Seed Catalogs

This year, I’ve been getting seed catalogs for nearly a month now. So Will and I have been discussing different varieties that we’d like to try. We’ve already ordered 9 new apple trees, a pear, cherries, and a plum from Fedco. Oh, the plans we have! What fun! We’re going to move the berries out of the main garden and up by the old mobile home, in their own berry patch. This frees our big garden of obstacles for tilling and hauling manure and compost, making it easier to turn around on both ends. And it gives us about 1/4 more garden space for vegetables!

Now we only have to decide on the varieties we want to plant this spring. Because there’ll be two of us this spring, we’ll probably try a few longer season tomatoes and get them into the Wallo’ Water plant protectors quite early. I grew some Climbing Triple Crop tomatoes last summer and they made fruit, even though they are a 85 day tomato, and that was without the Walls. We’ll see how much we can push our “window” of growing season this year!

I want to start my pepper plants mid February, so we are getting serious about ordering a few new varieties to try. Of course, I already have a lot of seed saved up, but there’s always something new (or old, as in heritage varieties!) to try. Both Will and I love saving seeds, so we are heading more and more toward all open pollinated vegetables.

If you haven’t gotten a Baker Creek Heritage Seed catalog, you ought to check it out. Wow what a choice in veggies! And gorgeous pictures, too. Ahhhh spring is just around the corner…A few blizzards away.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning store-bought ham

I know you have talked about canning store-bought ham in the past, but I can’t find any instructions from you about how to do it. With the holidays upon us, hams are relatively inexpensive, and I’d like to try to can some ham.

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

The way I do ham is to heat the ham in a roasting pan until warm throughout. Then I cut the ham into 1″ slices, chunks or dices and pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1″ of head space. I make a ham broth or just pour boiling water over the ham, leaving 1″ of head space. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process half pints and pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a pressure canner. (altitude adjustments possible over 1,000 feet; consult your canning manual)

This ham is great and I use it every week! I’m buying it on sale right now, too. I think you’ll see the price of meat skyrocketing pretty soon. Good move! — Jackie

Buying #10 cans of food and re canning them

As I was stocking up on some items at the grocery store before the next snow storm, I noticed that many canned goods such as mushrooms have gone way up in price. Is it possible to buy the really large (institutional size) can of mushrooms and recan them into smaller jars? If so how long do you process them? I would put them 1/2 pint jars. How do you know how long to process re canned items such as the spaghetti sauce you made out of the huge cans of tomato products that your friend brought you a few weeks back? I would also be interested in re canning 1/2 pint jars of tomato paste. I am noticing that the huge cans of mushrooms, paste, olives etc are over 1/2 the price in savings of the little ones (if you bought the same number of ounces). That’s a huge savings for me.

I want to thank you for telling another person how to can celery a few times back. I found celery really cheap at one store and canned it! Thanks for the savings!!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

If you’ve got the jars and don’t have to buy them to re-can the #10 cans, it does save a bunch. Anything you re-can must be processed the same as if it was done from raw products. For instance, when canning fresh mushrooms, you process them (after boiling 5 minutes) for 45 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. When re-canning canned mushrooms, you also process them for 45 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

Be a little cautious about canning tomato paste. It is a dense product and you could run into problems with the heat not penetrating the centers of the jars. What I do is to thin the paste with sauce, making a thick sauce and can that instead of ultra thick paste. It works the same in recipes but is not so thick that heat won’t penetrate to the center of the jars. You will be processing pints for 35 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. (altitude adjustments possible) — Jackie

Getting back to basics

My husband, 3 teens and I live on a 37 acre farm. I have just retired and would like to go “back to the basics.” How to start is my first question. We have 125 head of beef cattle, 1 horse, 3 cats, and we raise hay for sale and our own use. I used to raise a garden, but stopped a couple of years ago. We live in an underground house. Sounds like we already do basics, but not anymore. Seems we got away from it as the children got older and we became a “little” materialistic. How to start over and how to convince 3 teens the value of simple, frugal living. Where to start and how to continue to become self sufficient is my question?

Audrey Thompson
Abingdon, Virginia

It sounds like you have the base for a great start at getting back to basics. And this doesn’t need to mean farming without any gas powered equipment, either. The best way to go “back” is the same way you went “worldly,” a little at a time. Too sudden a change is hard on everyone. Find your way to the good life, one step at a time, with a definite goal in mind. Don’t expect your teens to embrace your choice at first and don’t put too many restrictions on them or they’ll buck. The best way to teach any life skill is by example.

When your kids see how much you enjoy what you’re doing, it’ll seem like fun and they’ll join in. If not, remember that they’re individuals too, and may not make the choices that you do. But you’ll be surprised, even then, when later on, down life’s road, to find them returning to their roots. My oldest son, Bill, is now growing a garden and is building a chicken coop after years of saying “No way!”

A good way to start is to downsize as much as you are comfortable with at the time. Maybe in a few years, you’ll downsize again so that you’re enjoying yourselves even more. I, at one time, milked 100 goats. It was enjoyable, but a whole lot of work. Now I am milking 2 and look forward to going out there every day. It’s much more fun!

In the same vein, I used to hay 12 places, and was on a tractor seat a lot of hours, every single day until it snowed. Now we are building up two 7 acre fields, planning on eventually haying that and probably renting a small field for more hay. But no big haying for me; I am enjoying being little!

Maybe you might start with growing a garden again. It is a definite good idea, considering the depression we’re headed into. Your teens probably will really enjoy eating home raised vegetables and may show interest in helping out.

Talk to them about your ideas and choices, and ask for their suggestions and ideas. When I’ve done this, I’ve always been surprised at how grown up some of their ideas are. And when the teens are let put some of their ideas into practice, they feel more “grown up” and a part of the whole process, instead of just a forced work crew. The best of luck! — Jackie

Canning bacon, butter, and turkey

I am wanting to can some bacon and homemade butter. I read your column on canning meats and bacon wasn’t mentioned. I would really appreciate knowing how to do this as soon as possible.

Another question I have is concerning our turkey that we canned in a pressure cooker. I know in a water bath that you only screw on the lid till it meets first resistance, or so I have been told. But what about in a pressure cooker. When we pressured the turkey, a lot of the broth oozed out of the jars. Did I not get the lids tight enough? And also, I was canning at 12 lbs pressure because we live at 2000 feet, and sometimes it went up to 13. What happens if we can a little higher pressure, does it hurt the food and can we have too much pressure?

Thank you so much for answering my questions. I haven’t pressured food for 20 years and have forgotten a lot of it, even though we had the gauge checked at the extension office.

Linda Monfort
Cusick, Washington

I recently talked about canning bacon on my blog, but here’s the basics, in case you missed it. I can mostly home smoked sides of bacon; they’re firmer and not as fatty. You can also can “store” bacon, but the pieces that are not sliced can up much nicer than regular sliced bacon. At any rate, try to get bacon that is as lean as possible. I put my bacon in a roasting pan, in the oven, and roast at 250 degrees until it shrinks some, heating throughout. Then I cut it into jar-sized pieces and pack hot into hot wide mouth jars. I add no liquid. Bacon is processed for 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts, at 10 pounds pressure. (Yes, you need to adjust for your altitude.)

You got your jar lids on tight enough. Liquid blowing out of the jar happens during canning. It does not affect the quality of the food. It can happen from filling the jar too full, opening the canner before the pressure is totally down to zero or having the pressure fluctuating suddenly. I don’t think going up to 13 pounds had anything to do with it. But in any case, don’t worry, as long as the jars sealed.
No it doesn’t hurt to have the pressure a little higher, but just right is best as the food doesn’t overcook. — Jackie