We had to get up very early on the first really cold morning since we’d been married but we were both excited; Sawyer to go hunting and me for other reasons. I had been all prepared to try my hand at canning some of the first venison of the season until Sawyer had explained that the meat would need to hang and age before we did anything with it. So I put away the jars and pressure canner and planned on taking care of the black walnuts. First I had to catch up on some housework and some laundry that I had let slide the last couple of days while I foraged. I had no sooner set down to work on the black walnuts than Sawyer called to tell me that I would need to feed about ten hungry men. Apparently while Sawyer, Uncle James, and Tommy had gotten a deer each they had been field dressing them and been surprised by a flock of feral pigs … or maybe not a flock, maybe it is called a herd or something. Either way it was a bunch of them and they were mean as they had a big tusker leading them.
The big tusker weighed several hundred pounds and the other pigs weren’t much smaller except for the yearlings or whatever you call the pigs that aren’t piglets but they aren’t what you would call full-fledged adults either; those pigs weigh about a hundred or so pounds each. The herd or whatever you call it didn’t have any piglets with them which I was happy to hear because I don’t like the idea of orphan babies running around in the woods even if they are orphan pigs that will only eventually cause someone trouble.
Sawyer was breathless over the phone having just helped to lift most of the carcasses into the back of the pickup trucks. “Gramps and whoever else shows up will get some of the meat but with the day being nasty and cold I’m not sure who will show up. Just be prepared for about a dozen and that should be fine.” Turns out that Cutter, Davis, Benedict, their dads, Gramps, and Uncle Forrester showed up to help Uncle James, Tommy, and Sawyer.
The cold and damp almost immediately had Gramps and Uncle Forrester directing from the porch though eventually they were sitting in the warmth of the kitchen working on their lists of supplies and stuff until the sausage was ready for grinding and then they took over that part of the butchering. I helped them debone, trim, and cube pork butts and other pieces of the pork and then run it through a grinder. They said that all of the sausage they were doing this time was going to be fresh, bulk sausage so the only ingredients was salt, sage, and pepper that they mixed in cold water and then mixed into the ground pork by hand in these huge enamel pans. Then they used this ginormous stuffer and put the bulk sausage into muslin tubes that were hand sewn and about three or four inches in diameter. It was very cool to watch and I told them so in between helping them and fixing a large cauldron of beans with ham hocks, stewed potatoes, and several platters of cornbread.
Gramps of course interrogated me the entire time he was there and I kept trying to tell him that Sawyer and I are doing well. We aren’t Rockefellers in the cash department but we feel as rich as Midas in a lot of other areas.
Gramps shook his head. He wasn’t irritated but he was determined. “That’s a good way to look at things Sugar but I need a list of what you and Sawyer need.”
Just as determined I told him, “We’ve got all our needs met Gramps. We’ve got some wants sure but that’s all they are.”
Back and forth we went. “Now Sugar, I got onto Sawyer about being prideful.”
Trying not to get irritated because I knew he just wanted to help I suggested, “Why don’t you ask about something from your lists and I’ll try and be specific so you can see what I mean.”
“Sugar,” he said quickly trying to tease me.
I grinned and rolled my eyes at his silliness but got serious as I started to try and give him factual numbers. “Hmmm. We have almost seventy five pounds of white sugar, several five gallon buckets of honey, a big barrel of sorghum, a small barrel of Karo syrup … the light cane syrup and a couple of bottles of the dark stuff … a few bottles of Briar Rabbit that were here when we moved in, then there is my brown sugar and powdered sugar.”
“Flour,” he said just as quickly.
I answered him each time he changed categories with what I could think of off the top of my head without actually having our inventory in front of us. When he came to milk I sighed. “We have several large cans of powdered milk and a couple cases of canned milk. I save that as much as possible though we have an account with Toby’s grandfather for things like fresh milk, butter, and cheese. So dried milk and powdered eggs are what we are trying to add more to. If it happens that’ll be good but we won’t starve without it.”
Uncle Forrester was smiling mischievously and I asked, “What?”
