We’ve had a month of warm, rainy weather. And because Mom was doing so poorly, I spent a lot of time at the nursing home…and neglected my poor garden. Now we’re playing catch up. Yesterday Will and I pulled the last of the Wall’o Waters off the tomatoes. It was truly a two person job, because the tomatoes had grown so huge. Then we pounded stakes next to the floppy plants, tied them up, and put cages over them. Luckily, Will had made many cages out of old concrete re-enforcing mesh wire last year, and my friends, Warren and Betty, gave us more wire this year, so he made more. As he made them, I slid them down over the tomatoes and tucked the stems into strategic places through the mesh. I had to be really careful because there are already some tomatoes set…and even ripening!!…on the vines. Tonight it looks much better in the tomato patch. (As we staked the tomatoes, we also pulled the huge weeds around and between the rows. The weeds are terrible this year! They also liked the warm, wet weather when we didn’t hoe and till!)

How about the picture of my giant rhubarb? Wow! I’ve NEVER seen rhubarb that big. Have you? Of course, the stems are now woody because I didn’t get to can any so far. But if I get a chance, I’m going to pull a bunch, then let it come in again so it’s tender. I have some new rhubarb recipes I want to try! (If I’m not canning tomatoes, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa…) Whew, summer’s flying by, here in the backwoods.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning lamb

Butchering lambs this year, want to know if you’ve ever canned lamb, in particular gyros? Does the flavor get stronger?

Teri Perkins
Republic, Washington

Yes, I’ve canned lamb. If your lamb is truly a “lamb,” under a year old, preferably 6-8 months of age, the flavor doesn’t get strong. Now with mutton… — Jackie

Efficient wood stove

I would like to get a wood stove to help heat our house to cut down on electric and gas bills and be prepared should we not have electricity. The new stoves at the stores are so expensive. The good ones run $2500 to $4500 which we can’t afford. I was wondering if you know of a efficient wood stove that can be either purchased or built that would be much cheaper like well under $500. I don’t want a pellet stove but a wood stove and I would also need to build a chimney cheaply.

Ruth Ann Martin
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Northern Tool has several stoves that are cheaper than the best on the market. We bought one for under $500 and are satisfied with it. I’ve had better ones, but we, too, needed a UL listed stove (for insurance) that fit our skinny budget. You can also advertise around for a good used stove. Sometimes you can find a great deal on one of those “top of the line” wood stoves that someone is selling for a very good price.

The cheapest, safe chimney is a sectional Metalbestos — or like brand — of stainless steel, insulated stovepipe. The pieces just snap together, then can be banded together for more safety. You can buy a few pieces a pay period, until you have the whole thing, ready to install. You can make installation a do-it-yourself weekend project or hire a carpenter; it doesn’t take long to do a good job; instructions come with the pieces. — Jackie

Gardening questions

1 – My broccoli never made a nice big head. As soon as it was about quarter size it started to flower. What causes this?

2 – Is there a special trick to growing spinach? I planted some along with lettuce and chard, not much came of the spinach. I read that spinach likes strawberries as a neighbor so I planted a row there, nothing. Any suggestions?

3 – I have great luck with leaf lettuces but can’t seem to make iceberg head. This is my second year trying and while it makes nice leaf lettuce it never heads. What am I doing wrong?

Dawn Norcross
Orion, Illinois

Sorry about your bad luck. But I think hot weather is your culprit in all cases! Your broccoli, making button heads, is usually from a combination of hot weather and buying plants that are over-age and rootbound. Buy younger plants and get them in the ground very early in the season. Broccoli, spinach, and head lettuce all love cool weather and can (and should) be planted quite early in the year, right after the last spring frosts. In fact, spinach can be planted before the last spring date, so it can come up right after that time. You can also plant these crops in the late summer, to get a good fall crop. You might give that a try and see if you have better luck.
Keep at it and you’ll get the hang of it! — Jackie

Transplanting strawberries

While I have been an organic gardener off and on for over thirty years, this is the first year I have attempted to grow strawberries.

Early this spring I planted them in a plot but am thinking about moving them to a different plot this next spring.

So, my question is: can I transplant an established plant?

John Burns
Albemarle, North Carolina

Yes, you can transplant established strawberries as easily as runners. Aren’t those fresh strawberries wonderful? We’re eating ours right now! — Jackie

Canning peppers

I enjoy the canned roasted red peppers from the store and wondered if you had instructions for making your own at home? I have some Marconi peppers growing well in the garden and thought they may make a good canned roasted pepper candidate.

Marlana Ward
Mountain City, Tennessee

You’re right! They do make a great roasted peppers to can. First of all, roast your red ripe sweet peppers. To do this, either grill them until the skin is charring (turn to do both sides) or put them in a hot oven until the skins char. You can either can the peppers with or without the skins. If you are canning without the skins (some people like a more “tender” pepper, without the skin), place the roasted peppers immediately into a paper sack and roll the top closed tightly. Let the peppers sit for an hour or so, then peel the skins off. Remove the seeds and pack into jars.

With the whole roasted peppers, you leave the skins on and just slit the peppers in several spots for even heat and pickling solution distribution (if you choose to pickle your roasted peppers). For plain roasted peppers, flatten the peppers and pack into hot jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice to improve the flavor to each pint jar. Pour boiling water over peppers, leaving 1″ of headspace. Process for 35 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. (If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for instructions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary.)

