It’s THAT time of year. You plan for it, you dream of it, you drool for it, and then you grouse about it; harvest time. Our garden is terrific this year. And all of a sudden, it’s hitting me square in the behind! I started out dinking with a batch of mixed vegetables, then the carrots I’d thinned. Again. Pretty laid back. Then IT happened.

Everything is ripe at once. Oh my! Cucumbers, green beans, dragon’s tongue beans, peas, onions, carrots, and very soon the corn and tomatoes. Cool! But I’m also trying to take care of Mom and help Tom out on the additions so we can have it ready for a wood stove, come fall. Fall, which is roaring down on me like an out of control freight train.

Tomorrow, they’re even saying the F word on the weather radio. Yes, possible scattered pockets of FROST! EEEK! My corn really needs two more weeks; some is still immature, like my tomatoes. I’ll try to cover what I can, but the corn patch is just too big to do anything with. I’ll just have to pray about that. The root crops will be fine, but my melons, squash, corn, and beans are in peril, not to mention my wonderful tomatoes. Now where is that huge tarp?

Tune in next blog and we’ll all see what happens! Wish me luck!

Readers’ questions:

Canning meat

I’m going to try pressure canning some beef this fall for the first time. I need to pick up cans yet. Can you give me a rough estimate on how many cans it takes, say like about how many pint jars for every 10 pounds of beef? I’ll be packing with broth.

Ellie Boast
De Smet, South Dakota

It really depends on what you are going to be canning. For instance, if you put up deboned steaks, packed fairly tightly into a wide mouthed jar, you’ll get more ounces per jar. However, if you do like I did today, and canned meatballs in tomato sauce, you’ll get less per jar because of the type of product. Out of 10 pounds of ground beef, I got 9 quarts and three pints of end product. If I had been putting up chunks of roast or steak, I would probably have gotten about six quarts because there would have been less liquid because the larger flat pieces fit tighter together than stacks of meatballs. — Jackie

Food storage

I just received the newest issue and look forward to reading your article on dehydrating with a fine tooth comb. I recently used some dehydrated chili on a backpacking trip and it came out GREAT! Now I am inspired to do other stuff for quick and easy meals with very little storage.

I would like some suggestions on using a shed (wooden, next to the house) for a pantry. I have a small kitchen with no room for bulk food storage. I am currently using a small cabinet in the garage for my overflow, which is not insulated nor does it have heat or A/C. I would like a larger dedicated food storage area just outside the kitchen (will not have A/C).

Our winter overnight lows only get to about the mid 20s but the summers/early fall get quite hot. Humidity is also an issue. I am certain that I can keep the rain and most critters out, but what other issue do I need to take into account?

Sharon Payne
Buena Park, California

I would suggest insulating your shed, not only to keep it warmer in the winter, but cooler in the summer. Adding ventilation, via vents or a small attic fan/vent will also do much to help keep air moving and cut down on humidity. Make your shelves out of 2″ thick lumber. I’ve seen a lot of storage shelves made out of 1″ material and they all sag and threaten collapse sooner or later. This also goes for store-bought book shelves. The only ones I’ve used with success are the ones that hold my popcorn tins with dry flours, noodles and dehydrated foods in them. These don’t weigh as much as do my stacks of full canning jars in the pantry. On our old farm, I had shelves in my basement made out of rough-cut one inch lumber and one night there was a terrible crash. Yep, one of the shelves had broken, dumping jars and jars of food on the cement floor! What a mess. Let my mistake help you to not make the same one. Your shed idea is a good one. I would probably add a sturdy locking outside door…or even NOT have an outside door if the shed is accessible to your kitchen or house. In the years to come, food just might become a real target for thieves. — Jackie

Potato seeds

Well, we got the tire, did everything according to direction and are now waiting to harvest our crop of potatoes. However, can anyone tell me why our potato plants have small “tomato” looking fruit on them? Looks like a tomato but smells like a potato! We do have a couple of tomato plants hanging upside down close by but I wasn’t aware these two would cross-pollinate, let alone bear fruit!

