You’ll remember that last fall when Will was here for a two week visit, he took our bulldozer and rough-cleared 2/3 of our horse pasture (which had been young poplar woods before that). During the winter, we burned much of the wood and yesterday we went down to the pasture to clean it up in preparation for planting it. Will took the bulldozer and I went around tossing chunks of wood into the piles in front of it. He worked it down into a low spot, then mashed it down and buried the wood with the dirt left over from the large roots. It now looks very clean and nice. We are impressed!

But to get the grass and clover started well, we are also fencing the pasture in two parts. The smaller part will contain the horses, where we will continue to feed big round bales of hay while the new seeding takes hold and grows. So we’ve also been doing fencing, drilling in holes for corners, gates, and braces. Our new fence-in-progress also looks very nice.

In his spare time, Will is working on our new equipment/wood/storage shed and I’m transplanting berries from our garden up into our new larger berry patch. And getting the spring planting in the garden under way. So far, I’ve planted 580 onion sets. Wow! Yep. We like our onions!

For a treat, my oldest son, Bill and his wife, Kelly, came up for an early Mother’s Day. Of course they brought their son, Mason, so we all got to play with him. One of his favorite toys is an old-timey one — a wooden spoon and shiny pan he can bang on. We had a long walk in the woods and as Mason recently learned to walk, he enjoyed himself too.


Readers’ Questions:


A friend made me some bread that was wonderful, she said she uses Brosoft, which brings me to the question; What is Brosoft made of, and how do I use it in bread baking?

Eileen Bartschenfeld
Prairie Farm, Wisconsin

It is a dough enhancer made by Brolite. You can contact them at for more information. — Jackie

Using mayonnaise jars for canning

The former owner of our new place left several produce boxes full of old jars. They look like mayonnaise jars. My canning rings fit them, one even said “ball” on the bottom of it. I was wondering if you’ve ever used mayo jars for boiling water bath canning and did they hold up? These are all quart size, mainly regular size openings, a few are large mouth. I figure I won’t try them for pressure canning–correct?

Mary Thompson
Charlotte, North Carolina

Contrary to popular belief, including many experts, I have successfully used mayonnaise jars for both water bath and pressure canning and have had absolutely no more breakage with them than “regular” mason jars. As long as the jars are uncracked and the lid and ring fit, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them. — Jackie

Early rhubarb, controlling sowbugs, and sources for wheat and beans in bulk

I have several questions. My rhubarb has only just come up but already has several large flower stalks which I cut off. Isn’t this a bit early? I froze a gallon bag of it chopped, awaiting strawberries to get ripe (6 weeks or so). Do you have any good recipes to share to preserve it? Also,what do you use to control sowbugs and earwigs on food crops?

Do you know of any sources for wheat and beans in bags? I can only find 25 lb. bags of rice and pinto beans. NO problem finding in pails. I did find a #10 can on Hershey’s cocoa today so rapidly ordered!

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Yes, it is a little early for rhubarb to be sending out flower stalks. Is your rhubarb larger? If the stalks are under 1 inch, you might try adding a heavy mulch of rotted manure; the plants may be slightly stressed from lack of nutrition; they are a heavy feeder. I had this trouble with two large rows and ended it by dumping a whole manure spreader load of rotted manure on the rows, a foot deep, early in the spring. The neighbor said I’d killed my rhubarb. But it came up and had stalks two inches in diameter! And it was much, much later in sending out flowering stalks.

I put up a whole lot of rhubarb as rhubarb sauce, simply a cooked rhubarb in a medium syrup, as in the Ball Blue Book, or as rhubarb conserve, both in that same book and in my new book. Enjoy your rhubarb. I love it!

I buy my bulk beans and wheat locally, from our feed mill. They also sell human foods, in addition to animal feed. They are Homestead Mill, Cook, MN (218) 666-5233. I’m sure shipping would be costly on bulk items, but maybe one of your local mills or food buying clubs could help you out. — Jackie

Making yogurt from canned milk

I love that you are so full of wonderful information and freely pass it on to all. I have learned tons from your columns and articles and have become fearless to try most anything. My question is that I would like to make yogurt out of previously canned milk. It’s just regular store bought milk that I canned for a prep. We are having more snow today and I have the flu (hopefully not the kind in the news) and we’re out of milk except for my canned and I want some yogurt. What do you think? I hate to waste the stored milk if it won’t work.

