Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

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As an avid home gardener, I love to nurture my crops from seed to harvest, then process the harvested treasures into preserves and sustenance for friends and relatives. In my blogging with MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I look forward to sharing tales of success (and, occasionally, woes) from my personal trenches for gardening, cooking and crafting.

When my husband, children, and I first moved to Ohio, I remember clearly loathing the dead-looking fields during winter. All these years later, I find that not only have I adjusted to enjoying the seasons in all their splendor, but I also look forward to each one with vigorous anticipation. I love seeing the signs as each one arrives: This week brought the saffron crocus up in my bulb bed as the shrubs and trees radiantly wave adieu in all their splendor and retreat into their varying states of slumber.

For me, winter also signals a retreating indoors for a slower speed in lifing — one filled with thoughtful reflection, the finishing up in processing of the foods my garden has gifted me, and returning to my arting. This seems like the perfect time to start sharing ideas and experiences from those busier times of year with like-minded folks in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS audience.

Already in the works are blog posts about some of the treasures I have in my garden (like my ‘Kieffer’ pear tree), exciting harvests from this year (wait until you see my gourds), the winding down of gardening in Ohio, and the revving up of excitement that accompanies spring!

My sister, Shawn, has shared her experiences and views on MOTHER EARTH NEWS for more than a year and insists that it’s my turn. (Between you and me, I think she just wants me to have somewhere else to share the photos of my garden so I send fewer in her direction.) As a preview to my forthcoming cookbook, I have included my favorite beer-infused mustard recipe below.

If you’d like to read the back story on this mustard, visit this post from my personal blog, Humings.

Blythe's Hot Damn Honey Mustard Recipe


• 1-1/2 cups Firemans Brew Brunette (German doublebock-style beer)
• 1-1/2 cups mustard seed
• 1-1/8 cups apple cider vinegar
• 3 Tbsp honey
• 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
• 3 cloves garlic (sliced or diced)
• 2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp of whole cloves (be sure to remove before adding the seasoned beer to the rest)
• 1/2 tsp whole allspice (be sure to remove before adding the seasoned beer to the rest)


1. Pour 1 cup of the beer, the apple cider vinegar, 2 cloves of the garlic, and the mustard seeds into a jar.

2. Bring 1/2 cup of beer over medium heat with the honey, brown sugar, 1 clove of garlic, salt, allspice and cloves just to a boil, and then let cool to room temperature. Remove allspice and cloves via straining.

3. Add this mixture to jar of other ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for 48 hours.

4. Process to desired consistency. Taste and adjust spicing as necessary. Add water, if needed.

5. Put in clean jars and refrigerate. This mustard makes a large batch which should hold its taste for 6 months but is still edible for a up to one year if properly stored.

While you’re waiting for more posts from me, feel free to check out my personal websites (linked in my bio page). I’m guessing there’s a little bit there for most folks to find interesting. Oh! And, I’m pleased to meet ya!

Virginia Creeper photo by Blythe Pelhma

Mustard photo by Flickr/kavitakapoor

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



I love to ferment vegetables in gallon glass jars, which I leave on the kitchen counter so I can watch the colors mellow. I especially like to do this with mixed vegetables.

A mixed vegetable pickle is not only a thing of beauty and an adventure to eat; it’s also a practical use for homegrown produce — in spring or fall, when your garden may provide you only a handful of this and a handful of that, or at any time of the year if your garden is small

What could be easier than combining these handfuls in a jar, adding some herbs and garlic, and pouring over some brine?

You can put what you like in your mixed pickle. In spring, replace the beans in my recipe with asparagus tips. In summer, you might use whole tiny cucumbers or larger cucumbers, cut into chunks. Turnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, and radish are all good additions in the cooler months.

If you want your pickles to stand out at a party, add a piece of raw beet to color them a shocking pink.

You don’t really need to weigh your vegetables. Just gather enough to fill your jar about three-quarters of the way to the top. This allows room for the brine to bubble and for a brine bag or other weight on top of the vegetables. For a gallon jar, you need about three quarts of prepared vegetables.

