Scott Nearing's
"Horse Chow"
(Part 4...The Conclusion)

Dateline: 1 April 2008

Scott in his later years.

I have been writing about Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of the 1954 classic, Living The Good Life. Though the Nearings and I part company when it comes to fundamental religious beliefs, we share common understandings about the foolishness, failures, and dangers of our modern, industrialized culture.

One of those areas of understanding revolves around the subject of food. The Nearings believed that most modern foods were unhealthy and unnecessary for living the “good” life. In fact, to the Nearings, living the good life meant escaping the modern bondage to the high-priced, chemical-laden, and adulterated foods of the industrial cornucopia.

Helen and Scott embarked upon a pre-industrial diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which were grown in their own garden. They also ate whole grains, nuts, and beans. For sweeters, they used honey, molasses, and maple syrup—never white sugar. They drank water and homemade herbal teas—never alcoholic, carbonated, or caffeinated beverages.

I should also point out that the Nearings were vegetarians, which isn’t necessarily pre-industrial. But I think it is safe to say that most pre and non-industrialized cultures did not and do not eat a lot of meat. Personally, I like meat, and have no problem eating it. But I am not a big meat eater and I now limit my intake primarily to meat I’ve grown and processed myself (chicken and turkey) and meat that has been raised by people I know and trust.

During their 20-year odyssey in Vermont’s Green Mountains, the Nearings report that they had no refrigerator or freezer. They relied on a root cellar to keep produce through the cold months. They also had an unheated greenhouse to grow some greens through the winter. They canned some foods (applesauce in particular). Their “Good Life” book goes into more specific details about their diet. The thing I want to point out is that they ate basic, unprocessed, and usually organic, food.

It was this diet, along with the steady exercise of homestead work, and stress-free living, that is the most likely reason why Helen and Scott enjoyed such long, productive, and disease-free lives. I find that the most inspiring aspect of the Nearing’s example. And, as I recently reread their book, I felt convicted to give more attention to eating more wholesome foods.

Compared to many, my diet is already pretty basic and healthy. As already noted, my intake of meat is under control. I do not eat a lot of processed or sugar-laden food. I haven’t drank a whole glass of carbonated beverage in years (a sip is enough to remind me why). I’ve never been an alcohol drinker (though I have been known to indulge in a rare glass of hard cider). I can do without coffee. I can pass up doughnuts and pastries. Candy does not beckon me (I do, however, have a weakness for peanut butter cups). Nevertheless, I know I can do better about eating foods that are better for me. Thus, I find myself drawn to the whole idea of a Spartan diet.

And so it was that I recently came to read Helen Nearing’s 1980 book Simple Food For The Good Life. I checked it out from the library because I’m trying to cut down on book buying. But I might go buy a copy because I like the book.

Helen’s book is something like a cook book, but she is the first to admit that she didn’t like to cook. She felt she had better things to do than slave over the stove for hours baking and making meals that would get eaten in ten minutes. My wife, Marlene, can relate to that. So the “recipes” in the book are more down-to-earth and simple than probably any other recipe book you've ever seen.

My primary objective in getting the book was to find out about Scott Nearing’s Horse Chow. I had read somewhere that “horse chow” was a favorite food of the Nearings. I wanted to know more.

Well, horse chow is the second recipe in the book (right after popcorn, which the Nearingss purchased wholesale in 50-pound bags). Here is what the book says:


In the early 1930s, before health foods and granola became household words, I made up a dish we called Horse Chow. At that time raw oats were not being eaten by humans. This is the simplest granola of all and perhaps one of the earliest. It was dreamed up in the Austrian Tyrol, where we holed up one winter in a village far from supplies and with a very slim larder of hit-or-miss articles, but with great appetites.

4 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned, not the quick-cook kind)
1/2 cup raisins
Juice of 1 lemon
Dash of sea salt
Olive oil or vegetable oil to moisten

Mix all together. We eat it in wooden bowls with wooden spoons.

After reading that recipe for Horse Chow I decided to give it a try. Cooking is not one of my strengths, but no cooking is needed. Just mixing. I know how to mix stuff. I have mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow many times.

When I made my own Horse Chow, I didn’t follow the Nearing's directions exactly because I’m a typical man in that regard. I now realize (after typing out the recipe above) that I left out the sea salt. It still mixed together just fine. Here is a picture of the ingredients:


I made my horse chow by putting some raw rolled oats in a bowl. Then I squeezed in 1/2 of a lemon, and mixed. Then I poured in some good-quality olive oil, and mixed. Then I added the raisins, and mixed. Here’s a close-up picture of the finished chow:


You’re probably wondering how it tasted. Well, it needed salt. Just kidding. The Horse Chow was different. It was chewy. But it wasn’t bad. The sweet raisins and the tart lemon made for a nice contrast of flavor. One thing is for sure—Horse Chow fills you up!