In his slow and precise post-Stroke speech he told me, “Show him your forage.”
“Oh. Gramps won’t want to see that,” I said somewhat embarrassed.
“Oh yes Gramps does,” said the man in question. “Thought I’d never be invited to. Let me wash my hands. You got it down in the basement?”
The stairs didn’t make Gramps’ arthritis very happy and I was aching a bit too so we both took it slow. But, when we got down in the basement and I turned the lights on down there Gramps blinked a couple of times and then started walking around the shelves that Sawyer and I had cleaned up as well as the new ones that we had added to hold everything. I worked hard to keep things clean and organized but it didn’t always stay the way I wanted it to be, especially when I added things like the buckets of all the nuts that I was working on. I waited anxiously for him to say something.
He sniffed and then used his bandana to wipe his nose. “This is beautiful. Has Pearl seen this?”
“I don’t think so, at least not to do more than stick her head down when we first started canning to make sure I had room and sturdy shelves to store the jars on. Aunt Suzanne has seen it as she helped me carry up some jars up one time but that’s been months ago too. When we got back up the stairs she closed the door tight and then winked at me. She never said anything else and Sawyer and I don’t want it to seem like we are bragging or showing off.”
Gramps sniffed again and then acted like his nose itched. “Wanna show me your hobby? Maybe you won’t brag on it but Sawyer has said a few things.”
I had been tempted to set all of the preserved foraged things off by themselves but then I decided that if I was going to include them in our everyday menu then I might as well mix the jars with our everyday food storage. So the canned kudzu, wild mustard, dandelion, chickweed, and other wild greens were lined up neatly beside the spinach, collards, and other domestic greens. The wild parsnips and burdock were beside the carrots, potatoes, and other root veggies that came out of the farm gardens. The elderberry “champagne” was in the area with the grape and other domesticated fruit wines and liqueurs that Sawyer was helping to make. The serviceberries, wild blackberries, and elderberries set with the jams, jellies, perserves, etc. of the domesticated fruit. I showed him the jars of dried sumac drupes, dried mushrooms, and dried spicebush berries. He took a look at everything, occasionally picking up something off the shelves to get a closer look.
Gramps was silent for a moment then nodded. “Reckon this is going to sound like a million years ago to a young thing you but I can remember my great grandmother having food like this in her pantry. Not necessarily done up in pretty jars, but in crocks and bottles that worked just as well for her. We were poor but rarely did we go hungry. Might have had to eat the same thing over and over at certain times of the season but it didn’t hurt us none and it was more than what some people had that had more money than we did. Seems we’ve lost ways we shouldn’t have lost, ways we might need again. I know Suzanne has mentioned it a few times; she and Pearl have had long discussions about it. Pearl just isn’t too sure the bulk of the family will understand. Wonder if the boys and their wives would eat this way.”
I told him, “Cutter ate kudzu and liked it.”
Gramps snorted and said, “That boy will eat anything so long as it doesn’t move fast enough to get away.”
At that moment there was the sound of a bunch of men coming in to get washed up and Gramps and I made our slow way back up the stairs. The men all left by midafternoon taking various cuts of meat with them. Sawyer was tired from being up very early so he did the outside chores, checked to make sure the hanging venison was secured for the night, and then settled onto the couch to listen to the news and promptly fell asleep. It wasn’t quite dark yet and I didn’t want to go to bed with so much left to do so I spent the next few hours setting some of our pork to cook in the crockpot so that I could can pulled pork tomorrow and basically trying to prepare ahead for what I needed to do the next day.
I trimmed most of the pork roasts so I could put it up in pint jars. I was told that we would get a couple of hams and a couple of shoulders as soon as they had been taken care of by Uncle James. Alternately he said he might just trade out some that he already has in the smoke house to make room for all the fresh coming in ahead of schedule. Uncle James said he would send Tommy over with some more hocks, salt pork, and things like that since I seemed to use them better than some of the others. He sighed and said the bacon had gone faster than had been planned for last year but if I could wait he would make sure that I got a good share of that and hog jowl as well and then get someone to show me how to can the bacon rather than have to worry about it sitting in the freezer. Because of that bit of news I set beans to soak overnight so that I can make home canned pork n’ beans using the salt pork.