Barbara Harrington
Arvada, Colorado

Good luck with your non-“hopefully!” swine flu. Your canned milk would probably work for yogurt if you had a little active culture yogurt or buttermilk to provide culture to get it going. Let me know how it turns out if you decide to give it a go.

Get well soon. — Jackie

“Three Sisters” planting

I have recently stumbled across the “three sisters” method of planting corn, beans, and squash together in a mound. I wondered if you have tried this method and if you would recommend it. I was given some Hickory King corn and since it grows tall and strong had planned on planting some pole beans alongside. Now that I’ve read about the three sisters, I am considering planting my squash alongside as well.

Also, might I ask how you first began collecting the old utility poles? Was it just a matter of asking the electric company?

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

Yes, I have planted corn, beans, and squash together. While it does work for large, dry corn, it makes harvesting corn or green beans hard as the squash vines quickly become rampant and tangle your feet while you walk through what used to be the rows. It works very well when you will be harvesting primarily winter squash, dry corn for meal or hominy, and dry beans for storage, as the Native families did.

To plant this way, first plant your corn; rows actually work best. Then about every ten feet each way, plant a hill or squash. When the corn is about six inches tall, plant your pole beans next to and in the row with the corn, one bean for every three corn plants. That’s it; Mother Nature handles the rest. Both the squash and beans will climb on the cornstalks for support. It’s a fun way to plant a patch and you’ll get a triple harvest. — Jackie

Salting blueberries

In one of your back issues you had a recipe for preserving blueberries by putting them in a fruit jar and adding either 1tsp. or 1 Tbsp. of salt. What is the correct answer?

Carol Ann McNeese
Albia, Iowa

I think you are referring to an old article written by Anne Westbrook Dominick, not me. The recipe was to put firm dry blueberries in a quart jar leaving one inch of head room and adding one teaspoon of salt and agitate gently to work the salt down through. Put on a lid and put in a dark spot for storage. The berries will create a small amount of juice but remain firm. If you have extreme changes in temperature in the storage area such as when the stove goes out and it gets real cold in the wintertime pressure can build in the jars so open carefully and slowly until you hear the hiss of air. The salt does not flavor the berries and extra sugar is not needed when using them.
I have not used this method, and probably wouldn’t; I can’t see how it would prevent the blueberries from fermenting or molding. — Jackie

Frozen peanut butter

I am new at food storage. Help, I froze my natural peanut butter. I read that it should just be refrigerated. Is there anyway to salvage it?

Rene and Edwina Stover
Ellijay, Georgia

Usually you can just thaw your frozen peanut butter, then stir up the oil. If it won’t mix well, simply warm it up till it softens, then stir it to mix it. You should quickly be back in business. — Jackie

Canning red potatoes

I have been given a large quantity of new red potatoes. They are all small in size. I am uncertain as to whether I have to peel them first, before pressure canning. I have seen directions for peeled and unpeeled. I want your advice on this as I trust what you have to say.

Kenneth Greene
Leesburg, Georgia

With small potatoes, I usually just scrub them and can them up. It’s easier and we don’t mind the very thin peels. It seems a waste to peel the little guys! And besides it’s lots of work. The larger potatoes, I often either scrub or peel and quarter. Enjoy your bounty! — Jackie

Canning tomatoes at a high altitude

I grow a lot of tomatoes in my garden each year but, as I live at 2500 feet above sea level, I am afraid to can them. I bought a pressure canner, but am afraid to use it due to all the warnings about acidic foods canned at altitude. Can you tell me a safe way to can tomatoes at my home and is there a chemical test (think litmus) to see if already canned food is safe to eat ie: w/o botulism?

Elizabeth MacLeod
Grass Valley, California

You don’t have to pressure can tomatoes. A simple water bath canner is plenty good and safe too. If you don’t have a water bath canner, you can just use your pressure canner without shutting the lid and putting on the weight or shutting the petcock. I canned tons of tomatoes at altitudes from 6,000 feet in New Mexico to 7,400 feet in Montana with absolutely no problems.

