Living Off the Land II
Only part II appears here at OEN because part 1 was very local in nature. For part one please go to adirondackexpress.com-OEN
Written by Mart Allen for The Adirondack Express
There was a time when every human being lived off the land literally. Millions of people in other cultures still do. Most Americans have to depend on others to grow their food and the rest of life’s necessities. There are however many who pride themselves on being able to sustain themselves to some extent with little or no help from others. There is a certain satisfaction in procuring your staples on your own and, if you are a locavore, gathering them as close to home as possible.
The word locavore may throw some of you reading this as it did the spell checker in the Microsoft Word program on my computer. A locavore is anyone who eats food from the local area. It was named the 2007 word of the year in many circles. It is one of the latest green things to hit the scene. It is one of the segments of the green movement everyone can agree on.
I believe being a locavore and gathering wild foods it is a trait that occurs in many people. I know it did in me and it manifested itself before I even hit my teens. I was fishing in a small tributary stream to the Oswego River near my home with a friend and caught my first fish large enough to consider eating. It was a carp which was considered to be what fishing aficionado’s call a rough or non-game fish. One of the generalities that earned it the title was that it was not the considered a good eating fish. I did not know that at the time so I proudly toted it home. My mother and father did not cast any aspersions on it even though they knew of its reputation. My mother cooked it and we ate it. I was proud of the fact that it was the first meaningful thing I was able to do to help the family totally on my own. I was the man.
I guess it may be the kid in me but I still get a lot of satisfaction from supplementing a part of our diet with local foods that are available from the wild. I should have been a little more circumspect and stated in the above sentence that only a minuscule part of our diet actually comes from the wild. So far this year to date four trout from the river in front of our home and enough wild leeks from a friends property near Port Leyden (NY) for a potato leek soup is the sum total. I have to admit that it’s more the thought than the actual benefits derived from living off the land that interests me.
One of the many drawbacks with wild foods is the extra preparation involved in cooking them to make them more palatable. Dandelion greens and cow slips are two such foods that require more thought when one considers eating them. Young burdock stems are another green that takes special know how to cook. In many areas asparagus grows wild and that is a real bonus for those lucky enough to live nearby. It taste’s exactly like its cultivated cousins. Young milkweed shoots are also a wild green that needs no special preparation as are fiddlehead ferns. All of the above greens have to be picked in their precise stage of development. Unlike berries, apples and all fruits which have to be ripe to be appreciated greens are best while they are immature.
Speaking of fruits and berries there is a great abundance of them growing wild. Wild strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, shad berries and elderberries practically grow on the doorstep of many people’s homes and camps. I bet that few people know that wild cranberries are available if they want to go to the trouble to find and pick them.
It is a lot of work under trying conditions to harvest enough berries to make a shortcake or pie. They can be frozen, canned or made into jams and jellies. My mother literally canned some fruits and vegetables by the bushel. The cost of all the items necessary to can, pickle and preserve got to the point where she figured that it was costing her as much as it was to buy the goods already put up. There are still many people who do what my mother used to do. Some as a hobby or for cultural reasons but nowhere near the numbers of people back in the day after WWII.
Freezing became much more popular from that time on. Food became relatively cheaper and shopping for sale items and stocking up on them for shorter terms was the way many go today. Many of the ways we live off the land today are done as much for our amusement as they are for need. Call it a hobby or whatever it may be but we do it to prove that we can.
The thought for the week: One swallow does not make a summer, and one swallow does not a summer make. Proverb: You should not assume that something is true just because you have seen only one.