To pickle your roasted peppers, try this recipe from my new book:
20 large pimento peppers (you can sure use your Marconi peppers!)
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Wash, stem, and seed peppers. Cut into strips. Cover with boiling water and let stand 3 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in large saucepan and boil 5 minutes. Pack hot peppers into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Ladle boiling syrup over peppers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean; place hot previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Enjoy your peppers; I know we sure do! — Jackie

Canning peaches

Do peaches have to be peeled before canning? Can they be canned with the peels on?
Have you used the steam bath method to process canning jars? If so, what are your recommendations to use this method?

Tim Welty
Kerrville, Texas

Yes, peaches need to be peeled before canning. No, you can’t leave the peels on because they are tough and discolor the jars of fruit. However they are easy to peel. Just boil a big pot of water then dip a few peaches in at a time. Leave them in the boiling water for a minute or two, until the skins slip easily from the peach. Dip out and put into a sink full of cold water. If the peach skins will not slip this way, the peaches are not ripe enough and need to ripen at room temperature a day or two (until the skins DO slip easily)

I can my peaches in a boiling water bath canner. By “steam bath,” I’m assuming you mean the steam canners sold by some companies. These are not recommended for canning by experts for fear the food in the center of the jars does not heat thoroughly enough by steam like it does when boiling water circulates between the jars. — Jackie

Food mixes

Will you please send me a recipe for making up a large amount of pre-mixed biscuit mix, hot cocoa, and a soup base. I had one and some how I lost it, I think it was in #117. all those were in the same issue.

Sue Price
Jacksonville, Texas

Sue, the article you are looking for was written by Linda Gabris, not me. But as I have an issue, here are the recipes you are looking for. (Luckily, Will is much more organized than ME and quickly found the magazine!)

Basic biscuit mix with shortening
10 C flour
2 C instant milk powder
2 tsp salt
2 C vegetable shortening at room temperature (or shortening powder to equal)
Measure dry ingredients in a bowl, cut in shortening until a fine crumble. Store. Use 1 cup–more or less water or milk–per two cups mix.

Hot chocolate mix
12 C instant nonfat milk powder
3 C non-dairy coffee creamer
4 C fine sugar (or omit the sugar, if you wish, and sweeten to taste with desired sweetener upon making.)
2 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
mini marshmallows (You can add a bag of mini marshmallows to the mix or just sprinkle a few on top of each mug as you make it.)
Measure ingredients into a bowl, mix well and store. To use, put 3 Tbsps (more or less to suit taste) per cup cold water into a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring constantly until smooth. For richer hot chocolate, use milk instead of water.

Chicken noodle soup mix:
3 C instant chicken bouillon powder
3 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
Measure ingredients into a bowl, mix well and store. Use 1 C mix per 2-3 cups water. Simmer. (When scooping out the mix, be sure to get a fair share of the chicken bouillon powder that may settle to the bottom after a given storage time on the shelf.) For variety, add dried vegetables to the mix, noodles, or instant rice. — Jackie

Cleaning an old canner

Jackie, I recently purchased an older All-American canner (the only kind I use, love them) at a yard sale for $3.00 (can you believe it?). It looks to have a new gauge, but I plan to have it checked out before using it. My question is it needs a good cleaning. Is there anything special I should use? The heads of the screws are a little rusty.

Robin Putman
Coolville, Ohio

I would just use hot water and a steel wool pad, along with some good old Dutch or Comet cleanser, then wash well with fresh water and dish detergent. Your great buy should come out in perfect shape. It IS a good idea, as you suggested, to have the gauge checked. I’ve very seldom seen one go “bad,” but we can’t afford to take chances. — Jackie

Canning chili

My Husband likes to take my home canned meals with him to work. It’s a lot cheaper than store canned soups. I make chili using tvp along with the usual chili fixings. Can I put this up in pints just like regular chili?

Barbara Willis
Redondo Beach, California

Yes, you sure can. Just process your chili as if it were chili with only beans, for 75 minutes, and it’ll be fine. And I’ll bet your chili tastes better than store bought, too! — Jackie


  1. If you use powdered buttermilk for the powdered milk in your basic mix (like that of Bisquick), it is a lot better. Love all the mixes. When kids were little that is all I used and am anxious to get back to making and using them again, just for the two of us. A much better and less expensive way to eat. HP Books has several books on master mixes with recipes. Well worth purchasing the books. ENJOY

  2. Jackie, you did an article with convenience foods recipes. The article was called you can still live the good life. I love the biscuit mix recipe. Issue #119.

  3. HOLY COW! That’s the biggest rhubarb I’ve ever seen! That thing could win a ribbon at the state fair!

  4. Jackie, I’m sorry for your great loss. Your mom looks like she was a classy lady!

    We could use a month of rain…well, after I harvest my cucumbers! Last yrs regular rains rotted the cucs and I just made my first batch of brined dill pickles. That is the biggest rhubarb leaf I’ve ever seen….my 26 yr old daughter was sitting across the room and blurted out…”WHAT THE….” Great picture.

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