Will went out again today and brought home another load of magnificent, dead, solid ash firewood. This stuff is large, with some butts being about 18 inches in diameter, full tree length! He had to load it with the bulldozer. We already have about 10 cords of firewood hauled out for next year’s wood, and there’s still a lot of winter yet. As our woodland is mostly low ground, the best time to haul firewood is in the winter. But this winter has had PLENTY of snow and cold. It’s getting harder and harder to work in the woods. I’m sure Will’s going to be glad when some of that deep snow melts away!

Meanwhile, I spent two days baking and making candy for photo shoots for the new recipe book. I abused Will by not letting him sample anything until after the shoot! (But gee, now he can eat it ALL!) There’s a fancy white cake, hummingbird cake, glazed doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts, blueberry muffins, chocolate-walnut fudge, caramels, chocolate-covered nuts, and peanut clusters. It all looks SO pretty! Just like the holidays again. Maybe I’ll help Will check them out…just to make sure they pass quality control, of course.

Readers’ Questions:

Using beef bones and rendering fat

I noticed you kept the beef bones from your butchering to make stock, I am guessing you had to request that as we never get anything but the meat back. We have a cow that will be butchered and it never occurred to me to have the bones saved. Excellent info Jackie, what else do you have kept other than the meat, what about the fat? Do you use it for anything? I know people have kept the fat from their pigs and rendered it down. Is it true that pork lard is healthier than shortening, that our body utilizes it better since it is a natural product? I am skeptical, but would love if that were true.

Jo Riddle
Vienna, West Virginia

Yes, I did ask for the bones because I know that most people only want a couple of packages of soup bones. Because my bones were a lot of rib bones with not much meat, I added a few larger soup bones with meat on them for flavor. Ask for the “ox tail”, as that makes real good broth. I also ask for the fat. Not only do I feed the birds the suet, but I make soap out of the rendered fat. No, sorry to say that lard is no better for you than any other fat. Moderation in everything is the key.
Will likes liver (I don’t.) and beef tongue, so I cooked up the tongue. It tastes like beef and is tender. You have to ask for that, as well. We try not to waste a whole lot and use up what we have. — Jackie

Storing food in tins

I’m wondering if I need to store food in Mylar bags before dumping in the popcorn tins. I did not do this. Another question: do you ever use the oxygen absorbers when you store food-if you do, what foods or grains do you use them with?

Sidney, Nebraska

No, you don’t have to use Mylar bags inside the popcorn tins. I’ve used mine for 25 years or more and have never had a problem. No, I don’t use oxygen absorbers. They would be a good idea to put in your sugar tins if you live in a damp climate. I’ve had sugar get hard, still in the bag from the store, if left on the shelf. Then I have to put it on a cookie sheet and whack it with a hammer to break it into smaller pieces, then use a rolling pin to get it back to usable sugar again. I leave brown sugar, which is notorious for getting hard, in a gallon glass jar, inside a tin (for looks) because THAT would get hard. Even in the jar, I keep a piece of damp paper toweling to keep the brown sugar soft. — Jackie

Starting vegetables indoors

We are starting to plan our garden for this year, and am getting conflicting information regarding when to plant indoors, and what. We are located a little north of you, just outside of Thunder Bay Ontario, and were hoping that there would be similarities in the growing season and any advice you could give. Typically our last frost is in late May/early June but last year it was late April, and we have had snow in June before.

I remember reading that you start your peppers in the beginning of February, and tomatoes in March, but what about the other veggies? What do you start indoors, and what can be direct sown outdoors? Can anything be planted outdoors before the threat of light frost has passed?

I have so many questions and truly appreciate the time that you take to answer them. You are an inspiration to me who is just starting out, and I often find myself wondering how Jackie would do it?

Nolalu, Ontario

There are a lot of variables in when to start plants, especially tomatoes and peppers. I start my peppers in early February because we set them out with frost protection (Wallo’ Water or hoop houses) in April. The same with our tomatoes. I plant them in March because we set them out in late April or very early May, also with Wallo’ Waters. We usually have our last frost date around June 14th, although a few years it’s been earlier.

I start my melons and squash in peat pellets or Styrofoam cups about May 12th, as you only want about 4 weeks from planting to setting out your plants. Root-bound melons and squash don’t produce well.

Cabbage family crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage should be started about the same time. You don’t want them to get too big or root bound before setting out. While these crops can take considerable frost and even freezing when large, they really can’t take a hit when little.
I direct seed my kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips right about the first week in June; better too late than too early. Like the cabbage family, they take plenty of freezing when big, but can kill back when tiny and receive a frost.

Onions are planted first, usually as soon as the soil can be nicely worked; they love cool weather and frost doesn’t bother them too much. Soon after, the peas can be direct seeded, then about the time your rutabagas go in, so can the carrots.

I plant my potatoes about the first week in June. I don’t rush with them, as we want to have them just mature before freezing in the fall so they will store well. (Two years ago, I planted them twice because of cold, wet weather that killed the first batch, and the second batch was planted on JULY 1st! And we had 550 pounds of nice potatoes to show for it. Some were kind of small, but we were thrilled! — Jackie

Five-gallon bucket nesting boxes

I was wondering if you had an old article or pictures on using 5-gallon buckets for nesting boxes?

