Mama Kat Thursday: Backwoods Indiana Eating Adventures

Living out in the country, gardening is quite common. It really stretches the grocery bill. Even today, driving through rural Alabama, I see a decent size garden by most homes.

Growing up in Indiana in the 60's and 70's, our parents had a garden as well.
Two large beds about 16 x 35 feet each, arranged one of above the other, step fashion, kind of like the photo, though instead of grass in the middle, Mother had a strawberry bed the length of those gardens.
She grew sweet corn, bell peppers, broccoli, leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, beets, cucumbers, kohlrabi, sugar peas, summer squash, tomatoes and green and wax bush beans--lots of tomatoes and bush beans!
And she canned the beans, beets and tomatoes for a taste of summer on our plates all winter long! She canned plenty of tomatoes plain for recipe use, but many were turned into canned spaghetti sauce or chili sauce or home-made catsup and canned.
For Mother, raising a garden was an eating adventure by itself, since she described herself as something of a "picky eater," while growing up and used the garden to expand her tastes. 

So she was always experimenting, trying new things:
Canned pickled beets.
If you're pickling beets anyway, why not try pickling some hard boiled eggs?
 (I love both those things!)

Cooked beet greens.

She tried growing Horse Radish, which was interesting, but the plant proved too invasive and had to be removed.

Jerusalem Artichokes

And Jerusalem Artichokes. Those were delicious. You eat the tubers, which have a crisp, nutty flavor. Great sliced in salads.

She grew Asparagus and Rhubarb. I didn't realize what a treat it was to have free Asparagus or Rhubarb until I grew up saw the prices at the grocery!

One year, she planted all different kinds of summer and winter squashes and we had a year of squash! Finding ways to serve it was a bit of a challenge.

But the eating adventures didn't stop with what we could grow in the garden:

Wild Grape Jelly.
Wild grapes grow prolifically throughout the forests of Indiana, but
wild grapes
the vines like to crawl into tree tops, putting the fruit a 100 feet up, where just the birds get it.
To make this wild fruit accessible to us, Dad one year built a split-rail fence near the edge of the woods to serve as a trellis and trained some of the young wild grapes vines onto it, so, once they were mature enough to  bear, we got to eat home-canned wild grape jelly for the several years the split-rail trellis held up.

Sour dough bread.
Someone gave Mother a batch of starter. That's the old-fashioned tradition associated with sour dough: friends passing starter to friends. But, once you've got starter, it has to be used, so regular baking is a must. Though, there is little better then the rich flavor of fresh sour dough bread! I recall Mother experimenting with making English Muffins. 

Cow Milk.
Our neighbor down the road had a single black & white Holstein milk cow. She had 7 children and that one cow made too much milk for just her family, so she split the quantity with us. Luckily, Mother grew up milking a cow and handling fresh milk, so she was no stranger to skimming the cream. We made lots and lots of home-made ice cream with it, trying out all sorts of different flavor recipes! I remember Rocky Road was one.

Pick Your Own Peaches
I recall one year we drove to a local peach orchard down on Pumpkinvine Road, where we could "pick our own."  I remember the trees were ancient and gnarled. It wasn't a young orchard. But we brought all those peaches home and Mother canned them. I remember enjoying them all winter.

Wild Hickory Nuts
Wild Hickory Nuts.
We had Hickory trees galore on our property and, one year, we kids decided to collect them for baking purposes. Hey, they were free nuts.
Hickory nuts come inside a larger husk that's easily peeled off---but shelling the meat out of the inner nut---that was a more difficult proposition! The meat in wild nuts isn't nice and loose like a hybrid walnut---it's tight inside there and not at all easy to get out.
We did end up with a jar of nutmeats we did use for baking. Once we found how much trouble it was, we didn't do it again.
We had Beech trees, too, which make a small triangular nut that's supposed to be tasty, but by the time they hit the ground, the chipmunks had already emptied them and they just weren't accessible to us high up in huge 80 foot trees!

Dandelion Greens.
We had these in our yard. You can eat the greens. So Mother cooked some up for dinner one night. They were a little bitter. I remember Mother's conclusion about them was, "They'd be better combined with other greens, like beet or spinach."

Wood Sorrel.
A clover like thing that grows wild you can eat. We just sampled it raw one time while talking about it.
The stuff grows here in Florida, too. Hubby said he and his sisters used to call it "pickles," because they'd eat the unopened blossom buds.
As kids, we knew our environment pretty well; what was safe, what wasn't.
I would never advise anyone to nibble anything in their lawn or woods without careful research or a field guide identifying what's edible and what's not.


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