You can be creative with the aromatic ingredients as well with the main ones. I usually use licorice-like tarragon — except in the depths of winter, when my tarragon plant has died to the ground. Thyme and winter savory are always available in the pot on my deck, and they always go well in a mixed pickle. Sweet bay is a good addition, too.

When I made a mixed fermented pickle last week, however, I passed over all of these for young dill that had grown from seeds I’d scattered in late summer, intending for them to sprout in spring. Dillweed has a fresher, less bitter flavor than fully or partially dried dill seed, so I was happy to find a use for the little plants before they froze.

After fermentation gets under way, expect your brine to get cloudy. The cloudiness doesn’t mean your pickles are spoiling. Even the appearance of yeast or mold on top of the brine is little cause for concern, provided you keep the vegetables well immersed and skim off any scum promptly.

If you use a brine bag as described in the recipe, no yeast or mold will be able to grow. An airlock provides similar protection. It allows the bacteria in the pickle to release carbon dioxide while preventing airborne microbes from contaminating the brine.

At least one company, Cultures for Health, sells gallon glass jars whose plastic lids are fitted with winemaking airlocks. With such a setup, you’ll also need an appropriately sized weight (Cultures for Health sells those, too).

Mixed Fermented Pickle Recipe

What I call pickling salt (it’s usually labeled “canning and pickling salt”) is fine, pure sodium chloride. If you would prefer to substitute a coarser kind of salt, such as kosher, measure it by weight instead of by volume. But don’t substitute table salt, which has additives that could discolor your pickles. Yield about 3 quarts


• 1 pound cauliflower or broccoli florets
• 2 sweet green or red peppers, cut into squares or strips
• 1/2 pound whole young snap beans
• 1/2 pound shallots or pickling onions, peeled, or larger onions, cut into chunks or rings
• 1/4 pound tiny carrots, or larger carrots cut into rounds or thin sticks
• 3 garlic cloves, slivered
• 2 to 3 tarragon sprigs
• 2 to 3 thyme sprigs
• 1⁄2 cup (4.7 ounces) pickling salt
• 3 quarts water
• 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar


1. Toss all of the vegetables together, and pack them into a gallon jar, distributing the garlic and herbs among them. Dissolve the salt in the water, and pour enough brine over the vegetables to cover them. Add the vinegar.

2. Push a gallon-size freezer bag into the top of the jar, pour the remaining brine into the bag, and seal the bag. Make sure the bag presses against the glass all the way around. Set the jar in a bowl, to protect your counter and cabinets in case of a spillover. Store the jar at room temperature.

3.Within three days, if you look close, you should see tiny bubbles in the brine. After a week, you might start tasting the vegetables. They should be fully fermented in two to three weeks, when the bubbling has stopped and they taste quite sour. At this point you should remove the brine bag, cap the jar, and store it in the refrigerator.

4. The pickled vegetables should keep in the refrigerator for several months.

Linda’s books, Joy of Pickling, Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, and Cold Soups, spring from both her experiments with produce from her vegetable garden and orchard and from her studies of culinary traditions around the world. Linda develops products for Crisp & Co., a pickle manufacturing company based in Delaware, and teaches preserving classes. She devotes much of her volunteer efforts to promoting good eating as a founder and coordinator of the Santiam Food Alliance, as an Oregon State University Master Food Preserver, as a board member of Slow Food Corvallis, and as a member of the Oregon Ark of Taste committee for Slow Food USA. She also blogs at A Gardener’s Table.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Hunting and fishing isn’t for everyone, I realize that, and the last thing I want to do is offend anyone who’s a vegan, vegetarian, a member of PETA or just opposed to the age-old practice for whatever reason. But what I would like to do is share with interested readers, hunters included, how hunting and fishing helps me provide my own food and move a step closer to a sustainable life here on my farm. I’m already growing organic, heirloom vegetables, raising free-range, pastured chickens and eggs, and pretty much living off the land now. Living off the land is something I believe in, so I’m doing a little preaching, I suppose. I’m not the first one who’s hunted this land, either, evidenced by the multitude of arrowheads and spear tips piled up everywhere.