After that I was tired but too wound up to go to bed for the night so I pulled out my own notebooks and started thinking. Gramps asking me about all of the basics had given me an itchy feeling on the back of my neck. I know I need to talk to Sawyer about my thoughts but not until I have them in order so they’ll make sense. One of the things I had been pondering is how to do stuff if or when a staple ingredient ran out.
We spent at least a week every semester of culinary class going over substitutions. I keep a nifty little chart that I made and added to all during high school that lists all sorts of substitutions. For instance you use equal amounts of honey for sugar up to one cup. If you go over one cup, you replace each cup over of sugar with 2/3 to 3/4 cup of honey depending upon the sweetness desired. Then you lower the baking temperature 25 degrees and watch your time carefully since products with honey brown faster. In recipes using more than one cup honey for sugar, it may be necessary to reduce liquids by 1/4 cup per cup of honey. And in baked goods, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of honey if baking soda is not already included in the recipe. This will reduce the acidity of the honey, as well as increase the volume of your product.
And then when I found out about the sorghum we would get in exchange for Sawyer helping bring in the canes I went to the library and looked up how to substitute sorghum for white sugar as well. It was very similar to using honey. In replacing ordinary sugar with sorghum, you increase the amount of sorghum by 1/3 over the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. At the same time, decrease the amount of liquid (milk and/or water) by this same amount. This is to keep the amount of total liquids and sugars in balance. When replacing sorghum for sugar in baking recipes, you apparently need some experience so the first few times you use a recipe you’ll need to keep a close watch. The exact ratios of substitutions may vary somewhat between different recipes. Also, it is not recommended that all sugar be replace under most circumstances. Best results are obtained by replacing 50% to 75% of the sugar with the required amount of sorghum.
I’ve got a long list of other substitutions as well and a good thing I kept my list from school because Linda had lost hers. We took it to the library and made several copies to share with the other wives but not all of them took it. I think that it is foolish to turn down knowledge like that but maybe they have enough they don’t have to worry about things like I do. I hope that is the case anyway.
During his “interrogations” Gramps brought up one of my bigger worries and that is how will I get by without flour. Easy enough to just say do without or use cornmeal but I want other options as well and I know they are out there, it is a matter of whether they are feasible for our money situation.
One of the big issues that a lot of the special ed kids faced at school were special diets. Sometimes the special diets were about behavior; for instance plenty of the kids weren’t supposed to have foods with red dye in it. Sometimes the special diets were about messing with their medications, especially if they were on certain meds that didn’t mix well with caffeine. And sometimes it was about allergies. Things like milk, strawberries, and nuts were fairly simple to deal with but some students were allergic to wheat. That was a humdinger to try and work around. It is amazing the number of common dishes that have wheat in them. Just flouring something for frying was a no no for some of my classmates. Most cookies and crackers were out. Most gravies were as well. I wanted to try and use some of that creativity I learned during the semester we studied that but this time, not because either Sawyer or I had an allergy but because we simply might wind up without wheat flour of any kind to use.
I checked out a couple books from the library and found that it was time to pull them out to read. One of them is called “The Complete Guide to Wheat-Free Cooking” by Phyllis Potts. Of all the “wheat free” type cookbooks available for check out it looked the least threatening. There weren’t any pictures and the book was kind of flimsy but it has over three hundred pages and easily at least that many recipes. Almost at the very beginning of the book (on page 6) I found a list of flour substitutes that I immediately wrote into my notebook.
