Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 18- Cattails

Husband gets up and makes his own coffee.  It's cold again this morning, but no more snow. 

I hurt this morning.  At first I think it's from the firewood yesterday, but the more I think about it, the sooner I realize it's just that time.  My period should start in the next couple of days.  I add a bit of dried yarrow to my tea pot today.  Hopefully that will help with the cramping, which is already starting to spread.  At least I don't have to worry about pads.  I've been using rags instead of commercial products for a couple of years already.  But then I think of Nira, Sil and the girls.  They're probably going to need some supplies.

Husband asks what I want to do today.  "As little as possible," I answer.   "I hurt.  Cramps.  Bloated.  Miserable."

"Do you still want to go and see Diego and Nira today?"

"Sure.  But I'm not butchering if they haven't finished yet."

The boys get up and make pancakes.  I start three batches of bread.  #1 gets me another bag of flour from the cold room.  I count back in my head.  At our current rate of consumption we have enough flour for about 140 days, less than five months.  I'll have to start rationing it a bit.  I can't think of anything to use in place of flour, so we'll just have to ration the end products, use less bread each day.  We still need to dig the cattails too.  I know part of them can be used for flour, but I don't remember which part, or at what point in the year.  I'll have to look that up.  I pull out my binder of weeds and herbs and old fashioned stuff and flip through to a couple of articles I saved about cattails.  It seems the starch I was after is the flour as well.  The pollen can also be used for flour in the spring.  I guess we'll dig them up and see how much we yield.  I wanted the starch to replace corn starch, which I'm already low on, but I guess I could just add it to the flour bin and use flour for gravy.

Since there are cattails in the ditches on the way to northern neighbour's, today's as good a day as any to dig them out.  I get my potato peeler, a couple of buckets, give my pocket knife a quick sharpening, and dig out my rubber boots.  Wet feet would not be welcome.  The boys get their rubber boots as well, and #1 gets a garden fork.

The Bigs do chores and check on Tori.  She still seems stiff and sore, so she won't be pulling the horse cart.  They give Knightmare, Samson and Shiloh each another workout.  Samson is responding really well.  They think he's ready to try pulling the stone boat, but we'll wait until tomorrow to try it.

We decide to take my quad and trailer today.  It means we'll be using fuel, but with any luck the cattails will be too heavy to carry.  We take a chainsaw as well, in case there's room in the trailer for firewood.  More buckets and another fork are added to the load, along with the roast I picked out yesterday.

We eat lunch- beef stew leftovers, before we head out.  I roll out the bread.  The Bigs ride Samson and Knightmare, the Littles climb in the trailer, and Husband and I ride on my quad.  We check in at Mom and Dad's as we go past, but they aren't home.  The small boat is gone, so I wish them luck with the fishing.

We stop and dig cattails in the ditches several times, filling four buckets.  We decide to dig more on the way back so the Littles still have room to ride.

Diego and Nira come out to greet us when Tank starts barking.  Yesterday afternoon they had 'visitors' from town looking for beef.  They told them no one on this road had any cows.  Northern neighbour used to have cows but sold them last year.  Since they weren't in the field I guess the visitors believed them.  Thankfully the visitors didn't come our way.  Yet, anyway.

They ask what"s up with the cattails, so I tell them my plan.  They laugh about the beef, and say they had planned to give us a bear roast.  They've finished butchering, though they seem to have dulled every knife they could find to use.  We load the knives on the trailer- we'll sharpen them at home.

"Do you want any of the bones or fat for the dogs?", Diego asks.  They figure they have more than enough for Tank.

"Sure, I'll take anything you aren't going to use!", I answer.  I can't believe they're willing to part with the fat.  We go into the shed where they did their butchering and find a pile of bones, fat and the hide.  It still amazes me how wasteful they are.  Maybe I over react and plan for the end of the world, but it's been 18 days, and it still seems like they still think the power will be back on any minute now.  #2 pulls my quad up beside the shed and we start filling the remaining buckets with all of the parts.  We spread the hide out over top of them.

"How are you going to tan that hide?", Diego asks.

"I'm not.  I'm going to hang it on the garage, salt it and scrape it.  It's easier and quicker."