Our Native American ancestors lived off the land much the same way I hope to before I head for the great funeral pyre. Venison was one of their staples and has become a contemporary delicacy in many fine restaurants — and honestly folks, if you’ve ever had my mesquite grilled backstrap with mushroom gravy, you might just pack up and head for the woods yourself.

Hunting as Family Tradition

My grandfather was my original hunting buddy as a youngster of about 10 years old. Dad-O, as he was known to the family, owned 132 acres near Antelope, Texas, and the small town’s namesake was fairly close to the truth when it came to hunting wild game, albeit the game was more whitetail deer, turkeys, and wild hogs than antelope, but they were plentiful. Dad-O also had the best fishin’ hole in ten counties. A 5-acre lake when it’s full, this watering hole was then, and is now, my home turf. Full to the creeks and willow-overgrown channels with large-mouth bass, channel catfish, and plenty of baitfish, I must have fished every summer with my Mom’s dad until I was in high school. The lake dried up recently during the years-long Texas drought, but after a monster spring of rains, she filled up and even went over the spillway, so I’ve been restocking it with the same fishy menu as before.

I had a lot of fun fishing, wolf hunting (actually coyotes), deer hunting and just being outdoors with my grandfather. His old hunting buddies were usually there to listen to their hound dogs track down a raccoon or coyote, never missing an opportunity to claim that their best dog “got one tree’d, ol’ Sally’s baying up a storm.”

When the dogs had a varmint cornered and began their yelping, we would load up in the pickup truck or head out on foot to catch up to the quarry and pack of hounds, then finish the deal. Back in those days, ranchers allowed the locals to hunt on their land to help keep the predators at bay. Coyotes are fearsome creatures, conniving in their ways to steal a baby calf or sick heifer. That’s how hunting them got started — a fight over food. Same with us two-legged critters.

Those nights out under the stars, cooking on a campfire, waking up early and heading for the deer blind, and then later in the day setting up for a family fish fry, undoubtedly sealed my fate. I still love to hunt, sit around the campfire, and cook outdoors, especially something I grew or harvested directly from the land. From what I’ve read, hunting, fishing and gathering have been around for a few years, which leads me to believe it’s something I should be doing.

Wild Game is a Culinary Experience

Cooking wild game takes a little practice as deer, hogs, turkeys and waterfowl are usually leaner than factory-raised meats, and that’s a good thing. Wild game is plentiful, especially wild hogs, so I eat all of it. In an attempt to soften, even enhance their culinary image, I have started referring to wild hogs as “Permaculture Pork Chops” and “Grass-fed Bacon Bombs.”

Hopefully people will be swayed into foregoing the pricey, chemically-polluted, store-bought pork in favor of free-for-the-taking wild pigs. (More on the “free” part of that pork chop statement in another installment of hunting and gathering food.)

Hunting and trapping wild hogs isn’t for city boys, proper British ladies, or pen ropers. They are dangerous beasts, willing to sever your femoral artery should you get close enough to one of their “cutter” teeth, or tusks. On the bright side, they do turn out extremely tasty once you get them over a bed of coals.

The Importance of Humane Hunting

Hunting wild game is fun for me. I eat everything I hunt and kill — no exceptions. If I don’t have a clear shot at a whitetail deer, I pass it up and wait for the next one. About 15 years ago, I bought a Remington .308 rifle off my buddy who owns a pawn shop, and since then, I rarely miss. Several years of experience has taught me to be accurate and make a clean kill.

Wild hogs are tough critters, so you don’t want them thrashing about, running into trees when they are only wounded. First of all, it’s inhumane and secondly, the more they thrash, the more hormones they produce which adds to the gamey taste so many people don’t like.

