By Lucy Shober

Issue #32 • March/April, 1995

Click on pictures for printable, full-sized versions to color.

Have you ever read accounts of those pioneer families? They seemed to flourish in a one-room shack filled with eight kids, two ailing pigs, a preacher who happened by, a happily sewing Mama, and a Pa who was always out chopping wood. Did you ever wonder why Pa spent so much time out there chopping wood? Think about it! He would a heap rather have worked his arms off than face what was probably going on back at the sod hut!

Well here you are, a child of the nineteen nineties, flourishing in your nice heated and insulated multi-roomed home (with a flushable toilet?), and you’ve got much the same problem as your crowded ancestors—cabin fever! There’s a country-western song that captures the feeling that descends upon us as the days begin to get longer. In her raspy voice, a depressed cowgirl bemoans the fact that “Ahhh got spraang feevah…” If that sounds too familiar, read on, and try out a few of these recipes to lift the mood when the day begins to drag on.

Knock knock vinegar

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Herb who?
Herb vinegar, got any salad?

Ouch! What a lowbrow introduction for this aristocratic treat! In an afternoon, you can make enough of this exotic dressing to last well into the summer.

You need some clean mayonnaise or applesauce jars and white vinegar which has been distilled at 5% acidity. This acidity assures that the herbs will be well preserved, and not rot. Next look through the spice cabinet (with permission of course!) and pull out the best-smelling whole spices that you can find. You can also use ground ones, but they might cloud up on you later. The strangest combinations of spices can be used and still let you come up with a wonderful dressing. You can mix peppercorns, whole red peppers, cinnamon sticks, any types of spicy seeds, bay leaves, dill flowers, tarragon, basil—you name it! The sky’s the limit.

Mix about a half a cup of fresh herbs (or two tablespoons of dried herbs) to two cups of vinegar. If you use garlic, crush it up and tie it into a little cloth bag (a piece of an old cotton bed sheet would work), so that you can remove it after 24 hours. Garlic, strong stuff that it is, can overpower the acid in the vinegar if you leave it in too long.

Put a sheet or two of plastic wrap over the opening of the jar (so that the vinegar won’t react with the metallic lid surface), screw on the top, and set your concoction in the refrigerator for a month or so before trying it. Keep it refrigerated.

If you want to get fancy, you could tie a piece of colored cloth around the lid with some yarn. What a nice present to give someone!

Boiling limestone bubblebath

If you live in a section of the country where there is limestone, this is a great recipe for fun. Simply drop a limestone pebble into the acidic vinegar and watch it begin to bubble and boil! This happens because the limestone is so alkaline (the opposite of acid) that the two substances go to war, creating carbon dioxide gas bubbles as the stone is eaten away. This project will also work if you live in a section of the country where there are talc mines (chalk or talcum powder) or beaches (sea shells) or chicken houses (egg shells!).

No big deal kitchen explosion

This works on the same principle as the limestone bubblebath, but with a more dramatic result! Put a cup of vinegar in the kitchen sink and quickly mix in three heaping tablespoons of baking soda. Then, do as the directions on a package of firecrackers tell you: “Get away!” (Beware of gales of laughter!)

Magic see-through bouncing egg trick

The directions for this trick are very difficult, so read them closely! Submerge a raw egg in vinegar and wait two days, then wash it off. How’s that for ease? Now use what you’ve learned in the other experiments to explain to your brothers and sisters, the pigs, and the preacher who dropped by because he got stuck in the blizzard, what happened and why. (Hint to keep “Ma” happy: When you bounce that egg, do it lightly and gently and on a surface that’s washable . . . just in case.)


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