Shannon Wilson
Amity, Oregon

Although I know some folks are happy with homemade nesting boxes made out of plastic 5-gallon pails, I’ve tried them and really didn’t like them all that much. Because of the smooth and slick rounded bottom, when the hens scratched out the shavings, they slipped and slid around, cracking and breaking eggs. Also, in hot weather, those nest boxes get pretty warm; the hens sit in there and pant with their mouths open. I much prefer wooden ones made out of scrap lumber. On one of my old blogs, there’s a picture of the one I made for my chickens a couple of years back. It’s still in great shape, didn’t cost a dime, and the hens really like it. — Jackie

Using a pressure cooker and hot peppers

I have a question about pressure canning in my new Cuisinart electric pressure cooker. There is nothing in the directions to indicate the pounds of pressure – only “Low” or “High.” I live at 7400 feet and am wondering if I can use this to pressure can things (I know it will only fit a few jars at a time; that is ok as I have a small garden and only have enough for three pints or so at a time) Any ideas?

One more question: my peppers last year were HOT — even the Hungarian wax ones — do you know what could cause this?

Northern New Mexico

This unit was made for pressure cooking meals, not canning. Sorry, but you need to pick up a real pressure canner.

Usually hot peppers get much hotter when they are stressed by heat and dry growing conditions. Be sure your hot peppers get plenty of water while they are growing and they should be less hot this year. — Jackie

Canning milk and honey mustard

I canned raw milk and I was wondering if it was normal for it to turn greyish looking and for it to have some thicker clumps in it? Also how long is it safe to keep canned?

I also have a couple of jars of honey mustard in the refrigerator and I was wondering if I could mix them together and can it so it would last longer and if so, how long to can it for?

Colleen Lebo
Jonestown, Pennsylvania

It is common for canned milk to have some separation in it. I’m not sure about the grayish color; it’s usually a bit beige. If the jars are sealed and processed according to directions, and the milk smells okay after opening, just whisk it before using it in your baking. Canned milk does NOT make real good drinking milk; it’s more like condensed milk and is used for baking.

You can combine your containers of honey mustard, but I wouldn’t can it. It keeps in the fridge just fine for months. — Jackie

Cooking a roast in a Dutch oven

I have three cast iron Dutch ovens. Each one gives roasts a metallic cast iron taste. No matter if pork, ham, or beef. Usually bake at about 300 degrees. Can you tell me how to prevent this?

Jim Johnson
Myrtle Point, Oregon

Do you use tomatoes or a vinegar marinade in your roasts? I like beef stew in a Dutch oven, but I also like beef stew with tomato sauce gravy. I, also, got metallic taste until I found out that acid (tomato, tomato juice, sauce or vinegar…usually used in a marinade) causes that taste in Dutch ovens made of uncoated cast iron. So now I don’t roast these things in my Dutch oven. Also, be sure to sear your meat in hot grease before you begin slow cooking it with the lid on. Your Dutch oven should be hot before you put your meat in it. Once both sides have been seared, you may add water or broth and then continue cook at a lower temperature with the lid on. — Jackie


  1. I love your old bathtub. Wish I lived closer to you. I would buy it in a heartbeat. Love your cabin. Its beautiful. I bought your canning book and loved it so much I bought one for my neighbor. She loves it too.

  2. Thanks for such a prompt reply to my question Jackie! I will for sure be asking for all the bones and fat. You are such a wealth of information, you will never how many lives you have impacted and blessed.

  3. “Poor Will…. the abuse that man takes. Being made to taste all of those goodies.”

    Hahaha @ Karen, too funny…we should all have that problem! Everything looks so good. What I wouldn’t give to be able to spend some time with Jackie learning and the little nuances that you just can’t put into words. They say an education is a priceless gift, thanks Jackie for educating us all and enriching our lives.

  4. I am a total newbie to canning and storing, however, my Grandma use to have a garden and can just about everything…I was just to little back then to properly learn and remember any of it….

    She use to use pretzel cans, really big tins, for a lot of her storing…..When I began to research the “how to’s” I noticed all the schmancy (as CBP puts it, LOL) stuff suggested now a days – I know that my Grandma never had any of that around, and I’m sure in a bad situation of the future those would be impossible to replenish…..So, thank you for taking away that worry (of needing or having), that was great to hear (and confirm)….

  5. I’m running around looking for food grade buckets, mylar, O2 absorbers — and then a little bit ago I read that you used popcorn tins and lined trash cans. . . and I said

    “Self, I’ll bet she doesn’t use all that schmancy mylar stuff either.”

    Smack goes the hand to the forehead!! I think I’ll just go with your tried and true methods.

    And I can’t wait for the new recipe book!!!

  6. A few days ago I found a website called Homestead acres. That is the first time I heard about cooking bones down for broth. We are having two steers butchered in the next month or so and I will be getting the bones back with the meat. What a great idea that is and why should I have to be told that. The only time I have not lived on a farm and raised our our meat is when I lived in a covered wagon. Some one from that site said she goes and gets the deer bones and makes broth and also is able to get enough meat from them to have a nice amount of meat in jars also. All for free. Food in jars in my basement, what a wonderful feeling..

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