Processing Wild Game

Processing the game takes time and must be done in a fashion as to keep the meat as clean and free of hair and waste as possible. That gamey taste can also be mitigated if you know how to properly process a deer or hog. Take care to keep the blood, excrement and any dirt away from the meaty portions (rear hams, front shoulders, top loins). Like anything, it takes practice so I suggest you begin filling up your freezer this year.

Hunting season in Texas opened the first Saturday in November and I had a herd of deer show up in the wheat and rye field on Sunday morning around 8:30. I took two does with two shots, tagged them and filled out the Parks and Wildlife paperwork on my license, loaded them in my truck and headed for my processing shed. After that lengthy and somewhat odorous task was completed, I began the butchering of the hams, shoulders and loins. Thirty-five pounds of prime cuts (loins and ham steaks) and 15 pounds of sausage meat are now in the freezer, which adds up to approximately 100 meals. Keep in mind a small portion plate of venison top loin at a fancy joint like Jackrabbit Slims would run you $30, without the Five-Dollar Shake.

All I can tell you is try some wild game. It’ll be free of antibiotics and growth hormones, unlike what the factory-farming corporations are offering you in their store-bought meat. In 2009, The Mayo Clinic published a paper declaring that wild game was in fact more healthy than most store-bought cuts of meat:

“In general, wild game is leaner than domesticated animals, because animals in the wild are typically more active. In comparison to lean cuts of beef and pork, game meat has about one-third fewer calories (game birds have about half the calories) and quite a bit less saturated and total fat. Cholesterol for wild and domestic meat ranges from 50 to 75 milligrams for a 3-ounce serving — with wild game tending to be in the lower end of the range,” stated Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic.

 If you like wild game, find an experienced friend to take you hunting. If you like hunting and you want to go full boar, so to speak, visit me in Texas and I’ll do my best to make sure you go home with a cooler full of wild game meat, ready for the dinner table.

Sustainability includes providing food, so as long as the wild hogs and deer keep coming, I’ll always have plenty to eat. If you’ll give it a try, chances are you’ll enjoy some type of wild game on the dinner table as well. Happy Hunting!

RD Copeland is building an off-grid weekend B&B retreat in Texas with straw-bale and earth-plaster cabins, fresh organic meals, permaculture instruction, workshops and more! See his bio page for contact info, and click here to read all of RD’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Read all posts from The First Feast series here.

There is an old saying, “It’s called hunting, not shootin’.” 

The message in the words is meant to demark the difference between shooting at a target range versus hunting in the woods. At the range, you can fire all day. When you are hunting, you get one shot—two if you are lucky. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but whomever did was lying.

It ain’t called shootin’. And it ain’t called hunting either. It’s called waiting, and waiting…and waiting...and waiting.

I’m hunting private land in New Smyrna beach, on a ranch with 1,200 acres of woody swamp land. To maximize my time, I’m doing two-day combo hunts. In the wee hours of the morning, I’m going after deer. In the evening I’m going after the wild boar. What I’m actually doing, however, is waiting. Waiting for dinner to politely show up, stand still and let me take my shot. Neither the deer, nor the hogs are cooperating.

My first weekend out I’m in a deer stand twenty feet in the air. I’m trying to be silent and focused, but I’m providing an early Thanksgiving meal for mosquitoes and deer flies. I’m using a Therma-Cell and wearing a Rhino-skin shirt (designed to prevent mosquitoes and ticks from getting to your skin) neither are working this morning. All I can focus on is the incessant buzzing in my ears and around my face. If I’m not waving my hands around my head to get rid of the bugs, I’m looking at my phone praying for 11am to arrive so I can take the midday break. When 11 hits, I’m out the stand quick as lightning, rushing to Gander Mountain to buy more bug spray, and mosquito netting for my head.

I stop home, look in the mirror and freak out. My face looks like I have caught the bad end of a UFC fight. I count no fewer than eight large bumps on my face. I find three more on each wrist.  There is no doubt in my mind that if I don’t get a Benadryl in my system, I’m headed to the ER.

Nonetheless, I head back out for the evening hunt. I’m more prepared. The bugs leave me alone.