I have been eating quite a bit of Horse Chow over the past 10 days. One Saturday I ate nothing but Horse Chow for the whole day. I’ve mixed Horse Chow at work for lunch. I’ve found that I like it better with some apple pieces. It’s also good mixed with yogurt.

You’re probably also wondering how I feel after eating so much of this raw chow. Well, I feel pretty good. I think I’ve even lost some weight since I’ve started eating horse chow. I also run faster and jump higher.

In the past, when I was hungry, I’d snack on bread or crackers (carbs) with something on them (peanut butter, jam, cheese, sardines—you name it). But now I mix up some horse chow. It’s quick and easy.

Did you notice that BIG bag of rolled oats in the above picture? I’ll be eating horse chow for a long time to come. If you stop by for a visit some day, I may feed you horse chow. That’s one of the things the Nearings fed their many visitors.

In my next essays (a twelve-part series!) I will tell you all about recipe number four in Helen’s cook book.....”Scott’s Emulsion”. It’s a two-ingredient recipe. And “Scott’s Emulsion” is really tasty when mixed with boiled wheat berries. ;-)

CLICK HERE to go to Part 1 of this "Horse Chow" series.


Drew Kime said...

I'll be trying the horse chow. Sounds ... interesting.

If you haven't already seen it, you should check out Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's about how industrial we've let our food system become, and how it's killing us. And don't worry about the meat in your diet. Pollan talks about several cultures where they eat almost no plants and they don't have the health problems we do.

I'm not able to raise my own food, but I'm doing kind of the same thing as you, looking to older cookbooks for inspiration. And you really have to go back 60-100 years to find ones that don't depend on industrial "food products" like shortening.

I'm writing up about one recipe per week on my blog, How To Cook Like Your Grandmother. I put the best ones in a book. I think I'll include horse chow in the second edition.

Matthew said...

At long last! The secret has come out :-)

So you like peanut butter cups, do you? (me too!)

When we were out east at Williamsburg, I think, Dad and I took a tour of the stables and they let us try a handful of the horse's chow (actually, Dad was busy withe video camera taping the two horses named "Matthew" and "Mark" (our names)so only I tried the stuff). Some people spit it right back out, but I kinda liked it--tasted like oats and molasses (although the oat hulls weren't very edible, I didn't think). It was quite chewy. Good stuff.

I think that you may need more raisins when you mix up your wheelbarrow full of "horse chow," and possibly extra olive oil to make it more cement-like. ;)

It does sound like a good snack, although I'm not so sure about the running faster and jumping higher! Do you happen to have documentary proof? :-)

"Scott's Emulsion"--Only TWO ingredients, and you have to make a TWELVE part series out of it?!? I think I'd better try to find the book somewhere! I'm also curious, does Mrs. Helen have and recipes named after her? So far it seems that everything is "Scott's."

And what of the maple syrup blog? Is that to be left by the wayside? I know, I know--So much to do and so little time!

Thanks for the great posts, there's a lot to think about,


Alex said...

The power of love to change healthy bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around.... Throughout history, "tender loving care" has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing.

Anynway nice post about your research :D

"We've got a blog about nutrition, healthy eating, and health food
too. It includes summaries of articles in the news, lists healthy
recipes, offers tips and personal feedback on healthy eating, and
reports on nutritional research."

check this out:

Ray Cornish said...

Like most of what you say. Completly agree with you on the carbonated beverages. Don't think one has to completely cut out meat though - granddad lived the simple farm live and had bacon/sausage and eggs almost every morning and lived to be 83. Maybe without those he would have made it to 90, but he lived a full happy life according to him.

Herrick Kimball said...


Sorry, no documentary proof. You got me on that one. :-)

And, don't worry, I'm just kidding about the 12-part series about a two-ingredient recipe. I'm making fun of myself for turning Horse Chow into a four part blog.

There are no recipes in the book with Helen's name on them. I think "Scott's Horse Chow" and "Scott's Emulsion" are the only two with Scott's name on them. I will mention his "Emulsion" in the next blog I write.

As for the Maple Syrup blog (it will be titled "Backyard Sugaring"), I am getting that together with lots of pictures and will, hopefully, start posting installments by the weekend. If the weather gets better around here, it might be longer.

Hi Ray-
I'm writing this at 6:00 in the morning. I just had a bowl of boiled wheat berries with a variation of "Scott's Emulsion" on them (really, I did). Bacon, sausage, and eggs sounds a whole lot better! :-)

Matthew said...

