Yes, we’ve had -35 this week, along with four inches of new snow. But with the cold, we also got this fabulous cloud bow. A sun bow is formed when ice crystals are in the air and the sun shines through them. There is one on either side of the sun. Magnificent! And at night, we have the grand Northern Lights! It IS harder to take pictures of them, though, but I am trying.

We also get to see wolves, like the big gray fellow we saw at close range while driving out to get the mail today. How impressive! Indians say that people are afraid of wolves because wolves can look you in the eye and not drop their gaze, where a dog will look down. He looked into MY eyes and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise, even though I really love wolves.

We were on our way to Great Scott Meats to pick up our 500 pounds (plus) of cut, wrapped and frozen meat. I’m so excited and grateful to have all that wonderful homegrown meat! I start canning tomorrow with the soup bones. I’m canning up quarts of great broth first off, then I’ll start in on the hamburger. (I also have steaks thawing out. I can’t remember when I’ve had a good steak. It’s been that long!) And with luck, we should never have to buy meat again. Wow! We have another big steer, then three medium-sized 8-month-old and 6-month-old ones then we’ll be getting a few, come spring, so the meat circle continues.

Readers’ Questions:

Moldy odor in basement

My question is about home canned foods stored in a basement. Our basement has a musky moldy odor. (We see no mold). But when we open jars of the foods that we have put up, we can taste that odor in it. The jars are sealed and the food seems fine other than that flavor. Is there anything we can do to stop this? And is the food harmful to us?

B. Hass
Hartville, Missouri

As long as the jars were sealed, they are probably getting the smell from the outside of the jars, when you open them. Try washing each jar with hot, soapy water not only before storing, but also before using them. To get rid of the odor in your basement, get it as dry as possible. Use a dehumidifier if you need to. Otherwise, open windows when above freezing and use a fan to move the air. I scrubbed my basement walls in the spring with bleach water one time when I had that problem, then did the floor, making sure to move my jars and wash them, too. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Did it help. Yes. Also, installing a small wood burning stove down there helped keep things dry in the winter. I only burned it when it was cold and condensation started to form on the stone walls. That really helped a lot, too.

Your food is perfectly fine; the odor can not get through glass jars. — Jackie

Using brown sugar

I recently found brown sugar on after-Christmas clearance for 20 cents a pound. Can you use brown sugar as a replacement for white sugar in canning? Are there any good recipes you know of? I thought it could make apple butter taste like caramel apple butter.

Dane Smith
Springfield, Missouri

Good score, Dane! I hope you bought lots! Yes, you can use brown sugar as a replacement for white sugar in most any recipe, depending on your tastes. Try a small batch first, before making a larger one. Some jams and jellies taste “strange” if you’re not used to them. Our forefathers (mothers?) used brown sugar exclusively, as white sugar was far too expensive. I use it in my tomato sauces, barbecue sauce, ham glazes, apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet rolls, and much more. — Jackie

Re-processing juice

My apple crop last year was a disaster (mostly my fault, I didn’t spray) and my grapes are too young to produce much. My husband is a big juice drinker and I was wondering if store-bought juice purchased in large quantities like gallons, can be re-canned in smaller jars like quarts? If so, does it hurt to dilute it slightly as it seems pretty strong?

Adell Struble
Aledo, Illinois

Yes, you can re-process store-bought juice. But, NO, don’t dilute it until you want to drink it, as you will also reduce the acid content in it that makes it safe to process in a water bath canner. Just can the juice as if it were fresh. (And make sure it is 100% juice; some is NOT; beware of the words cocktail, beverage. Read the label carefully.) And watch it, as a lot of juices are a product of somewhere you really don’t want to drink juices from! — Jackie

Too cold for goats?

My daughter and I have two Nigerian Dwarf Goats and are concerned that it’s too cold here in our neck of the woods. We’ve only had them a few months and aren’t experts by any means. Tonight, the temperature is going to be -20 degrees fahrenheit (MINUS..ack!) We had a 6′ x 8′ shed built for them and we keep plenty of hay in there. I was tempted to bring them in the garage (why does a vehicle need a house?).