So do the hogs. I don’t see a thing. Ditto for the next morning. I do not see any deer. At the midmorning break, I leave and tell the guide I’m skipping the evening hunt. I’m tired, frustrated, and itchy. I call it a day; animals-1, Kiara-0.

Two weeks later I’m back in the woods. I’m more upbeat. I’m prepared for anything the bugs can throw at me. My guide sets me up at a different location. The woods are thicker with clear game trails. There is even deer sign; rubs against trees and hoof prints in the mud. I’m excited, and that lasts for the first two hours. Then I’m back to just sitting in a tree hoping each sound is a deer. I’m bored and start thinking, “I don’t enjoy this type of hunting.”

The nature of hunting is that you don’t know when or if the game will show up. When it does, you might miss your shot. At this point all I wanted was a shot. I desperately wanted at least a chance to fire my bow. Desperate people do desperate and silly things.

Last Try

When I decided to go out a third time, I was scrambling for a solution. I needed something to bring the deer to me. I thought about deer calls, but that’s an Elk hunting approach. Baiting was out of the question. It’s not legal in Florida.  Then my eyes fell on the scent baits in the store.

If you are not familiar with scent baits, they are formulated to smell like does. The bucks think it’s a female running around the woods, and comes over to check them out. The problem is that this scent is either real or simulated deer pee essentially. Buying deer urine and carrying it in your chest pocket has always seemed rather wrong to me. However, as I said, desperate measures.

I bought a small bottle and headed out to the deer stand. The guide sends me along a trail that crisscrosses to a path where deer sign is abundant.  I decide to hang the scent attractant about 20 feet from the deer stand. I should have put my gear up in the stand, and then come back down. Instead, I’m rushing. I want to get the scent out on a tree and move to the stand without having to come back down again.

I throw my bow between my legs, so my hands are free to open the bottle. That’s when it happens. I go from being lunch for bugs to being another casualty of Murphy’s law. My backpack slips down my arm at the same time a deerfly bites my wrist.

I slap at the deerfly, forgetting that my hand is holding the deer scent. Milliseconds later it’s all over my hand and lower arm. I nearly bite my tongue off trying to keep from cursing.

I’m covered in deer scent. Sticky, smelly deer urine. Do I need to mention that I’m in the woods with not a sink or bathroom near? All I have is my water bottle. I up-end the bottle, pouring all the water on my hand and use my pants as a towel. I’m sure none of that helped.

Nonetheless, I head to the stand. There’s nothing I can do except curse mentally. I’m ticked off, and feel like a deer better not show up, because I’m gonna take this anger out on it.”

I needn’t have worried. None showed up.

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



Read all posts from The First Feast Project series here.

When I set out to replicate the First Feast of the Pilgrims and Indians, my aim was to grow the vegetables and hunt the meats. Fulfilling the project appeared straightforward enough. Add the vegetables they ate to my garden, and go out and focus on catching the animals — easy-peasy. It was not my intent to experience even a sliver of the frustration the colonists felt that first year after they arrived on these shores. Yet, frustration is exactly what I was feeling as the growing season in Florida began.

One of the primary obstacles I knew needed to be overcome was the long growing cycle for some of the vegetables. Winter squash and corn each require 75 days-plus to harvest. Collard greens and peas require 60 days-plus to harvest.

I needed to get my veggies into the ground, but summer heat was dragging itself into the fall season. August and September were recording average temperatures in the nineties. The only plant the heat was good for was my sweet potatoes — which I had planted late, because they were a last-minute addition to the menu. I knew the temperatures were too high, but I needed to get things into the ground. I started some plants off in my house, like my corn and collards, and planted the cuttings for them. I also planted the squash, tomatoes, and yard-long beans.

The yard-long beans started off wonderfully. Natives of Asia, the heat does not bother them that much. In short order, I had beans ready to harvest. Despite the heat, my corn, greens and squash started great, too. By the end of September, my gardens looked lush and green. My corn was reaching for the sky beyond all expectations of the other members of the community garden. Each day and week, I began patting myself on the back.