There's a small freezer in the shed that they're using for the meat.  There were a few things in it when they first arrived, but not enough to keep it cold, so most of it had spoiled.  Apparently Tank had gotten into it when they dumped it and then got sick.  That's why they don't want all of the bones and scraps laying around.  The freezer still isn't full, but with the cooler weather the meat has frozen.  I tell them to find some pop bottles or something to fill with water and fill the freezer.  It'll help keep the meat frozen if the weather warms up again.

The boys run off with the kids to see the ponies and put our horses in the pasture for now.  It's a big pasture with just two small ponies in it, so our horses are happily munching on grass.  The kids and the Littles take turns riding the ponies around bareback.

In the house I see Nira has a growing collection of edible weeds on shelves in the windows.  It turns out that the pantry was mostly assorted pickles and the kids don't like them.  She's gone back to gathering weeds and they're gradually getting used to them.  They plan to go to town tomorrow to see if they can trade them for other veggies.  It's worth a shot, although they'd probably have better luck trading some of the bear.  She offers us a jar of each to try.  I'm happy to take them.

I start feeling a little guilty about taking all of the bear fat.  I ask Nira what she's using for grease, lard and candles.  She says there's lots of cooking oil in the pantry, though she could use some lard for pies, and butter would be great.  I tell her bear fat is supposed to be a lot like pig fat, though I've never tried it, and ask if she wants some of it back to render.  She's never rendered lard before, so she says she'll pass this time, but would like to try some after I make it.  I suppose that's fair enough.

So far they're doing ok with flour, sugar, and other staples.  Nira's been doing a lot of baking, as it seems the neighbour's were well stocked with cake mixes and such.  She asks if we can spare any eggs.  I tell her not yet, but I'll see what I can do in the future.

She has a collection of buckets spread around the kitchen as well.  I notice one of them is full of rocks and sand, so I ask if that's her water filter.  She lifts it up to show me the large hole cut in the bottom, covered by window screen.  She pours a bucket of water through to show me how fast it works.  I think that would work well for laundry, but I'll stick to the pipe for drinking water.

They need firewood, and lots of it.  The neighbours used to use their tractor to drag trees up all winter long as they needed it.  They need fuel as well.  Diego found a chainsaw, and several empty jerry cans.  He's hoping to find a car on the way to town to siphon fuel from.  There's a jug of 2-cycle oil to mix for the chainsaw, so they should be fine as long as they can get gas.  I wonder how many other people are siphoning gas from abandoned cars?  How long will we have this fuel source?

Nira has unburied an old foot treadle sewing machine in the basement and has been using it to make clothes for the kids from clothes the neighbours left behind.  I hope the neighbours don't hurry home.  They're in for a shock when they do arrive.   It's great that she knows how to use the machine though.  Maybe she can teach me in the winter.  I'm sure by then the boys will be needing some new clothes as well.

I ask Nira how they're doing for toilet paper, and if she's thought of her monthlies.  They ran out of toilet paper a few days ago, and have started using cloth.  She hadn't thought about her period, so I tell her that I just use old towels cut into appropriate sizes, and wash them out afterward.  I tell her some people sew their own reusable pads as well, but I've never bothered.

We spend most of the afternoon visiting.  Husband and Diego spend most of it outside in the shop fiddling with things.  They're going to come to our house in the morning to take my library books to town for me.

Even though the buckets are all full, we stop several times to dig more cattails, piling them on top of the bear hide.

Mom and Dad are back when we go by, so we stop in to see how the fishing went.  They caught three fish, and left the boat behind.  They tell us where it is so if we want to try our luck we don't have to drag a boat to the lake.  That works out well for us, because then we can ride the horses and let them graze while we fish instead of taking the quads and wasting fuel.

Back at home it's supper time and I haven't got anything ready.  I put the oven on the stove top and put the bread in to bake while the boys bring in the cattails and buckets.  I look in the freezer and wish I had planned ahead and put a roast on this morning.  Quick cooking meals are getting fewer and farther between.  I pull out a package of chicken legs for tonight. 

I get out one of my big canning pots and start sorting through the bones and fat in the buckets.  I drop the fat into the pot, trimming as I go, and toss the bones and trimmings back in the buckets.  The boys will saw through them to make them more manageable sizes for doggy stew.  With this lot I should have enough doggy stew meat to last the winter.  Unfortunately, I don't have the rice and veggies to match it.

