Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On cooking

In previous posts about my crazy homesteading idea I talked about having fuel to get me through and also providing for water. Cooking of course requires both.
I figure I'll start my time with a normal load of groceries. Seems like a smart settler would bring groceries along. That'll probably last a week. After that it'll be mostly beans and rice.
Why beans and rice? Outside of the US beans and rice is a major staple food, it keeps well, is easy to cook and is shelf stable. Keep the animals, air and moisture out and it'll keep a good long time.

I'll also do some foraging which will at least provide counterpoint to my rice and beans. Won't probably be enough to survive on though. A priority will be to get a garden growing. Things like spinach grow quickly and again will provide variety. Longer term squashes are very easy to grow and provide heavily. I'm told tomatoes are difficult but I've never had any problem. New England is a very forgiving climate for gardening and I intend to take advantage of that.

There are many sources of pot meat that folks in the north don't tend to think of and the big one on our farm is the groundhog. Also known as a woodchuck we're talking here about marmota monax. Since our farm hasn't been actively worked for nearly a decade at this point our fields are frequented by the fat critters. A .22 rifle makes short work of one and once I start gardening removing them as pests will be a requirement. There is no fixed season on groundhogs so this is all totally legal. Also legal year round are squirrels, unfortunately northern Maine isn't home to big fat squirrels like the grey and fox squirrels you see down south, we only get the little reds. Still if all you'd been eating was rice and beans I suspect a little squirrel meat would be welcome.

The biggest problem will be a shortage of fuel. If I limit myself to the initial fuel load I will certainly at some point be forced to burn wood to cook with. Early on while the weather is cold I could cook on the woodstove in the cabin. However warmer weather will certainly make that impractical. Back in the old days they had summer kitchens, a kitchen outside to keep the heat out of the house. I like this and ideally I'll source another small boxwood stove like we have in the camp to provide for such. I could extend the roof off of the shower house and with a good brick floor it would be pleasant. Otherwise I'd need to build a firepit and tripod. I could cook in a dutch oven over the open fire. For things like basic rice and beans this wouldn't be too bad. Still it'd be a world of dirty pots and smokey fires.

Fuel for wood fires is plentiful. No real timber harvesting has been done on our land in more than 50 years. We're mostly grown in with spruce and poplar. The latter is actually quaking aspen and not poplar proper. Both make decent fire wood although generally referred to as "gopher wood" in that as soon as you load the stove you need to go-fer wood because it burns up so quickly. Considering the relatively small amounts of wood needed for cooking I would start by thinning the trees around the camp, our woods are badly grown in with inter-meshing branches that stunt growth and cut down on animal traffic. Historically these dead low branches are called squaw wood and clearing them out is good for the forest, it lets the trees get bigger and keeps forest fires at bay. I presume over 6 months or so I'd get to the point where I'd have to start foraging fairly far from the camp which is good news. Very long term there would be a need to actually cut some trees for wood. The rule of thumb is usually that you can cut a cord of wood per acre per year without damaging the land. We've got probably 10 or more acres in trees so I basically can't ever cut too many trees as long as I spread my cutting around...

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