Then disaster began to strike. Yard-long beans are delicious. You should try to grow them. You ought to isolate them from everything else, too, because they are aphid magnets. I expected this problem. I grew them last year, and so was aware that aphids would be an issue. I did not expect, however, that the number of aphids would double. By the middle of October, my beans were long, covered with aphids and an ant highway system.

I used insecticide soap, sprayed them off, and yes, even an organic insect killer. All it did was contain them, but not enough. I got enough beans to eat and set aside for Thanksgiving but not before the aphids began traveling to the other plants.

I planted winter squash last year, and so was also familiar with the issues I would have with it. Pollination would be an issue. Ants, which meant aphids, would also be a problem. I tried to solve the former with planting African basil and borage near the squash. Unfortunately, the borage did not sprout and the basil did not take off. There were no bees or butterflies coming to visit my plot.

So I resigned myself to hand-pollinating the squash. A great idea before I got a new job that kept me busy during the afternoon hours. I found myself missing when the female blossoms would open. I was able to finally get two pollinated, and two squash began to develop. The excitement my gardening partner and I felt was bursting. Yet, the aphids were beginning to multiple, and I saw leafs with holes in them.

I started spraying aggressively. It did not work. A week after the two squash appeared, the leaves on 80 percent of the plant were devoured by caterpillars. The squash, which I had covered in a pantyhose stocking, also had boreholes in them. The caterpillars had eaten through the stocking and into the fruit. The squash was ruined. The plant beyond saving. I would not have any squash from the garden.


Finally I see squash.

My corn, which had started off so well, reached a ceiling of development. They also had not gotten enough pollination. I just did not have enough of them in the garden to produce cobs that would fully develop. Other gardeners did warn me, but I thought there was a way. I was almost correct, but almost only counts in horseshoes and grenades. After taking one cob off to examine, I could see the corn was there, but soft and flat. It looked like skin left in the sun for seventy years.

My other plants — kale, greens, peppers, tomatoes — were doing well. The lettuce in my plot and indeed in all the plots at the community garden, bolted. The plot next to my own had seven beautiful romaine lettuces one week. The following week they went soaring toward the sky.

The first year the Pilgrims settled in America was a hard one. Their crops did not grow. They made it with the help of the Indians. I cannot imagine the fear of needing crops to produce but watching them fail. After all, needing your food to grow in order to eat and feed your family is a stress I have never felt. Nonetheless, I think I can understand the frustration level the Pilgrims had trying to grow their crops.

I cannot remember the last time I felt so stifled and frustrated as when I was looking at my squash. I felt powerless to do anything to salvage the situation. As I took down the squash at both my garden locations, "ticked off" is the best word I can use publicly to describe how I felt.


Thanksgiving dinner for little green caterpillars. 

I also wanted to end the existence of all caterpillars…and aphids.

As Thanksgiving crept on us, I was able to successfully grow my carrots, beans, greens, peas and sweet potatoes, though not many of the latter, in time to use for Thanksgiving.

I would have to buy the squash, corn, onions, and garlic. As promised and directed by my parameters, I bought the produce from local farm sources. Lake Meadow Naturals farm in Ocoee provided some of the vegetables, while some of the others were procured from a local market named the Wild Hare. Lake Meadows is a farm the grows most of the produce they sell. Wild hHare is a market that sources its produce from local farmers in the central Florida area.

If I had to grade myself on the vegetable portion of the project, I’d give myself a C for the result. And a solid A+ for frustration and disappointment regarding the items that did not pan out.

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read all posts from The First Feast Project series here.

Nothing can ruin a perfect plan, faster then input from others. Yes, other perspectives can be great. People sometimes see things you miss, but just as often they throw a monkey wrench in your vision. Such was the case as I pondered the answer, and underlying message of the question, “what else is on the menu?” 