Wendy Cukierski
Munnsville, New York

I’ve never had a trouble with my goats in the cold, providing that there are at least two, so they can cuddle together, and the shelter was well bedded and draft free. You can even make a temporary hay house out of several bales of hay, in the shelter, if you still think it’s too cold. It is if they shiver constantly (not just after they drink water). Of course, they’ll also want to climb on the hay house, so make it sturdy! — Jackie

Making bread in a chilly house

We keep our house at about 65 degrees in winter. I am about to try your basic bread recipe (the one in Issue#78). Can I put the yeast on a heating pad to keep it warm? Can I also put the bowl of dough on it so it has a “chance”? Or do you have a better suggestion?

Sandy Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

You won’t have to put your yeast on a heating pad, but it will help your bread dough to rise. I’d put the dough bowl in a larger bowl, filled with warm water so the heating pad is warming the water, which warms the dough; you don’t want the bottom of the dough bowl to become too warm. If you have a propane range with a pilot light, you can also sit the covered bowl in the oven, with the door open, for a warmer spot. You just want a nice steady warm spot. Bread will rise in a cooler room, but it will take considerably longer. — Jackie

Storing seeds

I want to save some heirloom garden seeds. If I “vacuum seal” garden seeds in freezer jars, and then put them in the freezer, will this preserve them, and do you have any idea for how long? I’m looking for a way to preserve them for the longest amount of time and still have them be viable.

Hugh Shelton
Monterey, Tennessee

This is an excellent way to keep smaller amounts of garden seeds. (I have two large plastic tubs full of containers of seeds!) Different kinds of seeds have different lengths of time they are viable. For instance, I’ve planted bean seeds that were 1,500 years old, sealed in a pot. They grew. But onion and parsnip seeds that are only a couple years old quickly lose their viability. In general, most seeds remain good for several years, if frozen in an airtight container, such as you plan. — Jackie

Canning beans

I bought a pressure canner nearly a year ago and finally got up the nerve to use it this morning. I did pints of dried pintos following the directions in your canning book. When I removed the jars from the canner they looked great, but after cooling it looks like the beans have soaked up most of the liquid and expanded above the top of the liquid. They all sealed, but my concern is that if they didn’t have enough liquid the product may be too dense to have heated through. What do you think? I really want to get good at this, and appreciate your articles and advice!

Magi Clark
Entiat, Washington

This sometimes happens, but is no cause for concern. The density problem is during processing, not after it. Beans often swell quite a bit, which is the reason you can them with plenty of liquid and also leave 1 inch of headspace. Your beans will be fine. Now you have your toes wet, so to speak, enjoy canning everything in sight! You’ll love it! — Jackie

Going without a microwave

We have recently gotten rid of our microwave for various reasons and could use some tips on reheating food such as rice, pasta, eggs, mashed potatoes, and other kinds of leftovers.

Jon and Ola Montgomery
Delmar, New York

We don’t have a microwave either. I reheat rice and pasta by putting them in a covered saucepan with just enough water to prevent scorching, then cover and put on low heat. When steaming well, I remove the cover and fluff the contents with a fork, then replace the cover and turn off the heat. Just like fresh! Mashed potatoes don’t reheat very well. I usually put them on top of a meat based casserole, like a shepherd’s pie to bake, with a few drizzles of melted butter over the top or else make potato cakes from them. To do this, just mix a couple cups of leftover mashed potatoes with a beaten egg, salt and pepper (onion powder if you wish), then form into patties, dip into flour and fry on both sides in hot oil in a frying pan. I don’t miss a microwave at all! — Jackie

Canning chicken soup

I am in the process of canning chicken soup, I have a full canner right now and there is still some more to can. I don’t think that I will have 7 more quarts to fill the canner. Does the canner have to be full with 7 jars? In my mind I’m thinking that there does have to be because of the pressure in the pot. But I want to be for sure.

