Robin Follette writing on self-reliance…
Rural Maine is beautiful when the snow falls, covering everything but the evergreens in 100, sometimes 200, inches of white. The air is crisp and cold and a new way of homestead living kicks in.
We preserve plenty of food for this time of year but there is still opportunity to create a fresh meal…and get some outdoor activity into the bargain. We take to the woods, water, and even the garden when we start to get a little cabin fever and want a change in our diet.
Snowshoe hares will wipe out our garden quickly if the population isn’t kept under control. By late fall, they’re almost entirely white to blend in with the winter snow. It takes a sharp eye to see them at a distance after snow blankets the ground.
I follow tracks along the edge of trails and through thickets in hopes of “bumping” one into motion. I don’t usually catch up to a speedy hare in the woods but if it takes a turn into an open area I stand a chance of making a good shot.
When the snow is too deep to walk through, I’ll back into the evergreens and watch along the edge of a field at dawn and dusk. Hares move in the open most often at night in winter. A quick shot with a .22 caliber rifle ends the hunt. Hare in hand, I return to the house with two meals for the two of us.
Ice fishing can be the easiest – or most frustrating – means of putting fresh food on our winter table. We fish with tip-ups – wood or plastic frames that hold a spool of fishing line with a hook and bait. Each hole drilled in the ice holds one tip-up. The auger, a small net to catch bait fish from the insulated bait bucket, extra fishing line and hooks, and a scoop to clear ice from the drilled hole are loaded into a sled. When there’s enough snow to ride through the woods we pull the sled behind a snowmobile. Otherwise, we pull it by hand as we walk on snowshoes.
My husband, Steve, drills the holes and I follow behind him. I set up the tip-ups by unfolding them, tightening the wingnuts that hold the cross arms in place, and baiting the hook. The bait, a live fish, is lowered through the hole and into the water to swim.
We wait for a fish to eat the bait and tug on the hook as it swims away. The fish line pulls on the flag’s flexible post, setting it free to spring up. We pull the fishing line up hand over hand, slowing when the fish is visible to avoid hitting the fish on the thick ice. Bass, salmon, trout, perch and cusk are our favorite fish. I make seasoned filets to grill or pan fry, and chowder.
Fresh greens, a mixed salad, or roasted root vegetables are a satisfying side to our fresh hare or fish. One of the best things on our homestead is a 1,000-square-foot-high tunnel we use to grow and harvest fresh vegetables year round. The tunnel is made of heavy steel and is rooted a foot or more into the soil. It’s a permanent greenhouse of sorts, used to grow plants in the soil rather than pots. The ground freezes eight to 12 inches inside the perimeter but stays thawed and warm enough to support plants the rest of winter. On a sunny, windless, 30 F day in winter the temperature inside the tunnel will rise to 80 F for an hour or two.
From mid-December through January the plants are dormant but tasty. I cut the outer, larger leaves of arugula, tatsoi, bok choy, spinach and kale. I grate six-inch-long carrots and small purple turnip – sweet after their tops have been frosted overnight for weeks – into a salad.
A fresh salad harvested hours before the start of a blizzard is a reminder that bitter cold weather is only temporary…and spring is on its way.
Editor’s note: Robin Follette is a hunter and homesteader in Maine, who chronicles her experiences in the blog, A Life in the Wild.
Main Image: ©iStock.com/FilippoBacci
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