeds for the birds? I have a dehydrator but will this dry the seed out too much?

Thanks Jackie. I love your blog and columns, etc. Whenever I need to know the real basic country way – I read all of your stuff. Will you answer me directly to my email or should I check back on the website?

North Carolina

Sorry but I have to answer you on the blog; I don’t do this myself. Annie Tuttle handles the blog; I’m not computer savy enough yet!

As soon as the sunflower seeds are dark and “normal” looking and the petals start falling from the sunflower, you can harvest the heads. For the birds, just store the heads, hanging up in a garage or barn, tied with string. This should keep the rodents from helping themselves to your harvest. The birds LOVE to pick through a head during a winter. You have not only grown food for them but a superior bird feeder!

For yourself, simply rub the seeds in the head over a basket or bowl. If you have lots and lots, you can make a tool out of a piece of hardware cloth and wood frame to fit over a barrel. Simply rub the seedhead across the wire and the seeds will pull out and fall into the barrel below.

Clean the seeds by tossing them up in a stiff wind. That will remove any chaff.

To salt them, soak the clean seeds in a solution of 1 c salt and 2 c water overnight. Then dip them out and lay them on a cookie sheet in a single layer. You can do two or more cookie sheet’s worth at a time, in your oven, set on 250 degrees. Stir the seeds a bit as they roast and the salt dries on them.

It usually takes about half an hour; sometimes more, sometimes less. Nibble on a seed you think might be done to see if it’s done to suit your taste. Very easy and good too! — Jackie

Hopi grey squash and mayo blusher

Got a great harvest of hopi grey squash and mayo blusher. When will they be ready to harvest and how do I store them? Will the small ones get as hard as the large ones?

Michelle Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

I’m glad you got a good harvest. They are not fussy about storage. I had two under our bed in New Mexico for a year and they were perfect when I found them. (Now you know how good a housekeeper I am!) They do like relatively warm and dark. The very young ones will rot; they won’t mature. But the smaller mature squash will keep as well as the big ones. In fact I had one of these smaller squash in my pantry for a year and a half before it tried to go soft! Amazing.

Remember if you are a seed saver that both Hopi Pale Grey squash and Mayo Blusher are C. maximas and will cross in the garden. The squash seeds will still produce good squash, but they will not be purebred plants. I grow several different kinds of squash in my garden every year (I love squash!), but only one C. Maxima at a time, usually Hopi Pale Grey because it is so rare. — Jackie

Mushy pickled peppers

I tried canning hot peppers using a pressure cooker/canner. I heated up my vinegar solution and poured it over my peppers, sealed the jars and then placed them in the pressure cooker/canner. It took about 10 minutes to get up steam and then I placed the pressure valve on the cooker, and proceeded to cook for the recommended time of 10 minutes. I then took the cooker off the heat and let it cool for about an hour (had to leave for an appointment) before opening, then I pulled the jars out and put them on a towel to cool. The end result, 4 days later was that the peppers were like mush, not crisp at all…where did I go wrong, did I do anything right? Is there an additive that I can add to keep them fresh and crisp?

Clay Eddings
Westlake, Ohio

You do not can pickled peppers in a pressure canner. It will soften them too much. Pickled peppers are processed in a water bath canner after the boiling pickling liquid (vinegar, spices, etc.) is poured over them to within 1/4 inch of the top of the jars and they are capped. The processing time is 10 minutes for pints.

Also a note for folks using a pressure canner for other foods. Do NOT leave food in the canner after it is done processing. When the pressure returns to zero, release any steam and remove the jars immediately. Sometimes they will not seal if you leave them in the canner. Or else the food will get over-cooked and mushy. — Jackie

Water bath canner vs pressure canner

I have enjoyed reading your column. It is full of information. I keep all past issues on hand for reference; they are great to have on hand. I have been reading about canning. Is it better to use a water bath canner or a pressure canner? Also I have read about European canning jars. They use plastic lids with rubber gaskets. They are supposed to have a lower long term cost and be just as effective as metal lid jars. Do you have any preference?

Tish Haight
Myakka, Florida

A water bath canner is used to can jellies, jams, preserves, fruit, tomatoes and pickles as they are all high acid foods, safe from deadly botulism.

A pressure canner is used to can all vegetables, meats, poultry, fish and mixes containing any of them because they are low acid foods and simply boiling them will not kill bacteria that will cause food poisoning. You need the higher temperature provided through steam pressure; i.e. a pressure canner.

