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Can Openers, Food Storage and Turtles

Can Openers, Food Storage and Turtles - A Lesson To Be Learned 

 by G.D. Palmer

We all have ancestors, and sometimes we are lucky enough to know a few of their stories.  In this writer’s case there is one family member who left a record of his family’s journeying across the continent to help settle the American west.  It was in the mid 1850’s and he and the family had joined a party of newly arrived, fellow settlers, primarily from England and Scandinavia.  They were mostly poor city folk with few resources, and little experience with camping on the trail, hunting for their food, or coping with the multitudinous “adventures” with which they would soon be faced.  Bad weather, frequent delays and unwelcome illnesses did not help. 

By late summer they were still far from their destination, and food supplies were rapidly shrinking.  Game had been scarce and hunters inept and they found themselves in a condition of near starvation.  It was at this time of need that they chanced upon what they must have considered a life saving find – a large turtle who, unfortunately for him, put in an appearance at one of their river crossings. 

But what to do with it?  One of the children later described the incident.  They had generally agreed that this would make a good soup for the family, and the children gathered around while their father tried to kill and butcher the animal.  He had never had to cope with much livestock, let alone “livestock” that came with a hard, protective shell about it.  He was finding it to be an impregnable barrier!  The amused youngsters were bobbing up and down, shouting their mirthful glee as attempt after attempt to accomplish the task met only with failure.  This was fun, and they had so few diversions during their long hike.  Their parent finally became so frustrated with the stubborn turtle that he plopped it, still alive, into the kettle of boiling water, and held the lid down to keep the writhing animal from flopping out of the hot, bubbling liquid. 

This was undoubtedly an unpleasant experience for the poor turtle that was the recipient of this inhumane treatment, and in normal conditions the resultant meal would have likely been considered less than appetizing.  With bellies so empty, however, the son, who told this story, probably spoke for the entire family when he concluded, “That soup sure was good.”  

In this case there was a happy ending for the family, but how much easier things would have been if the father had only known how to cope with his reluctant prey.  There is a lesson for us here as well. 

There is much talk these days of the advisability of preparing for emergencies, but are we going far enough with those preparations?  The chances of our having to remove the shell from a turtle may be pretty slim, but what about all of those tins of canned goods in our food storage?  How much good will they do us if the only can opener in our possession is that electric one that will no longer function because of that power failure that has brought about this emergency?  Then there’s our 72-hour kits.  Perhaps they’re filled with dehydrated or freeze dried foods to save on weight.  That’s a good idea, but if a source of water is not available, problems could be encountered.  And let’s face it, drinkable water might also be a scarcity in times of emergency.  There could be many other examples given. 

We need to extend out thinking.  Food storage will not do us much good if the food stored is inaccessible, unusable, or – at the very best – unpalatable, simply because we do not even like what we have put into that food storage in the first place.  Planning now may well be the key to a successful outcome later.

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