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Euell Theophilus Gibbons
Gibbons circa 1960
|Born||September 8, 1911|
Clarksville, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 29, 1975 (aged 64)|
|Other names||Ewell Gibbons|
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Gibbons was born in Clarksville, Texas, on September 8, 1911, and spent much of his youth in the hilly terrain of northwestern New Mexico. His father drifted from job to job, usually taking his family (a wife and four children) with him.
During one difficult interval of homesteading, Gibbons began foraging for local plants and berries to supplement the family diet. After leaving home at 15, he drifted throughout 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”: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.
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.":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,":103 and in the postwar years he chose the life of a beachcomber on the Hawaiian Islands.
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 Society of Friends (the Quakers), stating "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.":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
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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.:68 Capitalizing on the growing return-to-nature movement in 1962, the resulting work, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, became an instant success. 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 that 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.
His 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.) He was satirized by John Byner on the Carol Burnett Show episode which aired October 6, 1973, shown eating tree parts and asking related questions, including "Ever lick a river?" In a 1974 skit on the children's television program The Electric Company, cast member Skip Hinnant (as "Early Gibbons") was a proponent of eating items starting with the prefix "ST-," including a tree stump, a staircase (with a "first step," presumably made of wood) and sticks and stones.
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.
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- 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)
- Hauser, Susan Carol (2008-04-01). Field Guide to Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac: Prevention And Remedies. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781461746775.
- 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.
- Gibbons, Euell (July 1972). "Stalking Wild Foods on a Desert Isle". National Geographic. 142 (1): 46.
- Gibbons, Euell (August 1973). "Stalking the West's Wild Foods". National Geographic. 144 (2): 186.
- "Euell Gibbons Dies at 64; Wrote Books About Natural Foods". The 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.
- The Secret to a Longer Life? Don’t Ask These Dead Longevity Researchers. "The wild-foods enthusiast Euell Gibbons was far ahead of his time in his advocacy of a diverse plant diet — but he died at age 64 of an aortic aneurysm. (He had been born with a genetic disorder that predisposed him to heart problems.)," New York Times, March 9, 2018
Euell Gibbons Handbook of Edible Wild Plants, compiled by Gordon Tuncker and Freda Gibbons, published in 1979, a Unilaw Library Book by Donning, Virginia Beach/Norfolk, Virginia.
- The Plowboy Interview: Euell Gibbons, Mother Earth News, May–June 1972.
- Euell Gibbons Biography by John Kallas, Ph.D., Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables. Article with Photograph
- Euell Gibbons Biography by John Sunder. The Handbook of Texas Online
- New York Times appreciation of Euell Gibbons by John McPhee Wild Man
- Euell Gibbons Post Grape Nuts on YouTube, 1974.