Letter From Arkansas: Homesteading Tips

A reader from Arkansas writes in to offers some homesteading tips and cautions young people enthusiastic about going back-to-the-land not to go without resources or reject everything modern.

Arkansas - cartoon homestead - Fotolia

Veteran homesteaders advise mixing the best of the past and present to achieve your dream of a bucolic, cozy homestead.


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I must tear myself away from reading long enough to acknowledge receipt of the back issues. What wonderful material ... and to think that right away I see letters from neighbors: Eureka Springs, West Fork, Bentonville, even Fayetteville and several other Arkansas places I've visited. Howdy, y'all! (This is wonderful country. I've been from coast to coast and border to border and found but one place that I like as well.)

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has brought me so much enjoyment and recalled so many memories that I'd like to say a first-installment "thank you" by sharing an experience or so.

I've had more than a passing acquaintance with so many things in my lifetime that I might be able to help others in difficulties they may meet. I've been a city gal, schoolmarm (nationally honored), farmer's wife, farmer, mother, VISTA teacher. Now that I'm retired—again—I'm a garden and flower specialist with several sidelines belonging to my various careers.

It's because of my own experience that the temerity of so many—who seem to think they can go practically empty-handed and moneyless back to the land and live comfortably through hard work and their love of the countryside ("The pioneers did it, so can we!")—simply amazes me!

Believe me, I wouldn't for one minute want to lessen the enthusiasm or weaken the ambition of sincere young people ... but—if you're one of them—I'd like you to go into the great experiment with your eyes open, your head alert, and your feet planted solidly on the earth so that you won't become disappointed and heartbroken. There is another and better way, and if you're interested I'll provide some homesteading tips. In the meantime let your wanderings include a questioning walk through a pioneer cemetery. Look at the markers and ask yourself, "Why?"

In that graveyard you'll find the headstone of John Doe, 65, 70, or even 80 years of age, and beside him memorials to his beloved wives Jane (23), Anne (30) and perhaps even Mary (50). Alongside, in the same section, there'll be rows of little graves of children aged one month to two or three years. That's the price the pioneers paid for our heritage.

"Oh, but it can't happen today," you say. Believe me, it can, if you insist on doing everything the way our ancestors had to do it. Country life doesn't have to work out like that, but I've seen just such misfortunes.

Along with the word "organic" we must keep in our vocabulary such concepts as moderation, reason, consideration, cooperation, self-respect, self-sufficiency, and many others—like good judgment—which make for a complete, fulfilled life. (Notice how few of these words show up in your letters.) As for you more mature-minded folks who sincerely want a satisfying lifestyle of reviving and restoring nature, let's hope you'll save the best of the past, use the best of the present, and build a future that we can honor and respect.

Now to a few practical points: One of the first things you'll need after you find that little wooded farm is a big black iron kettle—set up not too far from your spring or well and downhill from it—and a three or four inch stirring paddle. You'll have dozens of uses for this tool besides making hominy, rendering fat for food or soap, and heating the laundry water. Do make a cover for your kettle ... it's heavy to empty when it fills with rain.

Another hint: Did you know that wheat will pop, and so will milo and kafir? You need an iron skillet which will keep the heat steady and not get too hot too soon. Take wheat of a good grade (fanned clean, so it won't stick and burn), spread a relatively thin layer in the hot pan and keep stirring. The grains will brown like toast and double in size. You can hear the kernels pop, although they don't burst open. The aroma is delightful and the taste while warm is to regular wheat as that of toast is to bread. Then, if you grind the grain and recook it like any wheat breakfast food, you'll enjoy a second surprise.

Another way I've used wheat is to soak it several hours in at least double its bulk of water, bring it to a boil, and cook it slowly for about an hour. Then add rice in proportion to take up the excess fluid and simmer the cereals until they're tender. Finally, stir in raisins. Eat the mixture as soon as it's cool enough. It can be reheated in a double boiler, but my family seldom left that much.

Here's an idea which we're using in the third generation ... one that you backpackers might find useful: Put a large package of "quick cook" oatmeal in a big dishpan, add two or three pounds of raisins and a package of dates— chopped—and mix these ingredients thoroughly. Then prepare a heavy syrup of Karo and sugar or molasses as if you were going to make popcorn balls. When it has reached the right degree of stickiness to hold the mix together, add it to the oatmeal, stir (and work fast). Then grease your hands and make the stuff into cookies. They'll keep as long as you let them, and should be wrapped individually to keep them from sticking together.

Speaking of sweets, Kihi Mick wrote in MOTHER EARTH NEWS about trouble in making cane syrup ... but the letter didn't tell enough about how he was doing it for us to be able to help. I wonder if he knows that he must plant "ribbon cane" seed, that the crop must be headed and stripped (leaves taken off) and the stalks left for several days to mature. Then the stems must be cut and ground, and the juice pressed out and boiled in a shallow pan (for faster evaporation) until it reaches the desired consistency. I've seen it done many times but never did it myself.

Thanks again, and best wishes to all MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers.

Myrtle Cress
Fayetteville, Arkansas