One Cup of Wheat Flour equals:· 7/8 cup amaranth flour
· ¾ cup white bean flour
· 7/8 cup buckwheat flour
· 7/8 cup chickpea (garbanzo) flour
· ¾ cup corn flour
· 1 cup corn meal
· ¾ cup millet flour
· ¾ cup oat flour
· 5/8 cup potato flour
· ¾ cup potato starch
· 7/8 cup rice flour
· ¾ cup soy flour
· ¾ cup tapioca flour
I recognized about half of them including the bean flours as during my last semester in school one of my culinary lessons had been on how to deal with unappetizing foods like old dried beans. Beans that are too old to cook up even in a pressure cooker can be ground like wheat and turned into a type of flour. Bean flour can be used in gravies or as a thickener for other stuff. Now apparently I found out it can be used to make bread too.
Millet I thought of as a type of birdseed that was often used as a hot cereal. I was pretty sure that amaranth was the same basic thing but I’d never seen any for sale at the stores where I’d shopped. Same for the potato and tapioca flours. Rice flour I had been interested in since school but had never had any scope to experiment. And you needed a grain grinder which I only recently became the owner of one. I have gotten pretty good at grinding my own wheat and corn so I knew it was time to try rice. The good thing is that several sources said that a twenty-five pound bag of rice should make enough flour to last a couple of months. It is a cheap way to extend my flour.
But there is a catch. Isn’t there always a catch to anything that sounds too good? The problem with almost every kind of flour besides wheat is that it has zippo gluten. Gluten is the stuff that makes dough all elastic and junk so it can trap the air bubbles made by yeast and make the bread rise. So the best thing to do is use wheat substitutes in flat breads or mix it with other things to make up for the lack of gluten.
Corn flour and corn meal I’m not going to worry about because I can make cornbread all day long and Sawyer will eat it by the skillet full. I also know how to make corn cakes which are a lot like pancakes and can be eaten savory or sweet depending what, if anything, you put on them. I started looking at the different recipes in the book and making notes and that is where Sawyer found me a couple of hours later when he finally woke up ready for bed.
“Hey, what’s the idea of leaving me to sleep on the sofa?”
“You were tired,” I told him.
Shrugging I answered, “Yes and no.”
I looked up and concerned I asked, “What?”
“You’ve got that look on your face.”
“That look. The one that says you’re thinking hard and fast and not all of it is good thoughts. Plus you’ve got that little line between your eyebrows that says you are getting stubborn on it.”
I sighed and stretched and listened to my body crack and pop as it always did when I’d been in one position too long. Sawyer shook his head at the sound and then slid into the chair opposite me while looking at the books I had spread across the table. “So what’s up oh wife of mine.”
“Ugh. What’s with the weird talk?”
“Tired. Dopey. Seriously though, what’s all this?”
“Gramps was …”
Sawyer dramatically dropped his head onto his arm. “Oh Lord, what now? Not another list?!”
I smiled at his antics and answered, “No, nothing like that. Just he was pushing hard to get all the details because apparently he is just determined to think the only thing holding us together is pride and the Hartford name which appears to be about the same thing. Uncle Forrester tried to lead him off the scent but without success.”
“When Gramps is in gear absolutely nothing and no one can distract him.” Then with a little worry showing he asked, “Did … er … did he upset you?”
I gave him a tired smile to let him know absolutely not. “Uh uh. I think I actually got him to ease back a little so hopefully he’ll give you some peace too. Uncle Forrester told me to show him the basement – and how Uncle Forrester knows I have no idea because it’s not like he has ever been down there.”
Making a face after he’d given it some thought he said, “Well … it’s like this … he asked me to take pictures a couple of weeks back. He wanted to see how we’d built the shelves. You know those two slats that we decided to nail up so we wouldn’t accidentally pull another jar off like that time we dropped the jalapeno peppers and stunk the basement up. I took them with my phone and then he made me load them up onto his computer so he could enlarge them and look at them. I didn’t think anything of it. Sure didn’t think he’d say something. You aren’t upset are you?”
I shrugged. “Why on earth would I be? They’re your family and I like Uncle Forrester. I just don’t want anyone to think we have big heads or anything like that.”
“I’m starting to not care what some of them think.”
Hearing the tone in his voice I said, “Uh oh, that doesn’t sound good.”