I only use the commonly available two piece lids w/rings. They are safe and realatively inexpensive to use. The rings are used over and over and over again as you remove them after the jars are cooled and sealed. Right now, the regular lids I’m using cost $1.29 a dozen at the local store, making the cost of a dozen jars about 11 cents each. I can live with that. Of course, I’d rather have it be cheaper……. — Jackie

Looking for a way to reduce sugar

I have used regular Clear Jel (not instant) for years for making canned pie fillings – my favorites are peach and apple. I have always used the basic recipes published by many county extension offices. But now I would really like to try and adapt the recipes to use way less sugar – possibly even no sugar. I do not want to substitute with any artificial sweeteners or use other forms of sugar such as honey or frutcose. Do you know if it is possible to sweeten these recipes with unsweetened fruit juices? Or, if not, do you know if I can reduce the sugar considerably? My biggest concern is safety of the canned product, second is quality when the jars are opened and the fruit pie filling is reheated in the baking of the pie. I am not diabetic, but for overall health reasons I am always looking for reasons to reduce sugar wherever possible. Just trying to eat healthier for myself and my children!

Sara Garrison

I really think this won’t work as well as you’d like. The safety issue wouldn’t be a problem, as I see it, but when they sweeten commercial products with fruit juice, they use concentrated (usually) white grape juice. By the time you made your concentrate and canned up the pie fillings it would not be cost effective. Consider canning up the fruit with a low sugar syrup, then making your pie filling as you make each pie. But you will probably like it better with some form of sweetner; artificial, sugar or honey. Sorry. — Jackie

No “sure” way to find water

I was glad to learn about your wonderful well. Growing up in East Texas (lots of springs) I remember seeing a neighbor come to our home and “witch” for water. She was quite old, wearing her apron and bonnet, when she took a forked stick and walked around till it started “pulling” and then she stood still while it nodded thirteen times. She turned to my dad and said, “Here is the place – you all will hit water at thirteen feet.” The well driller was there that day and so they did exactly as she said and they hit water at thirteen feet, going down further to allow for a deep casing. Now, my husband is afraid we will spend tons of money drilling for a well and not find water. Please fill us in on the details of how your driller found water – has modern technology allowed them to know for “sure” before they start?

Iris Starks
Dallas, Texas

No, there is no “sure” way of knowing if you’ll find water. In Montana, we had a well driller out and went down 385 feet and never hit water. We ran out of money. There was a seep into the well hole; it was granite all the way down. The seep would slowly fill it up, but that’s all. We were out $5,000 and he “cut us a deal” because there was no water to speak of. — Jackie

Pickling radishes

I love that you’re blogging now, but, I’m still faithful to the print magazine as well. It’s like having Backwood’s on a daily basis now that you’re all blogging.My question is, is it possible to pickle or pressure can radishes?? I’ve ordered a great seed this year, called “Sparkler” from Victory seed company. They mature in 23 days and are very plentiful. As much as I enjoy fresh, I just can’t eat that many all the time, and thought pickling or pressure canning them in the small jam size jars would allow me to have them handy for salads during the fall and winter. What do you think??

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

You can pickle just about every solid garden vegetable. In the orient, pickled radishes are commonplace. I even pickle zuchinni in bread and butter pickle sweet brine and no one can tell. Have fun! — Jackie

Jerusalem Artichokes

I planted a few Jerusalem Artichokes last Spring. I’ve checked the Internet and have found some experts who say you MUST get rid of any “left over” tubers before the next year and others that say just left them “reseed” for an on going crop. Which is best? I thought that they were treated much like perennials and left alone but some agricultural sites warn against that.

Lornie Bullerwell
Ashland, Massachusetts

I’m sure no expert, but I always leave some chokes in the ground so that my patch is definitely a perennial patch. Garden produce that you don’t have to plant and plant again has a definite appeal to me! They CAN run amok and spread if you have just a wonderful climate. No problem with me. I’ll eat all I can grow; they’re that good. Raw or cooked, they can’t be beat and are good for you too. — Jackie

Canning new potatoes

I want to can potatoes. If freshly dug and scrubbed, there is no skin to peel. Do I still need to peel them and if so how do I know if I have gotten everything? Do I need to soak them in ascorbic acid to keep them from browning? If so what is the solution mix? Thanks so much, I am a subsctiber to BHM mag. and enjoy you articles.

Sue Watts
Yelm Washington

No, you do not have to peel new potatoes before you can them. I usually can my new potatoes whole, with the skin on them. When you use them, you can either leave the skins on or simply squeeze them and the skin will slip right off.

If you want to leave the skins on the larger potatoes, you’ll probably want to halve or quarter them, which you would do anyway, canning larger potatoes. These skin-on new potato pieces are very nice to add to a roast or broiled meal; just add them when the meat is nearly done.

Just scrub the potatoes with a vegetable brush and remove any cuts or bruises. I just put my cleaned potatoes in salted water to stand if they’re peeled or cut, to prevent darkening. But you can use Fruit Fresh or ascorbic acid (vitamin C). To use ascorbic acid, you can crush 3 500 mg. tablets in a quart of water and rinse the potato in that before canning. There are several commercial products available, such as Fruit Fresh, and you want to use the manufacturer’s directions. — Jackie