Sunday, April 01, 2012

What we did: We foraged and grew our food

When you have a big family, people always want to know how you feed them.  Well, I was worried about that as the size of our family grew and especially with all those boys.  Oh, my goodness.  Their appetites were voracious.  They were bottomless pits.

But, I found easy and economical ways to fill those hungry bellies.  As you know from the previous post, we lived adjacent to the woods.  Like all frugal women, I used what was nearby and free.  In the spring, we foraged in the the woods and came home with bucket loads of fiddle head ferns.  They are a delicious, nutritious treat - they taste sort of like asparagus -  and we found all kinds of ways to use them; in salads, sauteed, stir-fried, fiddlehead quiche, fiddlehead lasagna, even fiddle head smoothies for breakfast.

Of course, those woods were full of stinging nettles, too, so we would regularly don our longest jeans and long sleeve shirts, put ski masks over our faces and go out into the woods to gather nettles.  There are also many, many ways to eat these nutritional goodies.  My favorite was nettle fricassee.  What a delicious dish!  Instead of chicken or pork, though, we used what we could find in the woods.  Remember that woodchuck from the last post?!  Well, you haven't lived til you've eaten a woodchuck nettle fricassee.  That dish, of course, hearkened back to my southern upbringing.  We usually had it with possum when I was younger, but woodchuck is a good substitute.

We had two rivers behind our house so we had a plentiful supply of fish and fresh water mussels.  When Andrew went to Brussels to study abroad last year and ate mussels again, he said it took him back to his childhood and fond memories of standing in the muck on the edge of the river, digging with his toes for the mussels.  The kids would gather them and bring them home in a bucket.  We'd scrub off the sand, steam them and eat them with a salad of dandelion greens, straight from the backyard.

About those dandelion greens - we never put weed killer or pesticides on our lawn, so we never worried about our kids getting toxic chemicals in their diet from the items we foraged from our lawn.  In addition to eating the dandelion greens, we would harvest the roots, dry them, grind them and use them for a coffee substitute.  Such a treat!  I think starting their mornings off with dandelion coffee is one of the reasons all of my children are so fond of hot beverages to this day.

One of our favorite delicacies was the snails from our garden.  My neighbors always had problems with snails eating their vegetables, but we solved that problem by having the kids go out at night with a flashlight and pick off the snails.  Can you imagine - escargot for a family of eight straight from our backyard.  What do you think that would have cost us in a restaurant ... and it was all free!  The French usually eat their escargot cooked in wine with garlic and butter, but I like different ethnic cuisines, so I usually cooked them the Maltese way, (scroll down in the article) simmered in ale with plenty of mint, basil, and marjoram from our garden.

Of course, I taught my kids how to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms and a day or so after each rain, we would go to the spot in the woods where trees had fallen and begun to rot to find oodles of mushrooms sprouting in fairy rings.  There were so many, we would dry them for use in the winter when foraged food was harder to come by.

Now, you may be thinking that we only ate food we could find on the land.  I wish that were true because it certainly would have been healthier, but here is the more difficult part of our food story.  We didn't own a cow so we had to buy our milk.  The closest and cheapest place to get it was the Cumberland Farms convenience store just around the corner.  Because they didn't even have to cross any streets to get there, I could send even the youngest to the store for milk.  By the time they could walk, each one of them was itching to "run to Cumbies" for milk.  It was a rite of passage.

Little did I know, however, that on these errands for milk, my children were being exposed to the evils of processed food.  Those rows of candy and packaged pastries at toddler eye level were just too much, and by the time they were four or five, each of my children had discovered the delights of Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, Snickers bars and Skittles.  I never knew why they were so eager to run to Cumbies for me til the day I discovered the stash of discarded candy wrappers in the corner of Erin's closet.  Imagine my dismay.  All this time, I thought my children were eating the healthiest food on the planet, only to discover that they each had secret addictions to one form of junk food or another.

The only solution to that was to stop buying milk.  We would eliminate the trips to the convenience store by getting a cow.  But then we discovered that our neighborhood did not allow cattle to be pastured in back yards, so we had to opt for a goat.

Goat milk, goat cheese - oh, it was wonderful til the goat got out.  You know how easily they can leap over almost any fence.  Well, that darn goat, Mabel was her name, got out one night and in one fell swoop ate my entire vegetable garden.  That was the straw that broke the camel's back.  After that, I decided - no more milk.  We'll just have to be vegans.

So, we stopped drinking milk that comes from animals, planted the rest of our backyard in soybeans and made all our own soymilk.  I tell you, when it comes to food and eating healthy on a tight budget for a large family, where there's a will, there's a way!

We never had time for anything else besides food production and I regret to say that as they are growing into adults my children are rebelling.  They have opted for the fast food lifestyle and now spend most of their food budgets at places like Cookout and Burger King.

Well, I must quit.  Joel has a soccer game and I'm headed out the door.  I hope this little reflection on how we ate has encouraged you.  Even though my children all now eschew anything that is green or healthy, at least I know they had a good start in life!

; )
April Fool's!


Kathie said...

You got me girl . . .

but fiddleheads are yummy!

Rachel said...

oh my! first and only april fool's of the day - just wandered here for a moment this afternoon and kept thinking "she never told me any of this". i know they're healthy, but that?!? got to the end, laughed out loud, shook my head at myself...and later, without setting it up, read it to Rick. his eyes got pretty big! :-)

Archer said...

You totally got me - especially since I have eaten fiddleheads since becoming a Batcheller! I was starting to be surprised with the vegan and goat.... ;-) HA! (Kimberly)

Erin said...

Oh my gosh, LOVE it!!! When you started out with the fiddleheads I thought, "yeah, we did eat those, but I don't remember them being quite such a huge part of our diet..." Then when you got to the woodchuck I knew it had to be April Fools. This is, as Clara would say, "reerry, reerry hiLArious!!" :)

Carla said...

Totally ditto Rachel's comment, "she never told me any of this before!". Too funny girl!

Laura A said...

Yow, I knew there was some reason I shouldn't read blogs first thing in the morning. I was reading more or less in admiration at your resourcefulness, but was also thinking, "This doesn't sound like Beth. There must be a side to her that I haven't picked up on yet." Being a little behind in my blog reading, I hadn't noticed the date.

My favorite lines were the one about the candy wrappers, and the one about all the kids now preferring Burger King!

Though I can't really imagine you going completely back to the land, I can imagine your family pulling some pretty good pranks. Thanks for the laugh!


Jen U. said...

Haha! I love it Beth! Thanks for the laugh.