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Self-sufficiency, when it really matters.

Aaaah, the wonders of the homesteading life, and of self-sufficiency! I've got my acres; got my road cleared, leveled and constructed. Got my well drilled and the cabin built, all by myself. Who says I'm hapless??

Went down to the bank, all by myself. Begged for a loan, all by myself. Rounded up the dirt contractor, the well-driller and the builder, all by myself. Wrote out the checks, all by myself.

However, now that I'm warm and dry, I'm beginning to experiment with more ... er ... traditional self-sufficiency. I did cut all the wood I needed to heat the house last winter. Got some hens, and they're furnishing all the eggs we need. We canned tomatoes and put up corn, and I've got 50 chicks to raise, and some bunnies to breed for meat. Although, they sure are cute and fuzzy!

What other basic, fundamental necessities of life can I provide for myself, just in case Missouri is attacked by the barbarian hordes from Kansas, and our normal, retail economy is shattered? I've got a roof over my head, tomatoes and eggs to eat, wood to burn. What about liquor?

A few years ago, while combing through the offerings at some jumble sale or another, I pounced upon a copy of the late Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus, on sale for a quarter. Gibbons, for those of you who may not recall, was a popular fixture of the 1960s and '70s--an outdoorsman, naturalist, and teacher of survival skills who promoted the use of "wild foods." Folks most vividly remember the grizzled weed-eater in his commercial for Grape Nuts cereal ("Tastes like wild hickory nuts!"), and as the author of several books which described the collection and preparation of edible wild plants.

I admit that I have never been one to shy away from, shall we say, unusual foods. At various times, I have eaten snails, octopusses (that sounds less clinical than "octopi"), raw mussels from a Louisiana bayou, and all of the barbecued digestive organs--along with most of the endocrine system--of a certain unidentified, medium-sized hoofed mammal. I think it goes without saying that the preparer of the last dish "wasn't from around here."

I thus felt absolutely no hesitation in attempting some of Mr. Gibbons' recipes, even though I am severely "botanically challenged" and can recognize no more than one or two wild plants. People who classify plants and animals can be divided into "splitters" (who create lots and lots of categories, based on small variations) and "lumpers," who tend to look at the bigger picture. I am a lumper. Small plants are grass. Medium plants are shrubs. Large plants are trees. Trees are further subdivided into "pines" and "not pines."

I am, however, fairly adept at recognizing dandelions, but only after they have developed the little fluffy gray "seed balls." Gibbons claimed that many parts of the dandelion are edible, and, in fact, delicious; however, most of the delicious parts seem to be delicious only during the early spring, before the seed balls develop. This puts me at a serious disadvantage in recognizing the plant in time to avail myself of the deliciousosity.

Euell (see, we're already on a first-name basis) did give a recipe for dandelion wine. I remember thinking, "That's more like it!" and "That's for me!" The recipe, given here from memory, involved the following simple steps:

1. Pick a gallon of dandelion flowers. (I managed to identify them. At the time, I worked at city hall, in a small Louisiana town, and soon realized that they are little yellow, squatty things which grow profusely all around the municipal building, newspaper offices, and alongside the downtown sidewalks. Should anyone ask how much time is required for a 43-year-old man to pick a gallon of dandelion flowers, in broad daylight, on Saturday morning, in the middle of Greater Metropolitan Bastrop, Louisiana, you may accurately report that at least an hour-and-three-quarters is needed. I was unable to stand completely upright for a week.)

2. The flowers are then placed into a two-gallon crock and covered with one gallon of boiling water and allowed to steep for three days. (I had no crock, two-gallon capacity or otherwise, so I used two one-gallon institutional-sized pickle jars, with one-half gallon of flowers in each).

3. After this "tea" has steeped for three days, the liquid is to be strained through a cheesecloth and brought to a boil, along with the juice and peel of three oranges and a lemon, three pounds of sugar, and a "small ginger root." At this point, a half-cake of yeast is to be spread on a piece of rye toast and floated in the liquid, which has been re-strained and returned to the crock and covered with a cloth.

By the time I reached this stage of the process, the whole experiment had pretty much been "shot to hell," as they say; however, if you're still with me, the liquid should then be kept fermenting in a warm place for several weeks, then decanted into bottles and left alone until "after Christmas."

I think I went astray in Step 1. I consider a dandelion "flower" to be everything north of the top end of the stem, including the little green cup-thing that holds the petals together. In retrospect, this may not be the case, although Gibbons was unforgivably vague about this most important point.

I can assure you that, when boiling water is added to two one-gallon pickle jars of dandelion flowers, with the green parts attached, and allowed to sit, sealed, for three days, the resulting brew smells exactly like (this is not for the squeamish) two gallons of human vomit. The magnitude of the smell increases geometrically, not arithmetically, and will completely and immediately permeate a 2,475 square-foot house as soon as the jar is opened.

Should a budding winemaker attempt to undertake Step 3 at 11:30 p.m., after attending a city council meeting and a late-night youth softball game, he should anticipate that the resulting smell will quickly awaken 83.33% of a family of six, assuming that 16.67% of that family is responsible for generating the smell. I kept trying to assure the alarmed and disgusted onlookers that the smell was part of the process and that I had followed all directions to the letter.

Despite my feeble reassurances, we were forced to leave every window in the house open for two days before the smell finally dissipated. The wine-in-progress was, at my wife's insistence, dumped into the oxidation pond, from which the turtles fled, gasping. I would not be surprised to learn that the late Mr. Gibbons became "late" as the result of drinking this mess. I admit that I've never smelt anything more loathsome in my life, although I do feel that wives should be more supportive of their husbands in such endeavors. My wife was not as amused as she could have been, and suggested that the kitchen curtains would have to be burned. In retrospect, I wonder if this episode has any bearing on the fact that she is now my ex-wife!?!

My failure should not discourage any nascent weed-eaters or blossom boilers, I'll still recommend Euell Gibbons' several books, particularly S talking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Healthful Herbs, available in the parish (that's "county," for you non-Louisianians) library or at any garage sale.

Complimentary samples of your successful home-made wine will be cheerfully welcomed, and gratefully accepted, at the below address, so long as we don't run afoul of any federal laws. We Ozarkians don't take kindly to revenooers.

George Sims, now relocated to the Missouri Ozarks from his previous home in Louisiana, can be contacted at Bonne Idee Farm, Rt. 2 Box 237-3, Mansfield, Missouri 65704-9564, or at bonneideefarm@hotmail.com.

GEORGE SIMS

MISSOURI
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Title Annotation:The hapless homesteader
Author:Sims, George
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:1305
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