Mallory J. Babcock
Troy, Pennsylvania

Your potato did NOT have an affair with your tomatoes! These are potato seeds. They follow the blossoms. Although when we plant seed potatoes, we plant parts of the potato, itself, potatoes CAN be raised from seed. It isn’t as sure a thing as using cut potato sets, though. The seed must be truly mature to be viable, which takes a long growing season. Some seed won’t produce the true variety you want and it takes a long, long season to start that seed indoors, then move the individual plants out; more work less dependable results. You can just ignore the seeds and not worry about them a bit; it’s a natural process. — Jackie

Fig jam

My mom has a fig tree bearing enough fruit to make fig jam for a year. If I cannot do all at once, can the figs be frozen, then used? If not, do you have a very easy recipe that does not require a lot of time to do?

Connie Aldredge
Fountain Valley, California

Yes, you can freeze your figs and make jam later on, when you have more time. A lot of people do this with other fruits, as well, including berries, cherries, plums, and others. Sometimes this time of the year gets pretty hectic, doesn’t it? — Jackie

Concord grape jelly

This is my first attempt at making concord grape jelly, well any jelly for that matter. I followed the recipe which called for 4 cups grape juice 1/2 cup water and 3 cups sugar. I followed the instructions, step by step, with the water bath, and used a thermometer to make sure the water was hot enough (it said to cook it until it was 8 degrees above boiling) the first batch was very watery so I thought maybe I didn’t cook it long enough so i cooked it again and it is still very watery. Should I throw the jars out? (I got 9 8-ounce jars) (I pretty much picked the vines clean so we wont have any more this year) or can I add more sugar and recook or should I use the pectin stuff and how much? What a mess. My husband said we can always used it for “grape syrup on pancakes.” Any advice would be appreciated.

Wayne & Carol Pitsenberger
Sevierville, Tennessee

You started with a harder way to make jelly; with no pectin. While grape jelly often sets well with no added pectin, sometimes it takes a little experience in getting the jell point just right. You want to boil it down till when you dip up a spoonful with a clean spoon and hold it above your kettle, the jelly oozes together, making a sheet instead of drops when it pours back into the kettle. Yours probably didn’t reach this point. But don’t throw it out. Pick up a box of powdered pectin. Then get ready to make jelly again. You’ll need bottled lemon juice. To each quart of jelly, dumped into a large saucepan so you can wash and sterilize your jars again, you’ll need 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 2 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice and 4 tsp. powdered pectin. Add all that in another large saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing well. Add your jelly and bring that to a boil, boiling 1/2 minute. Pour out into your sterilized jars and put hot, previously simmered NEW lids on the jars and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. This will set for you. Until you get more experience, why don’t you use powdered pectin and use the recipes in the box. After quite a bit of success that way, you can try different methods and you’ll probably succeed quite well. Enjoy. — Jackie

Jars not sealing

I have been doing a lot of canning and have always used the Kerr/Ball lids. Today I was hauling more jars to the shelves and I noticed that on a few jars the lids had unsealed. These jars of peaches have been stored for a few weeks. I was going to take my corn to the shelf too and noticed 2 more jars where the lid unsealed. Am I doing something wrong or is this a bad batch of lids? I am very careful about wiping jars and making sure there is enough head space in the jar.

Would it help if I left the rings on?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

It is possible you got bad lids, but I really don’t think that’s the problem. Did you simmer your lids? Once I was in a hurry and just kind of like dipped them into the boiled water. Mistake! I had several jars in two batches that didn’t seal. Are you only tightening your rings “firmly tight”? Another time, I was in a bad mood after fighting with the kids on a hot day. I guess I took out my frustration on the rings; they were REALLY tight. Yep, more unsealed jars; the jars couldn’t exhaust like they should. It’s a wonder I didn’t break jars! Because you had failures with both pressure canned and water bath processed foods, I wouldn’t look at your canner for a problem like a gauge that was misreading. I know things like this are frustrating. I hope you have much better luck in the future. — Jackie

Canned meatball recipes

Will you please share the recipes for your meatballs and the different sauces you have canned them in? I have been canning everything I can get my hands on, since buying my first pressure canner this spring, and have enjoyed every minute. If it can’t get away from me, I put it in a jar. I love hearing those lids ping and pop! Since I’m starting out new, I’ve had to purchase jars, but our local Ace Hardware is selling them for $7.00 a dozen until the end of August, so each payday I buy a few more. Everyone else is selling them for $12, so I’m getting as many as possible from Ace. I just wanted to say thank you for encouraging people to try new things. I’m having such a wonderful time.