To be fair to my friends, I should have expected the question. As detailed in post four, Disconnected, most people do not eat foods that harvested from the wild, or grown by their own hands. They don’t eat, venison or duck caught from the field. If it’s not from a grocery store, they don’t eat it. Beyond that point, myself and the guests are African-American. A traditional African-American Thanksgiving meal includes:  collard greens, sweet potato pie, candied yams, ham, or baked macaroni and cheese. None of these foods were eaten by the Indians or Pilgrims. When my dinner guests learned I did not plan on cooking any of those foods, I got that, “What you talking about Willis?” look of Different Strokes fame.

No amount of cajoling, explaining, or salesmanship on my part would move the core group from the idea of different food options. If I wanted to feed more than just myself and my brother, then a compromise--that is I had to give in—would be necessary. After a heated discussion, one friend asked a question, similar to the one that had lead down this road in the first place.

Kiara, have you given thought to the what the very first black people in America ate for thanksgiving?

The question brought me up short. Of course, I had not given it any thought. Who wants to think about that time in America, but it’s an intriguing question. The whole premise of Thanksgiving is giving thanks for what you do have. Every year people going through hard times are admonished to find the positive in their life and be thankful for it. How do you do that when you are literally considered property.

So a Bargain Was Struck

I would discover the foods the first blacks in America ate on Thanksgiving, and everyone would agree to picking foods from that list to add the one I had compiled already. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but as compromises went it was not a bad one.

Blacks, of course, were not at the First Thanksgiving feast. The slave trade in America had not yet begun. Once begun, few people tracked the day to day lives of the first slaves in America. Reading and writing was banned so there are few records or written journals. Those that exist focus more on the hardship of bondage, than food. Worse, Googling the question lead to way too many sites designed more to lambast America, than to talk about the foods eaten or life of slaves on Thanksgiving. The one exception is a site called Afro Culinaria. Put together by a man named, Michael W. Twitty, a food blogger. The site focuses exclusively on food, and “promoting African American food ways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.”

Twitty’s site is a wealth of information, and provided the back bone for information on Thanksgiving food life of blacks on the plantation, during Thanksgiving.

Until finding Twitty’s site, I made the false assumption that blacks ate the leftover from the Thanksgiving meal the slaves would have prepared for the plantations owners.  Slaves did certainly eat leftovers, but their diet was not restricted to them. According to the spotty resources on the subject collard greens were not a modern food staple for blacks. Collards greens, along with peas, lima beans, and cabbage were cultivated in gardens, slaves were allowed to have near their living quarters.

A surprising detail in the foods eaten is some plantation owners would give their slaves firearms so they could hunt for food before Thanksgiving. When reading this tidbit of information on, I was as shocked as when I discovered lobster was on the menu in 1621. As shocking as it is to believe, a slave owner would allow his slaves to have a gun, if even only for a day or two, it is not too surprising to imagine that any slave would not be able to range too far afield from their home plantation. They could not risk wandering on the property of another plantation owner.

I think it’s safe to say that any successful hunt entailed smaller game like ducks, doves, or rabbits. In addition, it may surprise you to know that slaves were the primary marketers of chickens, and smaller game fowl like ducks. Chickens were a staple food source in Africa and so transplanted Africans were adept at raising the North American versions near their living quarters. Other than ducks and chickens, no other game birds or small game is mentioned specifically. Thus, we can only go with chicken and duck as definitive items.

The other meat mentioned is ham. Pigs were a well-established meat source during the height of the slave trade. They were and in many areas today, still are one of nature’s best waste disposal units. Hogs are the ultimate omnivore and would have been a main tool in getting rid of meat and vegetable offing’s.

Last, grain and starch foods eaten were sweet potatoes, corn bread dressing, and surprise, surprise macaroni and cheese.

Now that I knew what some of the foodstuffs blacks consumed in the past, I could add a few items—reluctantly—to the menu. These items would be a deviation from the original goal, but I could rationalize it in my mind. I needed guests, my guests wanted a few items they were used to waiting. I the foods items added would still be historical, and I could still hunt and grow the additions.