Tonya Bowles
Paoli, Indiana

No. You can fill your canner or only can one pint jar. It does not matter as long as you follow your directions on processing just the same as if you were canning a full canner. Enjoy your chicken soup! — Jackie

Fruit trees not setting blossoms

Over the past several years we have been planting fruit trees. We now have 6 apples, 3 peach, and 3 cherry (2 sweet, one pie). I believe one cherry is a standard, one apple is a dwarf, and the rest are all semi-dwarf. The Standard Cherry is 4 years old, a couple of the apples and one peach and one cherry is three years old, 4 apples, and a peach are 2 years old, and one cherry and two peaches were just planted last spring.

Anyways, last year NONE of my trees set any blossoms at all except for the standard cherry which produced less than one dozen blossoms. We had no late frosts last year. Its not that the blossoms produced no fruit, but that there simply were NO blossoms, not a single apple or peach blossom.

Any idea what’s going on here?

Angela Billings
Stronghurst, Illinois

Often when young fruit trees fail to bloom and bear it’s because they were stressed during planting or early growing. While catalogs say that dwarf and semi-dwarf trees bear in 2-3 years, in most cases I’ve personally been involved with, it takes a couple more years than that. Sometimes we don’t plant our baby trees in the most perfect way; a very large hole, added rotted compost worked into top soil, a wide berm encircling the tree to hold water when we water, etc. All too often, and I’ve been guilty of it too, our trees are set into a hole just big enough for the roots to fit into, and the same soil is put back, without much of a dish or berm to hold water. These trees will usually live, but it does take longer for them to bear.

Other things that can hold young trees back from blooming are cold winters damaging buds, weed stress, or planting in a windy area (also a stress to young fruit trees).

Have hope and patience. Your trees will bloom and bear fruit and boy will you treasure it then! I about jumped up and down when our first new tree this year produced five ripe apples! We’re looking forward to spring so much. — Jackie


  1. Nancy,

    First of all, does your canner require 6″ of water in the bottom? I’ve never heard of a pressure canner that took that much; usually 2″ is about normal. Excess water may have caused excess pressure, causing the seal to leak. But then, to lose most of 6″ seems excessive. I’d try it again and if you lose that much again, replace the seal (even new ones can be no good). Check to make sure steam is not leaking out somewhere else. My old canner developed a leak in the emergency relief petcock; it didn’t seal down tight and the canner wouldn’t even get above 6 pounds pressure. I cleaned it out and now it works fine. Must have been some goop inside it. If your canner just won’t hold steam, it’s time to spring for another one.


  2. Re: Cold Goats

    Something we have found that works with our girls is to either cut old sweatshirt sleeves off and put them on your goats or we often find fleece vests at yard sales and these also keep our girls toasty. Just make sure that the body of the items are not too big or they will get their legs caught inside. We live in western Maine and last week we hit -35. Also be sure to provide lots of warm water for them to drink. Hope this helps

  3. Jackie, I love your articles. I always go to them first in the magazine. I am 52 and seems I am starting to homestead again. I have no idea where you get your energy but you must be a power house.

  4. @Heating pad for rising
    I have been making my own bread this winter after getting hooked on it with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book. Prior to that I couldn’t make bread to save my life.

    To get mine to rise in a too cold house, I put it on a metal cookie sheet instead of a wooden pizza peel and I put a microwaved rice bag under it. These are free form loaves and they tend to spread rather than rise with the heat from below but, it does work. I have also used the bags under loaf pans.

    @No Microwave
    They are also helpful with defrosting, something someone else mentions. I defrost on a large cast iron griddle. The more surface area you can get in contact with the metal the faster things like meat will thaw out. Putting the rice bag adjacent to what you are defrosting to just warm up the metal can speed up the defrost. Just don’t let your rice bag get wet or yucky.

  5. Yes, Nancy we are very close! I live between Stronghurst, and Carman.
    As for your question, do you see steam escaping? Water lots of time will evaporate during canning but 6″ does seem like a lot! Hope Jackie has an answer for you!

  6. Two things, I canned some ham and bean soup today. I only had three quarts and they sealed good. But my canners are all old and I had to replace the rubber seals. Today the canner had about 6 inches of water in it when I started and when I opened it up 90 minutes later there was almost no water in it. Not enougth to cover the floor of the canner. Do I need to find a different kind of seal or what do I need to do?
    Angela Billings, I live in Dallas City/La Harpe area. We are very close.

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