“I’m not fighting with any of them and don’t plan on it if that’s what you are worried about. Gramps doesn’t tolerate feuding in the family. I’m just getting tired of some of them not going as hard or as fast as they can but then finding plenty of time to sit around and complain of what they don’t have and what some of us do. You’d think I wouldn’t be surprised by it but I am.”
“Some of them might not be as mature as you.”
“You thinking Cutter?”
“I was wondering.”
“No. He’s ok. He’s settled down a lot and Beth has helped with that. I think it is the whole baby thing. He’s a little freaked out and trying not to show it. And it’s not Davis either. Uncle Mark rides his tail as bad as Gramps sometimes rides mine but Davis almost accepts that as kinda … motivation I guess you would say.”
“Your Uncle Mark’s motivation is definitely something I can do without.”
“Yeah but Davis … well whatever works. Cindy tolerates it well too because her father is the same way although it doesn’t seem to do Clay much good. As for the others, not my problem.”
“It might be our problem if at some point if things get bad and they suddenly find themselves without. Especially with the job your Grandfather and Uncle James seem to be setting you … you and Tommy … up for.”
Showing his stubborn side Sawyer crossed his arms and said, “I’ll take the job but I’m not going to handicap anyone by doing too much for them. I think that is part of the problem some of them are having. We were coddled … all of us boys were. We were allowed to run wild. We worked hard, played hard, but not all of us had to pay the consequences we should have or had to work hard all the time like we have to now. Those that worked in town got used to town hours and town habits and now they are having to unlearn bad habits. A lot of us lived at home until just recently … or we lived in apartments on the farm and ate with family so never really learned the price of things like maybe we should have before now. Some have taken it better than others have. I hope when things really do get hard that it pulls the others the rest of the way in line. If it doesn’t … when you really love someone sometimes all you can do is let them pay for what they didn’t do. And yes, I’m sitting here with my face all hanging out eating crow because I had to learn that lesson too. And if I can then they can which is half of what irritates me.”
I reached over and put my hand on his where it started to ball up, showing his frustration. “Well if they do they do and if they don’t I guess we deal with it when it happens.”
Trying to relax when he realized he didn’t need to fight me on it he said, “Yeah … so this stuff …?”
I shrugged once again. “Just trying to figure a way around things in case we run short of stuff.” I stretched and popped again and told him, “In school we were always short of something because of budget cuts. Instead of getting all wiggy Mrs. Valdez and the other teachers used it as a teaching opportunity. We had to learn to substitute for things when we didn’t have it or didn’t have enough. Right now I’m working on what happens or what I can do about running low on wheat flour. We’ve got a lot of whole wheat that I can grind into flour but your family doesn’t grow wheat. We have to get this stuff at the feed depot and what if the feed depot goes out of business or wheat gets too expensive or they’ll only sell us a little bit at a time like happened back during the Civil War … like we watched on that documentary. They already are piecing out their inventory and we still haven’t received all that we ordered last time.”
Interested despite his fatigue he said, “OK, I’ll bite. What do we do?”
I explained some of the things I was looking at and he made a few notes of his own and then he said, “Fascinating conversation though this is Beautiful, I … am … tired. And even if you’re fighting it I can see you are too. Let’s just call it a night.”
I agreed with him. “But Sawyer, at some point we gotta think about this stuff. Gramps and Uncle Forrester sound like they are about to make the last supply run and then hunker down from here on out. They say they don’t want people remembering that they were just in to pick up a large order of anything. They want them to assume that we are out or just as short of supplies as they expect everyone else is going to be getting if they aren’t already are.”
“Yeah. Their tone has definitely gotten more serious I will admit. But man cannot live on stress alone. Babe … I gotta sleep.”
I could see it in his face and hear it in his voice. What else could I do but go up to bed? But it was a long time before I fell asleep. It wasn’t just the flour that could run out. There was a lot of stuff. And as the night got colder and Sawyer stopped snoring and really sunk deep into sleep, I wondered if I was overreacting or if the potential for danger that I was seeing was real.