Mail Call: July/Aug 2013

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A broody hen and her adopted ducklings.
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Cute ducklings hanging out in the grass.
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This is the son of one of Hank Will's old genetics students, and thrilled with his copy of GRIT's Guide to Field and Lawn Care.
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Here is a photo of Heather Bailey of Cobblestone Farms presenting her heifer “Carmen” to Jerry Hicks.

Hen Raising Ducks

You asked for stories about chickens, and I have a good one that happened when I was about 8 years old. I’m now 85 years young and have never been without this magazine, as my parents had subscribed some time before I was born and, when I married, the first instruction I gave my wife was to subscribe. I never miss an issue.

I’ll apologize for printing this, rather than using cursive. You see, I am on medicine that makes my hands shake. If I tried to write, neither one of us could read it. The shaking hands really aren’t that bad, because I take other medicine that says, “Shake Well Before Taking” — now that I can do.

Back to the story about chickens. We lived on a farm in Indiana about 70 miles south of Indianapolis, and we really had everything on the farm: horses, mules, cows, goats, turkeys, ducks, chickens, etc.

Mother decided that the flock of ducks was too small, but she did not have a duck that would set the eggs. After thinking for some time, she found a chicken that wanted to brood, and she fixed the hen a nest with some duck eggs. The hen did not hesitate to brood the duck eggs, and she did a good job hatching 12 little ducks. They were most obedient to her at first, at least until they were near the pond beyond the barn.

This is when all the fun started. I was the youngest of seven children, and the whole family gathered to watch that hen try to get the little ducklings to come out of the water. Such pacing back and forth along the edge of the pond, making all sorts of racket, but the little ducks paid no attention to her. After about two hours of bathing, they would come out of the water, and the hen would take them away from the pond, but the little ducks knew where it was and would go for a swim twice a day without fail. It was pretty entertaining for all of us. We always predicted that the hen would get hoarse from all her screaming and calling, but she never did.

Now, in the future I don’t expect to do without your magazine. However, I can only get my hands on our copy after my wife finishes with it!

Hubert Fox
Raymond, Nebraska

Sassafras Tea Recipe

I read the letter from Orval Dean about sassafras tea. I don’t know if there are different varieties of sassafras trees, but we have them here in Arkansas, and I’ve been drinking sassafras tea all of my life. The secret is to harvest the roots in late fall after the sap has run back down into them. I put mine in a plastic freezer bag unwashed. They will keep that way up to two years in the freezer. When I make tea, I scrub them with a vegetable brush, but leave the bark on. Then I put them in a stainless steel pot, fill it with water, and bring the water to a hard boil for about 10 minutes. At that point I shut off the heat, put the lid on, and let it sit for an hour. Then I pour it undiluted into a pitcher and store it in the refrigerator. And yes, it does turn a nice rosy pink.

Beth McAllister
Oldhome Farm, Arkansas

Edible Weeds

I enjoyed the article on weeds in the May/June issue. Four of your list of 10 are edibles.

My mother used to send us children out with a foot tub (the younger generation won’t know what that is) to pick lamb’s quarters. She cooked it, and we ate it — and were glad to get it. It’s sort of like spinach.

Every part of the purslane is edible, including flowers, and it’s often added to salads as a garnishment. It also has medicinal value. The wild lettuce is edible, and the young leaves make a good salad ingredient or pot vegetable. And, the curly dock, Rumex crispus, and its little “brother,” Rumex acetocella, are edible as greens, either in a salad or stewed. Pick it early, when the foliage is a rosette, before it stalks. These four, at least, may not be unwanted weeds to some!

Larry Trekell
via email

Cookbook Love

Just want to thank you for your cookbook, Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient. It is fabulous beyond belief, including recipes both of my grannies used to make in the 1950s, and every one is delicious! Since I do not, nor do I intend to, raise hogs (retired, four acres, weary of working!), I found a store in the Atlanta area called the Spotted Trotter that sells actual rendered lard, and the real thing is so much better than the mega-mart stuff! Thanks again. You guys rock!

Vicki Nesbitt
Cleveland, Georgia

Real lard is good and good for you, and we think it yields some of the most heavenly baked goods you’ll ever taste! — Editors

Chick Cam Cheer

We love the live baby chick cam! My daughters and I check the live cam frequently to see how they’re doing. We haven’t seen any hatch yet, unfortunately, but we did see some wet ones last week. Anyway, this is great!

Shawn Logsted
via email

Thanks, Shawn! We think baby chicks are adorable, and we’re glad you agree. See them now on The Live Baby Animal Cam.  — Editors


I can relate to your encounter with the big cat (“Predators on the Prowl,” May/June). We live in a rural setting in southwest Minnesota, a few miles from Iowa. Two years ago in June, my wife and I were enjoying the evening on our patio around 9 o’clock. There was a soybean field between us and the township road running by our driveway. The beans were about 10 inches tall, and the corn on the other side of the road came up above the waist. We saw what we thought was a whitetail deer cross the road from the cornfield to the bean field. Then it dropped down in the beans. After a few minutes, we agreed it was strange for a deer to do that.

My wife suggested we walk down there, she in her pajamas, but I offered to drive down with the car. Before we could leave the yard with the car, the creature vanished back to the cornfield. After parking the car, we looked at each other with amazement and agreed it was indeed a large brown cat. The ground was dry and hard, so I could not find tracks. The animal was more than 2 feet tall and of the proper color. That year we heard of other sightings in our area, but nothing since.

There are several beef cow calf operations in our area. We have not heard of anyone reporting any lost calves, but then, I’m sure they would not expect a large predator. Our deer population is half what it was eight years ago, and the coyote numbers are way down. We are not sure if the cats are expanding their territory east from the Black Hills or if DNR is releasing them here for some reason.

Dave Meiners
via email

Interesting stuff, Dave, and that would have been very cool to see. We received an outpouring of similar tales in response to our two articles on mountain lions in the May/June issue. Check out our September/October issue for more reader accounts about big cats in rural America. — Editors

Beloved Brussels Sprouts

Natalie Gould’s article, “For the Love of Brussels Sprouts” (May/June) tugged at more than my heartstrings. Her love affair with this much maligned vegetable got me thinking perhaps I’d been a bit hasty in cutting ties with this kissing cousin of cabbage. Thanks, Natalie, for rekindling the flame. Second chance romances are often the sweetest. I’m off to buy Brussels sprouts for dinner!

Jo Harris
Kodak, Tennessee

Jo, some veggies just have a way of winning us over. We’re glad you’re giving Brussels sprouts a second chance, and if you happen upon a great recipe, send it in! — Editors

Holy Cow!

I was the winner of the Holy Cow contest, sponsored by Ogden Publications. I donated my winnings to Jerry Hicks of Fleming County, who recently started a homestead farm. He’s an organic meat producer, raises organic vegetables and keeps bees. He is truly thankful for his good luck. He said the donation would put him significantly ahead on his development plans.

In the future, Hicks plans to donate one of his calves to a youngster in 4-H. As a child, he really wanted to have a calf to groom for 4-H but could not afford it. He wants to give back for his good fortune in receiving this cow.

Above at left is a photo of Heather Bailey of Cobblestone Farms presenting her heifer “Carmen” to Jerry Hicks. This heifer has settled down well and will give birth to a calf in late July. We are all extremely grateful.

Many thanks to Ogden Publications for all you do for homesteaders and really for the future of our country!

Elizabeth Kikuchi
via email

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