Your canned tomatoes are perfectly good to eat if you followed directions and the jars are sealed. If they look fine, smell fine, they will be fine. As you gain experience, you’ll soon laugh at your old fears and begin to get excited about home canning as so many others have. Have fun! — Jackie

Recanning hot fudge sauce

I have some restaurant size cans of hot fudge. Can this be recanned? How would I do it?

Kathy M.
Cedar Bluff, Alabama

I have tried to find recipes for canning hot fudge sauce everywhere and am coming up blank. Many sources say definitely NOT to try canning it and to keep it in the refrigerator, instead. I think if it were me, I’d open a can when you plan on using some, then heat the contents gently and fill hot pint canning jars with it and put on new, hot lids. This will keep in the fridge for months. In this way, you can use it up without waste. — Jackie

Dealing with sandy soil

I have very sandy soil and want your thoughts on a idea I have. I want to remove the top 18 inches of soil and lay down about a 6-inch or more layer of aged sawdust. I would then replace the dirt over the top of the sawdust. My hope is that the sawdust will help hold moisture and nutrients. I have a couple spots in the yard that have wooden sheds buried and the grass is always green over them. I don’t care about growing a lawn but I do want to expand my garden and also plant berries. Do you see any downfalls to this idea?

Alan McFerran
Angora, Minnesota

It seems like an awful lot of work. Instead, why don’t you ask a local farmer for a few truckloads of rotted manure to work into your sand. We have worked a lot of manure in on our sandy/gravel loam and now it’s getting nice and black. And it holds moisture so much better, too.. Besides, it’s a lot easier than removing all that soil. — Jackie

Head lettuce not heading

Can to tell me why my head lettuce is not turning into heads? The plants are big, pretty, and leafy but no heads. Last year I planted cabbage in a different spot and it grew but never headed. I am doing cabbage again this year and hoping that it does well.

Kathy M.
Cedar Bluff, Alabama

I’m guessing that maybe your head lettuce and cabbage got stressed by heat; both are cool weather lovers. I have never had this happen, but I’ve always lived in a cool climate. Try planting them earlier or later in the year, when the weather is cooler and see what happens. Good luck. — Jackie

Canning ham

Just finished canning ham. First try. Pint jars. Should can at 11 lbs. pressure for my altitude at 1,106 Feet. So says the Extension. O.K. Had trouble keeping it at 11 lbs. (Electric stove touchy) Canner was happy at 12 lbs. So, I justified keeping it there (aren’t we gals good at justification?) As long as it was consistent at 12, rather than “jockeying” from 11 to 12. When I removed the jars, 3 of the 5 had a warped looking lid. So figure those are NOT sealed? Correct? Can I re-can those? I used ham broth, and the jars are a dark cherry red color. Is that normal?

Jan Eylar
Savannah, Missouri

I’ve had lids crease, as I’m assuming yours did, usually from getting the pressure too high. But having it happen for one pound over is unusual. Funny though; only my Kerr lids did that! On several different batches throughout a year. As long as the lids are firmly dented down into the jar, they are sealed. If the warp resulted in unsealed lids, you can re-do the batch. Ham broth/ham often has a dark red color. Yes, this is normal. — Jackie

Canning on a hot plate and adding livestock to the homestead

I have 2 questions for you:
1) I have a glasstop electric stove that I am stuck with for the time being. I have been told that I cannot pressure can on it as it will shatter the cooking surface. Have you ever pressure canned on a hot plate? If so, with much luck? Any advice in this area is helpful as this year will be my first try at pressure canning.

2) We are a small family (2 adults and 3 young children) and are wanting to add small livestock to our little farm. We already have chickens, ducks and turkeys, but would like to add something to clear grass and possibly milk. A cow would be too much for us to handle at the moment and I am afraid of the costs for fencing goats. Are they really that tough to keep? Sheep seem reasonable, but I have been turned off by the difficulty in shearing them (is this true?). We only have 1-2 acres of pasture, but could fence 4 different acres of brush possibly for a goat. Also, what are housing requirements? We are in Southern Illinois and don’t dip much under 25 in the winter, but do occasionally have a very cold snap. Please share your recommendations for a beginning family.

