I write an irregular series on this blog, imagining how I would live, if I could travel back in time to a location in east central Georgia 36,000 years BP. I don’t believe in “roughing it,” so I would bring as many modern conveniences back in time with me as possible. I chose this time period because the evidence suggests it was during a mild phase of climate, an interstadial with average temperatures probably more comfortable than those of present day Georgia. Open oak woodlands likely prevailed but with some relict grassland habitat and old stands of white pines. My wilderness homestead is located above the floodplains of the Savannah and Broad Rivers, but close enough for me to regularly exploit easy sources of protein–fish, turtles, mussels, crayfish, and ducks. There are 2 parts to my fantasy: 1) to live in an absolute wilderness where I can look out the window and see saber-tooths, mammoths, and herds of other megafauna; and 2) the enjoyment of living off the land, surviving on whatever I can hunt, fish, raise, or grow. I know what to expect from the fossil record and pollen studies, but I’m sure there would be a thousand surprises, if I really could travel back to this time period.
It has been amost 3 years since I submitted a post in this series (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/?s=If+I+could+live+in+the+Pleistocene ), but a book I just finished reading inspired me to make an additional post. Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine by David Shields is about the history of important food crops grown in the low country during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the food plants discussed in his book would be essential crops for my wilderness homestead. I would grow these crops, along with many others, in my homestead garden. Of course, a high wall, especially designed to keep out marauding bears and squirrels, surrounds my garden, and I’d probably need netting to protect my rows of grain and fruit trees from the birds.
Black-eyed peas (Vinga unguiculata)
Also known as field peas or cow peas, this species is still a valuable agricultural crop in the south. Field peas can be used as a green manure because they transfer nitrogen in the atmosphere to the soil. They are also used to feed livestock. At my wilderness homestead I keep milk cows that could always use the extra feed. Some varieties make a nutritious food for people as well. Black-eyed peas would be an important protein substitute, if my meat supply ran low for some reason. During the mid 19th century, a farmer in Burke County, Georgia grew at least 25 varieties of field peas. I would grow 5 or 6 of the best table varieties. The peas can be used as a vegetable when they are immature. Immature peas mixed with rice make a dish called “reezy-peezy,” while mature peas mixed with rice make a dish known as “hop-n-John.” Incidentally, I’d also grow rice in a shallow swimming pool-like structure that I could fill and drain with water.
A type of black-eyed or field pea known as Sea Island red pea. Field peas are easy to grow and would probably be an important food, if I lived in a wilderness homestead during the Pleistocene.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)
This species originated in South America. Spanish traders introduced peanuts to Africa where an unrelated but similar legume, known as the gooba pea, was already cultivated. Gooba peas also grow underground like peanuts but can’t be eaten unless boiled. Africans boiled peanuts because they traditionally boiled goobas. Enslaved Africans brought this tradition of boiling peanuts with them to North America. I love peanuts roasted, boiled, and as peanut butter. Peanut oil is good for deep frying and can be manufactured into soap. At my wilderness homestead I’d use chopped peanuts as chicken feed. I’d grow 3 varieties–the big Virginia, the oily Valencia, and the Tennessee Red.
The Tennessee Red peanut. I couldn’t live without peanuts and would have to bring them back in time with me. They are high in niacin and improve sexual performance.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
Sesame, known as benne in the low country during the pre-Civil War era, served as an important source of fat in the diet of slaves. Cold pressed sesame oil is reportedly an excellent substitute for olive oil in salad dressings. Olive trees take 10 years to bear fruit and probably couldn’t survive the interstadial climate of central Georgia with its frequent ice storms. I like salads and would definitely need sesame oil for dressings and home-made mayonnaise. Toasted sesame oil is an Asian condiment used to flavor soups and noodles. Ground sesame seeds or tahini is an ingredient in the Middle-Eastern staple, hummus. Sesame seeds are great in cookies, crackers, and candy.
Sesame seed plant. The oil rendered from sesame seeds can be used to make salad dressing.
Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
Sorghum became popular during the Civil War when both the North and the South suffered from an interruption in the supply of cane sugar. Juice from the stalks is boiled and reduced to sugar syrup. Skilled manufacturers can even convert this syrup into table sugar. At my wilderness homestead I’d try to make my own sugar, though it sounds difficult. The seeds can be used to make bread. I’d probably use this as chicken feed, unless my wheat and corn crops failed. If that happened, I’d be eating black sorghum bread which doesn’t rise. Sorghum is a species of grass, and the foliage makes good cattle fodder.
Sorghum. This useful plant could provide food for milk cows and chickens. Bread, beer, and most importantly sugar syrup can be manufactured from sorghum.
Watermelon (Citrellus lanatos)
I’d bring fruit trees back in time with me, but they take at least 3 years to bear. In the meantime I’d depend upon wild fruit, melons, and strawberries for my fruit supply. Watermelons are native to south Africa where they are spread by elephants that consume the fruit and excrete the seeds. I’d grow 5 varieties–Georgia rattlesnake, Florida black diamond, Charleston gray, Congo, and Bradford. In my real life garden I had great success with Georgia rattlesnake. The Bradford watermelon descends from the same seed as the Georgia rattlesnake. The Bradford is reportedly the best tasting melon but is too thin-skinned for shipping. David Shields thought this variety was extinct but discovered the Bradford family still grows this white-seeded type. Besides providing fruit, watermelon can be used to make molasses, rind pickles, and beer.
Bradford water melon. Fruit trees would take a while to bear, so for a few years I would depend on strawberries, melons, and wild fruits. This heirloom is thin-skinned and has white seeds. Reportedly, it is much more flavorful than market melons.
Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and F. ananessa)
North American strawberries still grow wild. The modern supermarket variety is a cross between this and the South American strawberry (F. chiloensis). Wild strawberries reportedly taste better but are too delicate to ship. At my wilderness homestead I’d grow wild strawberries, and a good tasting ever bearing hybrid.
Wild strawberries. I would plant a row of these and bring some quality hybrids back in time with me. Strawberry plants produce fresh fruit the same year they are planted.
Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine
The University of Chicago Press 2015