Ham, meant I could go out hunting more in order to get a wild hog. Collard greens were something I planned on growing in my garden anyway. The only problem areas were trying to keep my friends on point with the theme. The subject of peach cobbler as a dessert came up right away; an item not found on any of the early menus.

I had no doubt that in the coming weeks there would be more discussions about what to eat or not eat. Collaboration in any endeavor is tough, because you have to constantly sell your collaborators on your own vision and idea. My friends view this as all of us coming together for a Thanksgiving meal. I’m looking at it as all of us coming together to cook and eat a wonderful meal based on that historic feast.

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Click here to read all posts in the First Feast series.

When planning a dinner party or holiday feast, the first concern is not the food. The first order of business is the guest list; specifically getting people to come your event. On the Fourth of July, this is a breeze. Everyone loves a barbecue. However, the holiday season is different. Most people are traveling to see family. This presented a challenge, because honestly, a table laden with food and a party of one is just sad.

By either divine intervention or pure luck, two friends decided that for the first time they would not travel to see family for Thanksgiving. I presented my idea to them, and asked them to be a part of the project — my holiday feast-testers in a way. Before I knew it, not only did they agree to join in on the fun, but the daughter of one and the boyfriend of the other agreed. After mentioning this to my own best friend, he and his wife agreed to spend the holiday with us as well. In total, the dinner list went from a hopeful four to 14 people. I was ecstatic, but there were two major problems.


Disconnected from Our Food

When everyone thought I was just growing vegetables for the table the idea was intriguing. However, when it the future diners realized there would be no grocery stores involved, they saw the menu of food items, and I told them I was hunting for everything…well the following exchange showcases the general turn in viewpoint.

“I'm not eating something that used to be alive, Kiara.”

“You eat things that used to be alive every day.”

“Not [higher octave range] beautiful creatures that were running around the woods, minding their own business!”

"All animals are beautiful. Some also happen to be tasty.”

My flippant response garnered nothing more than a snort. I should have stopped while I was ahead, but kept on talking.

“So if they aren't scampering in the woods, its ok to kill and eat them? You're such animalist!”

I don't think that is a real word. I made it up on the spot. It’s supposed to mean someone who thinks some animals are more worthy than other animals. I dont know if that's really a thing. I'll have to send a query to P.E.T.A to find out.

The problem is one, I think, many homesteaders, and hunters face all the time. The average person cannot admit all the cellophane wrapped meat in their local big box grocery store did not appear there by magic. Beef is a cow before it is a T-bone steak. Chickens run around before appearing in the frozen meat section. Most turkeys don’t get pardoned by the President. The reality of life is all of our food is harvested. The question is by whom, in what conditions, and how long ago. But the idea of hunting and putting your harvest on the table is abhorrent to people.


Sitting in a deer-hunting blind.

I would like to say it’s because of the “killing” aspect of hunting, but gardening gives only a slightly different response. I’ve noticed that people think gardening is cool, but if you tell them you get all of your produce from a garden and won’t go to the grocery, people do give you a look. They think its…off, somehow. Yet, they have no problem going into Whole Foods to buy overpriced vegetables that are days old. Harvesting a deer, rabbit, or duck is disgusting, but meat killed at a slaughterhouse of questionable cleanliness is normal.

There is a disconnect between people and the food they eat every day. Few question or think about where it comes from. A year ago, when news stories of e coli in packages of spinach and lettuce hit the airwaves, I shrugged it off. I knew I did not have to worry about any of that, because I knew here my vegetables were coming from, my little 4-by-12 plot.

My response to the concerns and apprehension of my friends, included pointing out these little tidbits of information. Their response usually entailed dismissing the reality of meat and veggies from a grocery store. More than a couple responded with words along the lines of, “As long as I don’t have to see it, and it’s in a neat package, that’s fine for me.”

I guess they thought I was going to butcher the deer in the kitchen, and pluck the feathers from the ducks in the driveway.

Frustrating as those discussions were they certainly were better debates than the question that followed them: What else is on the menu?

Read Part 5 of The First Feast Project: "Adding Some Soul to Thanksgiving."

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of Kiara's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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