Deanna Deiters
Marion, Illinois

A hot plate really doesn’t can well, but you can buy an inexpensive propane cook stove (like you’d use camping) to use. I’ve used them. I’m not talking about a Coleman type stove, but a two or three burner outfit, as sold by Harbor Freight, Northern Tool and others. You can hook one to a 20″ or larger propane tank and can away. A tank lasts a long time and the stove will too!

I heartily recommend dairy goats for anyone with the ability to do a little work for a lot of benefits. Yes, they ARE harder to fence than, say sheep or chickens. They are smarter! But you can easily fence them in with a combination woven field fencing and electric fencing to keep them from pushing on the woven fencing. The main thing is to put in strong corners and stretch the fence tightly, then add a stand-off strand of electric fence inside the fence, about chest high on a medium goat, and another on the top of the woven fence to keep them from reaching over the fence.

With a good milker or two, your grass and brush will look like a park and you’ll have plenty of milk, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products.

Besides, goats are a lot of fun, too. Check out the new handbook on dairy goats for beginners offered in BHM. — Jackie

Canning egg drop soup

Can egg drop soup be canned?

James Thomason
Townsend, Montana

I really have no idea. Any readers out there with information for James? — Jackie

Bowed canner and canning lard

This weekend, while canning venison, I apparently did not put enough water in the pressure canner. Fortunately, it was just as they were finished with their time, so the cans themselves were fine. The unfortunate part is that the bottom of the canner is now bowed out and it wobbles. Is the canner no good now?

Secondly, you mentioned in your last post canning lard. Could you be so kind as to post instructions?

Lastly, will your book include “experimental canning”?

Mandi Kemp
Felton, Delaware

Generally when a canner is so warped, it isn’t useable. Sorry. We learn a whole lot of life lessons the hard way. Unfortunately for us!

To can lard, you first slowly heat it until it is all melted. An easy way to do this is in a large roasting pan in your oven. That way there’s no scorching danger. Then you ladle it out into hot, sterilized canning jars, nearly to the top. Wipe the rim of the jar clean and place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw the ring down firmly tight. The lard is not really “canned”, but will stay good nearly indefinitely, when stored in a cool, dark place.

Yes, my book will include some “experimental” canning recipes, such as milk, cheese, and butter. — Jackie


  1. RE:glass top stoves and canning. I’ve used mine sucessfully for 10 years. The only concession I made was to fill the pressure cooker with water on the stove and let cool on the stove stove,take out jars and then move so not as big of chance of dropping the heavy cooker. Only big problem is determining what level keeps it at the correct pressure.

    We had a Sears guy here fixing our frig and I asked him about this story and he said is was just that–a story. Yes, it is glass and it can break but he’d not seen it happen yet. We just re-installed our non-electric propane stove d/t the co-op’s outrageous rate hike or I’d still be using mine….the top was great for rolling out piecrust! DEE

  2. You can also get wheat (red or white) and beans (black, white and pinto) from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. They do regular shipments to members farther away from a big city. Look up their missionaries in your local phone book. Tell them you are not a member, but are interested in ordering from the cannery. They can put you in touch with their local Relief Society and someone who can help you get into the group order. Here is a link to thier order form so you can compare prices. You can order it in #10 cans or on the far right side of the form, you can just get the 25 lb bag.

  3. We too have an electic cooktop so had the same problem with canning. We live north of the Dallas metroplex so looked on Craigslist and bought a used gas cooktop, never could find a propane one. Ebay had them but was always too high for my money.

    The jets will have to be changed from gas to propane but that is not a big deal, just get them from the hardware store or order online. Next, my husband is setting the cooktop in a small moveable platform that we can sit on the kitchen bar during canning season. We will use a portable propane bottle as our home is total electric. The bottle will be outside. This way, I will have four burner surfaces for canning and will still have my electric stove to use for simmering the jar lids or making dinner or whatever else I need.

    I’ve bought several things off of Craigslist. Just been careful when going to get them if you know what I mean. Always left phone numbers and directions for my husband and took someone with me, everytime. I advertised in a wanted ad for canning jars. I had someone call that their aged mother had some to sell and bought over 700 ajrs. I am loaded and ready for a “bear” of a garden this year and didn’t spend a lot of money to get that way. Now if the garden and the hot weather will just cooperate!

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