The Littles do chores and the Bigs cut the bones.  I start filling the doggy stew pot.  Two cups of rice, 1/2 cup flour.  I add some dried weeds, some of the stems from the cattails, and lots of bones, then cover it all with water.  I switch the bread in the oven.

I lay out the chicken in a cast iron pan and add some seasoning.  I make up a pan of potatoes.  Everything is waiting for the bread to be done in the oven.  The second batch finishes and I put in the third.

I start peeling the cattails.  Husband joins me.  The boys come in with what little snow we've managed to collect.  We'll have to make another trip to the creek tomorrow.  They start peeling cattails as well.

I start supper when the bread finishes.  We all peel cattails while it cooks.  We finish peeling just as supper is done.  I put them in a big pot and pour water over them.  I hope it won't hurt to leave it sit overnight.  I am exhausted. 

After supper Husband and the Bigs sit around the table taking turns sharpening knives.  I set the doggy stew pot on the stove to cook overnight, along with the bear fat.  I pull out a few rhizomes at a time and beat them with my kitchen mallet, then toss them back in the pot.  I don't know if I got all of them or not, but that's enough for today.    It's time for bed. 


  1. Wendy, I hope you know how much we are enjoying this story AND learning as we go. Your alround abilities amaze me. You're one smart cookie!

    Is it the root of the cattail you use for the flour? Hope you go into it more on day 19.

    I had seen a Man VS wild TV show with the guy surviviing the wild ate a cattail root which cleaned him out pretty good the next morning. My thinking was the pond in which he found the cattail was what made him sick. But I'm interested if you have actually use cattail. As a side note and I'm sure you'll get a good laugh at this, it's illeagal to pick cattails here in California. yep, you got it. The eco-lobbiest have a pretty big lobby here. Told you, you'd laugh.

    1. Thanks, herdog. I'm learning as I go as well.

      I changed the link colours on this blog as well. Hopefully they'll show up better.

      I do have a binder with assorted interesting survival stuff, most from magazines that I didn't want to keep the whole magazine for the sake of one article, and a few things I've printed out to try.

      I've read a fair bit on edible weeds, though unfortunately my memory isn't great. I try to keep my eyes open to see what grows locally, and make sure that I'm identifying the plants properly. To date, we've eaten dandelions, plantain, wild carrot, fiddleheads (ferns), purslane, chickweed, clover, and assorted fruits. This year I collected a few things to try as teas and tinctures- yarrow, raspberry leaves, etc.

      The entire cattail plant is edible, at different stages of the year. Every year I go out in the woods (for other reasons) and look at them, and think to myself, I really ought to try that. Except I never do. Cattails grow in water, and I don't want wet feet, lol. Some day I am going to make a special trip to pick cattails with rubber boots on. Or I'm going to get lost or stranded out there and have no choice but to dive in, lol. In the meantime, I try to arm myself with information, and the writing helps me remember.

      The first link gives a great step by step tutorial on the process of extracting the starch/flour from the roots (rhizomes).

      That actually doesn't surprise me. Cattails are supposed to be very efficient in removing contaminants from the water. Even though in my story I'm picking cattails from the ditches, in real life it's not recommended. The pollution the plants pick up from roadways is apparently very toxic. My theory here though- my roadways are not highways. There is minimal road use- about three cars/day, and just a little salt used through the winter. My ditches are also not really 'ditches'. The roads here were cut through the woods years ago, and though they've been built up, the ditches are mostly wild, bumping up against streams and creeks, trees growing within 4 feet. The cattails aren't growing in rainwater runoff from the roads, but rather, their natural marshy habitat that a road has been built over.

  2. I have a binder too and a folder and a...pile of papers, lol. I really need to go through it and straighten it up but there is noever enough time.
    I have heard of using cattails but also heard they aren't real tasty. Never tried it though.

    1. lol- I had a pile of papers, and stacks of magazines- until I read that in one of your old colony posts. Then it occurred to me that a binder would be much easier to organize. I just bought a couple packs of those clear page holders, then went through a bunch of magazines ripping out articles and stuffing them in the page holders.