Euell Gibbons

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Euell Theophilus Gibbons
Gibbons-Euell 6923497 123056590241.jpg
Gibbons circa 1960
Born (1911-09-08)September 8, 1911
Clarksville, Texas
Died December 29, 1975(1975-12-29) (aged 64)
Sunbury Community Hospital
Sunbury, Pennsylvania
Cause of death Marfan syndrome
Spouse(s) Freda Fryer

Euell Theophilus Gibbons (September 8, 1911 – December 29, 1975) was an outdoorsman and proponent of natural diets during the 1960s.

Early career[edit]

Gibbons was born in Clarksville, Texas, on September 8, 1911, and spent much of his youth in the hilly terrain of New Mexico. According to a 1968 New Yorker magazine profile by John McPhee,[1] his father drifted from job to job, usually taking his family (a wife and four children) with him. During one difficult interval of homesteading, young Euell began foraging for local plants and berries to supplement the family diet. After leaving home at 15, he himself drifted relentlessly through the Southwest, finding work as a dairyman, carpenter, trapper, gold panner, and cowboy. The early years of the Dust Bowl era found Gibbons in California, where he lived as a self-described “bindle stiff”[1]:98 (hobo) and, in sympathy with labor causes, began writing Communist Party leaflets. Later in the 1930s he settled in Seattle, served a stint in the Army, married, and worked as a carpenter, surveyor, and boatbuilder.

McPhee notes that during the late 1930s, Gibbons was still giving "more time to his political activity than to his work, and more time to wild food than to politics."[1]:100 After Russia invaded Poland in 1939, however, he renounced Communism and spent most of World War II in Hawaii, building and repairing boats for the Navy. His first marriage, Gibbons recalled, became a "casualty of the war,"[1]:103 and in the postwar years he chose the life of a beachcomber on the Hawaiian Islands: living in a thatched-roof hut, ranging the islands for foodstuffs and other items, giving exotic luaus with the provisions he'd gathered.

After entering the University of Hawaii as a 36-year-old freshman, Gibbons majored in anthropology and won the university's creative-writing prize. In 1948, he married Freda Fryer, a teacher, and both decided to join the Quaker Meeting. McPhee quotes Gibbons: "I became a Quaker because it was the only group I could join without pretending to beliefs that I didn't have or concealing beliefs that I did have."[1]:105 The couple relocated to the mainland in 1953, where (after a failed attempt to found a cooperative agricultural community in Indiana) Gibbons became a staff member at Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center near Philadelphia, cooking breakfast for everyone every day. Around 1960, through his wife's urging and support, he was able to follow through on his earlier aspirations and turn to writing.

Literary career and celebrity[edit]

At the urging of a New York literary agent, Gibbons agreed to rework the draft of a novel (about a schoolteacher who wows café society with opulent meals of foraged foodstuffs) into a straightforward book on wild food.[1]:68 Capitalizing on the growing return-to-nature movement in 1962, the resulting work, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, became an instant success. From the cover blurb:

A delightful book on the recognition, gathering, preparation and use of the natural health foods that grow wild all about us. The lore here can turn every field, forest, swamp, vacant lot and roadside into a health-food market with free merchandise.

Gibbons then produced the cookbooks Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop in 1964 and Stalking the Healthful Herbs in 1966. He was widely published in various magazines, including two pieces which appeared in National Geographic Magazine. The first article, in the July 1972 issue, described a two-week stay on an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine where Gibbons along with his wife Freda and a few family friends relied solely on the island's resources for sustenance. The second article, which appeared in the August 1973 issue, features Gibbons, along with granddaughter Colleen, grandson Mike, and daughter-in-law Patricia, stalking wild foods in four western states.

Gibbons's publishing success brought him fame. He made guest appearances on The Tonight Show and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Susquehanna University.

A 1974 television commercial for Post Grape-Nuts cereal featured Gibbons asking viewers "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible." While he recommended eating Grape Nuts over eating pine trees (Grape Nuts' taste "reminds me of wild hickory nuts"), the quote caught the public's imagination and fueled his celebrity status. Johnny Carson joked about sending Gibbons a "lumber-gram", and Gibbons himself joined in the humor; when presented with a wooden award plaque by Sonny and Cher, he good-naturedly took a bite out of it. (The "plaque" was actually an edible prop.) On 6 Oct. 1973 he was satirized by John Byner on the Carol Burnett Show, shown eating tree parts.

Often mistaken for a survivalist, Gibbons was simply an advocate of nutritious but neglected plants. He typically prepared these not in the wild, but in the kitchen with abundant use of spices, butter and garnishes. Several of his books discuss what he called "wild parties": dinner parties where guests were served dishes prepared from plants gathered in the wild. His favorite recommendations included lamb's quarters, rose hips, young dandelion shoots, stinging nettle and cattails. He often pointed out that gardeners threw away the more tasty and healthy crop when they pulled such weeds as purslane and amaranth out from among their spinach plants.

Gibbons died on December 29, 1975, at Sunbury Community Hospital in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.[2] His death was the result of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, a complication from Marfan syndrome.

Legacy[edit]

He was posthumously satirized by cartoonist Scott Shaw as "You-All Gibbon - The Junk Food Monkey" in the independently published comic book "Quack!".[3] There is also a mention of him in Larry Groce's song "Junk Food Junkie" from 1976.

Gibbons is also one of the Saints in the novel by Margaret Atwood The Year of the Flood (2009). His first and last name were also used in a pun in the short story "Dog Day Evening" written by Spider Robinson and first published in 1977. Additionally, he was referenced in a line in television show, "Gilmore Girls" (S2 E15 2002). The Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton, Wisconsin has honored Gibbons with an homage in the form of an omelette featuring a variety of forageable foods.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962)
  • Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop (1964)
  • Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966)
  • Stalking the Good Life (1966)
  • Beachcomber's Handbook (1967)
  • A Wild Way To Eat (1967) for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School
  • Stalking the Faraway Places (1973)
  • (collected in) American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes, ed. Molly O'Neill (Library of America, 2007) ISBN 1-59853-005-4
  • Feast on a Diabetic Diet (1973)
  • Euell Gibbons' Handbook of Edible Wild Plants (1979)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f McPhee, John. "A Forager." In A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968, pp. 65-118. Originally published in The New Yorker, April 6, 1968 pp. 45-104. Informative profile of Gibbons recounts the two men's week-long November camping trip, made without aid of fishing rod or shotgun, subsisting on foodstuffs gathered along their route in central Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ "Euell Gibbons Dies at 64; Wrote Books About Natural Foods". New York Times. December 30, 1975. Retrieved 2008-03-23. Euell Gibbons, author of books on natural foods, was pronounced dead on arrival in Sunbury Community Hospital tonight. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed. He was 64 years old. 
  3. ^ "Scott Shaw". Lambiek Net. Retrieved December 14, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

Euell Gibbons Handbook of Edible Wild Plants. Compiled by Gordon Tuncker and Freda Gibbons published in 1979 by A Unilaw Library Book Donning Virginia Beach Norfolk

External links[edit]