No bread? No toilet paper? No hand sanitizer? No problem!
Stores have had shortages of such products thanks to the coronavirus. Fortunately, years of canoe-camping, traveling to developing countries and talking to old-timers about earlier times have given me some simple alternatives to those commodities.
For instance, I can think of several substitutes for store-bought bread.
Hoecake and flatbread
First of all, remember that for earlier generations in the South, the word “bread” meant cornbread. Biscuits were a separate category. Later came “light bread,” the stuff sold in stores today which many people think we can’t live without.
Baking your own yeast bread is a big job. I’ve tried it and moved on.
But I can easily whip up various sorts of “shortenin’ bread.”
Just the other night I decided to make corn fritters — not because of the pandemic, but just because I wanted some.
A cup of self-rising corn meal, a beaten egg, a cup of buttermilk and a dollop of molasses or honey make a great batter that I cook in butter on a pancake griddle.
When camping, I learned to substitute a shot of oil for the egg, and water for the buttermilk, with passable results.
The very word hoecake supposedly comes from the pioneer method of combining cornmeal or flour (or both), salt, oil and water into a dough, placing it on the blade of a hoe and setting it by a fire to bake.
You can look up any number of recipes for such terms as flatbread, fry bread, hoecakes, flannel cakes, griddle cakes and so on.
There are various alternative bread products available in stores, too, such as bagels, pita bread, wraps and tortillas.
Pike County Supervisor Robert Accardo has posted various bread recipes on his Facebook page, such as beer bread and quick dinner rolls. He also reminded me of something I’ve tried myself, namely the pioneer custom of letting dough go sour and using a bit of it in place of yeast to make sourdough bread.
One of the best pieces of bread I ever ate was a golden round of flatbread I bought at a village market in Honduras — man, it was good! I think it may have had a little sugar in it.
Then there was fresh hot fry bread at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Neshoba County. Went great with the homemade hominy.
But who needs bread, anyway? In the Far East, people eat rice instead of bread. When I spent a couple weeks in Thailand and Burma a few years ago, I don’t recall eating bread, but I do recall rice at virtually every meal — including something called sticky rice, which we ate with our fingers and which tasted like white rice thickened with sweetened condensed milk.
Leaves and catalogs
Now to the less tasteful topic of toilet paper.
For the first many years of my camping career, I never took any. Why bother when the woods are full of it in the form of leaves? I only started taking it with me after a canoe trip in the Everglades, where we wound up camping in marsh with nothing but wiry grass.
The first thing to learn is which leaves to avoid, namely poison ivy, poison oak and Virginia creeper. I have a nephew who learned about that the hard way as a child.
Once you avoid those — usually found running up tree trunks or blanketing the ground — common sense dictates the rest. Skip the slick, waxy leaves like bay and blackjack oak. Go for big-leafed species like hickory, white oak and cow oak. Beech is good, too.
Green leaves will work, especially in the early spring while they’re still pliable. Soft, damp brown leaves on the ground are good, too. Crunchy dried leaves are not.
But even the best of leaves can’t compete with store-bought toilet paper.
I haven’t tried leaves in a bathroom setting, so I don’t know if they float or go under when flushed. If they float, you could resort to the method used in Honduras, where plumbing won’t handle toilet paper so it’s placed in a separate container to be burned or discarded later.
If leaves are unacceptable, remember what folks used back in the outhouse era — pages from a Sears catalog. Lots of other companies distribute catalogs nowadays, such as Land’s End, Bass Pro, L.L. Bean and Vermont Country Store. I confess I haven’t tried them, but I have a good supply if I get ready.
Sand, mud and grass
I’m a little harder pressed to come up with a substitute for hand sanitizer.
On river trips, for years I didn’t take soap. When I camped on a sandbar or river bank, I just scrubbed my hands with sand and water. The same worked for dirty dishes.
Even in a swamp, there’s usually some sand mixed in with the mud. If not, leaves will do the job.
Dew-damp grass works in a pinch, too. The other morning I was in the woods and somehow managed to get sap on my hands. I just grabbed a handful of damp grass and scoured my palms thoroughly.
Eat more possum
No meat in the supermarket? Just the other evening I was sitting on the front porch swing with my cats when one of them stared out to the side yard.
I glanced over to see a possum waddling away. Apparently it had come down the big sweetgum where it lives hoping to glean some cat food for supper. When it detected me, it trundled quietly off as if to say, “You don’t see me because I’m not really here.”
People turn their noses up at possum these days, but plenty of country folks ate them during the Great Depression when meat was scarce. I’ve only eaten one and didn’t care for it, but when times get hard, meat’s meat!
Wild berries galore
Need fresh produce? I was walking in the woods early Thursday morning when I glanced down to see a patch of wild strawberries. I promptly bent over and popped some in my mouth.
We’re picky these days, when you can find every kind of fruit at the grocery store, but the woods have their own modest offerings.
Wild strawberries are abundant now. Next come dewberries, then blackberries, huckleberries, pawpaws, muscadines, possum grapes, persimmons and more, all free for the picking.
If you want fruit juice, try sucking honeysuckle stems.
Earlier this week, supplies were getting low at my house, and Angelyn was stressing out over whether to go to town or do without.
I offered to cook up a supply of flatbread and pick a bucketful of leaves.
She went to town.