Rosemarie Wesolek
Mahaffey, Pennsylvania

I’m having fun canning right now. I first made meatballs, using institutional sized cream of mushroom soup, diluted with water mixed with the drippings from the pan I cooked the meatballs in. I was frying my meatballs in two frying pans but a friend told me she put hers into a roasting pan and baked them. They brown on all sides with no fussing around turning them over all the time. I did that today and it worked great! My meatballs in mushroom sauce goes like this: I used 10 pounds of hamburger (on sale, of course!). To that, I mixed 1 cup chopped onions, 1 Tbsp. black pepper and 4 Tbsp. seasoning salt. I smushed that in well with my hands and formed up the meatballs. You can also mix in cracker crumbs or oatmeal and eggs, like you do meatloaf, if you wish. Bake the meatballs in roasting pans at 350 degrees, until just done; they shrink down. Pour off most of the grease. Dip the meatballs out with a wooden spoon and gently slip into wide mouth canning jars. While the meatballs are baking, heat 2 family sized or 1 institutional size can of cream of mushroom soup and half a can of water in a large saucepan to nearly boiling. Add your pan drippings, diluted with another 1/2 can of water. Pour this into your mushroom soup and mix well. Ladle this over your meatballs, to within 1 inch of the top. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 90 minutes for quarts or 75 minutes for pints. If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning manual for instructions on adjusting your pressure to suit your altitude.

Today I made meatballs with green peppers and onions, with tomato sauce. I simply added chopped green peppers to the other recipe and mixed in well, topping the full jars with home canned tomato sauce from last season.

Tomorrow, I’m making Italian meatballs, using garlic, onion, basil, and oregano and using the tomato sauce. Instant spaghetti meatballs! It’s so fun!

Remember, all meat products are processed for the same time, so you can use any recipe you like. — Jackie


  1. I was looking at your recipe for meatballs and I noticed you suggested that oatmeal or crackers and eggs could be added. I thought that was a No-No
    Please explain why you say it can be added whenever canning meatballs?
    I am a newbie and at the moment confused by everyone doing things different.

  2. I was looking over your canned meatball section. I was wanting to can just the meatballs…no spaghetti sauce, no mushroom sauce. Would it be better to just partly cook the meatballs, then add them to the jars, and divide the “drippings” ? Would there be enough drippings to can them? If I did these in qt jars….how long and at what pressure? Help!?

  3. Thanks to Rosemary for asking for your meatball recipes – I was wishing for them too! Also, I have had great luck finding canning jars of all sizes at my local thrift store. My store sells them per jar for 30 – 50 cents a piece (depending on size). This is a good savings over the $7 -9 a box price I’ve found here locally. I have also noticed that the selection and price is best before everyone is in the kitchen canning!

  4. I just had a comment for the people making grape jelly. I don’t know if this is common or not as I am a fairly new canner myself, but it always takes about a week for my grape jelly to firm up. It’s still a bit soft when I first take it out of the pantry but after it gets cold in the fridge it is perfect. You can’t beat the taste of homemade grape jelly and knowing that beautiful color is all natural.

  5. Ah Jackie! Today I almost feel like a real homesteader like you! I too have bit hit with my very prolific garden this last few days. I love/hate it! It’s wonderful to see the jars on the shelf….well, they will be on the shelf as soon as they cool down.

    I’m getting ready to pull out the issue from a few months ago where you canned “ready made meals”. I’m going to try some chili and some meatballs.

    You are a great inspiration. Hopefully you can “relax” a little when the crops are all in!

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