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Mountain Man Greg plans his menu

For the last several Septembers, when the new apples and morning air are crisp and my homegrown tomatoes taste like paradise, I’ve been trying to work up enough energy and courage to live off the land.

Not for the rest of my life — just for a month. And not like Brian Keith and Charlton Heston in "Mountain Men." I’m an urban guy, and I think I’d be glared at a lot, and probably arrested, if I snared neighborhood squirrels for supper, tanned rabbit pelts in my back yard and didn’t bathe for a year or two.

But I think it would be an interesting journalistic experiment to see if I can get by for a month almost entirely on food I’ve grown, gathered, caught or shot myself.

I say "almost entirely" because I just don’t think it’s realistic for me to grow my own wheat, grind my own flour and churn my own butter. That would require at least a few acres and a cow. So, I’d allow myself some staples, say five pounds of flour, a couple dozen eggs, some butter, sugar, salt and pepper.

But everything else I’d grow myself. I already have small herb and vegetable gardens in my yard, and I’d rent a community garden plot or two to grow a few things that take up a lot of space, such as potatoes, melons and sweet corn.

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And I’d stock up on fish, venison and pheasants during the fishing and hunting seasons. I’d can and freeze much of what I produce in preparation for my experiment. Finally, I’d keep a detailed journal and write about it.

This idea came to me a few years back after I heard a story on public radio about a guy who spent a period of time growing, gathering and bartering for his food. I didn’t think the bartering thing sounded like a good fit for me. But I figured that if I added wild meat and fish to the mix I could live off the land for at least a few weeks.

It would be an exercise in self-discipline, I thought, help me appreciate those who produce the food I put on the table, and better connect me with what I’m putting into my body.

There are just a few things that have held me back. Well actually five things.

1. I live in a house with two other people. A couple of years ago I tried to go a year without eating fast food. That lasted a little over a month. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most popular member of our family during that period.

2. I don’t exactly have a green thumb. I’ve been gardening since I took it up as a 4-H project when I was 10. My favorite things to grow are green beans, cucumbers and especially heirloom tomatoes. I don’t know if the heirlooms taste any better than modern hybrids, but I love the idea that I might be eating the same variety of tomato that my great grandmothers grew after they emigrated from Germany, England, Ireland and Holland.

Trouble is, I can’t seem to make stuff grow the way my great grandmothers could. This year, for example, I had a heck of a time getting seeds to germinate and my tomatoes are splitting before they’re ripe and being attacked by fruit flies and slugs.

3. I’m no Ted Nugent when it comes to hunting. I went deer hunting for the first time three years ago and I shot one. The next two years I didn’t even glimpse a whitetail. With that kind of success rate I wouldn’t have lasted a month on the frontier.

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4. I love to eat. I’m not sure how well I’d hold up for a month without BLTs, chocolate chip cookies and pasta puttanesca.

5. It would be a lot of work. This is the big one. Carving out the time to tend two or three gardens, hunt and fish, can vegetables and cook everything from scratch sounds to me like a full time job.

Tomorrow night I’m planning to fix up a batch of pasta sauce with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and mozzarella cheese and serve it over fusilli.

I’ll put off for at least another year the hard tack, pickled pike and venison stew.

Greg Sellnow’s columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com.

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