Whew! I feel great relief, I'm not sure I could survive a twelve part series on such a short recipe. I bet you would either string us along waiting until the very end to give us the two ingredients, or give us just one letter of each ingredient at the end of each post!

I look forward to the "backyard sugaring" essays, I think that making syrup would be an interesting project--although I understand that it takes just a little bit of sap to make much syrup (the ratio is like 1:35 or 1:40 isn't it?) I can just guess that one WILL be at least a twelve part series! :-)


Cerwydwyn said...

Your articles on the Nearings have been fun. Google reader recommended your blog for me and I must say that it did well. I've enjoyed your posts and #4 the most thus far.
We part ways, like you and the Nearings, when it comes to basic religious leanings but hold many more things in common. I only wish that my writing were as wonderful and focused as yours!
Thanks for the great info.

Patti said...

I think it needs nuts too..:)

Herrick Kimball said...


I think the maple syrup series will be five installments.

It occurred to me after posting this morning that I may not be able to run faster and jump higher after eating Horse Chow, but I really do feel a bit more of a spring in my step.

I just had a bowl of the mix after getting home from work. My youngest son, James, had a bowl of his own. He likes it. That's saying a lot.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I must warn you....I'm prone to say very Christian things here. But, curiously, there are Christians who don't agree with me. Imagine that!

Nuts are good with horse chow too.

Hey!.... What did you mean by that? Are you trying to tell me something? ;-)

Matthew said...

I tried it too. Last night after reading your post I grabbed a handful of oats out of the oatmeal jar, and a handful of raisins and ate some of each. Quite good.

Then today for breakfast I tried closer to the original recipe--with lemon juice and oil. I had to use bottled juice since lemons are a rare commodity in mid-Michigan during the winter season, but should be similar. I kinda liked the lemon, but the oil made it kinda grease for me--maybe I didn't stir it enough. I'm not as practiced up on mixing cement as some people ;) I also put in a lot more raisins than it called for, but I like raisins (natural sweetness!)

I don't really like oatmeal (the hot cereal, at least the last time I tried it--it made a lasting impression!) but this with the raw oats, not thats good stuff.

I wonder if it is something about the youngest sons, my brother Jonathan (the youngest of two) is a fairly picky eater too.

I look forward to seeing if you can fit all the Backyard Sugaring into only five posts!


Mary Lou in Sherburne, NY said...

Glad you are writing about the Nearings! I have a copy of Simple Food for the Good Life, and refer to it first for the simplest way to prepare any certain item. It is a book well worth owning.

I have loved the wheat berries with honey/peanut butter emulsion for years. I prefer it with crunchy peanut butter. Another favorite recipe of mine is the Amsterdamsche Rote Kohl; a great use for red cabbage.

I can't wait for your Backyard Sugaring essays! We have a small family business making maple syrup and related items-about 800+ taps. As I am sure you are already aware, the Nearings wrote an excellent book on this subject as well.

Have you seen the film "Living the Good Life", produced by Bullfrog Films? You may be able to get it through your library system. It is for sale through The Good Life Center's website.

You'll probably be surprised at how fast that bag of oats goes!

Herrick Kimball said...

Welcome to the "Club of Horse Chow Eaters". We will have a bumper sticker that says: Got Horse Chow?

Hi Mary lou-
A variation on Scott's Emulsion that is also good is maple syrup and peanut butter.

I will take a closer look at the Amster-red cabbage recipe.

800+ taps!!!!!! That's industrial-scale "backyard sugarin'" compared to my operation (25 taps). Yes, I do have the Nearing's Maple book too. I believe they wrote that before "Living The Good Life."

Yes, my whole family watched the Nearing documentary last summer when we went to a sustainable energy fair in PA. I wrote about it HERE

iricha1 said...

This blog upsets me due to the fact the more I read about the Nearings, the more I see people blogging about how saddened they are due to their lack of faith or non-Christian beliefs. It's funny how the Nearings tried ex caping from modern day civilization in the 30s which was a retreat from industrialized man/technology and the overvbearingness of the Christian religion. Fast forward a century later and we as Christians are still judging these great role models of quality living based on something we don't even know truly exists. What we do know is that these people were intelligent enough to get away from these so called Christians and leave a bigger legacy and gift to humanity( that is tangible) than any of us

Herrick Kimball said...


Sadness is a perfectly normal and legitimate response by any true Christian towards those who have never known the peace and assurance that comes with the Christian faith. It is a subjective response based on spiritual reality and personal experience.

I can assure you that If you knew this peace and assurance yourself, you would not be upset, as you say you are….

You would, instead, wish the same truth and experience of spiritual freedom for everyone else.

I dare say that the sadness felt is a manifestation of Christian love, which desires the very best for others.

Thank you for the comment. I wish you the very best.