Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 21, 2012

Them good old time eats

Dan Graves
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — You sometimes wonder what would happen if the world’s food supply suddenly dried up.

Those who didn’t know how to live off the land would probably be eating labels off scrap bean cans. However, maybe the labels would be better tasting than some natural foods.

A few months ago I was sitting at the word processor trying to write while my stomach was making noises like a love sick grizzly bear. Our refrigerator was crammed with nothing but garden fresh vegetables from the gardens of well meaning friends and I was getting sick of nothing but tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cantaloupes and sweet corn. Not to mention the bags of green peppers and heads of cabbage. Judy and I had got to the point where, if a neighbor or friend knocked on the door, we turned off the lights and hid under the bed. But even that didn’t work. The ungrateful wretches left bags of the stuff on the patio and then rubbed salt in the wound by calling and asking us if we had found the sack of tomatoes and baby squash on the porch.

“Uh, yeah, we found it and we want to thank you for your generosity, (You no-good-for nothing, garden grubbing ------, under our breath).

“Well, there’s plenty more where that came from. I’ll bring it over tomorrow.”

“Uh, you don’t have to do that. Why don’t you send it to China? We hear that there are a lot of starving children over there and we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves knowing we had taken food from the mouth of babes (starving children in China? We couldn’t think of another country fast enough). That normally resulted in a long silence followed by a belly laugh and a promise to do so after we had received our share. I don’t want to give the impression that we didn’t appreciate their generosity, but why couldn’t they have left a couple of porterhouse steaks or dressed chickens. After all, my philosophy has always been, “man cannot live on grass alone”. So far, no fisherman has left a batch of fish on our patio and I’ve yet to open the door and find an array of delicate pastries.

After telling all our friends that I had developed an allergy to anything growing from dirt, I began to wonder how our forefathers fared when it came to adding green stuff to their diets. I know vegetables are essential to good health, but I’ll take a McCholestrol Artery Plugger over a bowl of spinach every time. Of course, the pioneers had their hogs, cattle, and chickens, but what did they use for a salad before the main course? My series of Foxfire books, written on the life of early mountain folks and their ways, supplied the answers.

First on the list was a fruit in the form of white and red mulberries. According to the old timers these made pies, jellies, and a form of candy. Not exactly healthy fare, but better than boiled cabbage. My only experience with mulberries came from a huge tree in the back yard. Birds love the things, but half the cars in the neighborhood were painted a deep purple by the end of July. If I thought the thing had any redeeming value I would have cut it down and used it for firewood. But I doubted it would even burn.

In the books there followed numerous recipes and uses for a number of other wild berries, but I needed to know what green things they considered edible. Of all things, they qualified the fruit of the may apple as edible if fixed properly. Maybe so, but when the article stated that one is to eat only the fruit and nothing else from the tree because the stems and leaves are poisonous, I moved to the next subject. No wonder a person’s life span was so short back then and legal divorces were fairly rare. All it took was a tossed salad of may-apple leaves and the survivor inherited the farm.

Next came cattail flapjacks, nut grass cereal, nut sedge flour, and Chiney-brier shoots to use as a substitute for asparagus shoots. The one item of that group I’m familiar with are cattails and the only thing they’re good for is snagging a fishing lure along the shore of farm ponds. So far I figure I’ve left $24.75 worth of the things hanging in that growth.

The one thing that really caught my eye was the hog peanut. This thing produces underground pods much like peanuts and were listed as being rather poor tasting. Why eat it? Next was the ground nut. Described as a tuber with a delicious, nut like flavor, the description ended in bold letters that said, “They are not considered edible until cooked.” I stopped before I got to thistle, stinging nettles, agrimony, red clover, and a number of plants from which teas can be made. Suddenly, all that green stuff in the refrigerator didn’t look so bad. At least I might live long enough to collect my share of  social security if I stick with the known greenery. I have real sympathy for our ancestors, especially for those who were the first to try supplementing their diet with unknown wild weeds. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of the first hapless soul who experimented with a green persimmon. Thank goodness for lawn mowers for removing all that temptation.