Garden of Earthly Delights/Sin

I’m reading a book about how to become more food-independent, in terms of taking ourselves off the mega agri-business teat and supporting local farmers and learning how to can our own green beans and stuff. This book (Sharon Astyk’s “Independence Days”) tends to swing a bit toward the “omg apocalypse survivalist” side of things, which is fine by me as I tend to swing that way myself. I’m always waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, realizing I don’t know how many acres of oats a grown human needs to grow in order to survive a winter. Then I realize I don’t even know what an “oat” looks like in nature, or what to do with it if I did.

Our utter helplessness in this regard should be terrifying to all of us. How strange it is that such an incredibly tiny minority of people in our Western culture know how to actually support themselves off the land. What a bizarre state of affairs–one that has never before existed in the whole history of humankind! Not natural; not historically accurate; not sustainable. Come on, teach me how to grow those oats!

I like Astyk’s book because it’s all about baby steps. Obviously we aren’t all going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly transform our lives into totally independent ones, and it’s daunting when you think that way. Astyk is like “just make one can of green beans. Good job! Now tomorrow make two.” etc. Baby steps. She also acknowledges that there are many levels between “totally dependent on lumbering/wheezing late capitalist agri-business” and “totally self-sufficient,” and there are all kinds of steps we can take along that path. Like, buying all your flours bulk from some local farmer instead of buying them packaged at the store from who-knows-where. Or like, committing to growing all your own potatoes, and that’s it, but getting your other stuff at the farmer’s market. Or even just learning how to can and pickle, and trying to get a winter’s worth of preserved food in your pantry during the summer by buying shit-tons of late-day farmer’s market produce. etc. etc. One of the best things I’ve learned so far from this book is the concept of a limited diet based on the seasons. Astyk is all about embracing the staples. If you live in Iowa, your staple starch is going to be potatoes or corn. So 200 years ago, almost every meal you ate would involve one of those things. She’s like, “get back into it! Learn 100 ways to cook a potato! It’s awesome!” I’m really really into this right now. Buying a 50 pound sack of potatoes and eating it all winter. Tightening the circle of diet diversity into what’s reasonable to wherever you live. And if we start making these changes now, we’ll be in such a better position when/if civilization crumbles. We’ll already know how to store onions and how to over-winter our rutabaga patch or whatever. I’m on chapter 3 and am having some crazy dreams. My notebook is filling up with ideas, things to read, equipment to try to buy at weird livestock auctions, and questions.

if the world ends, where do you get/how do you make:
– salt
– sugar
– vinegar
– cooking oils
– yeast! (another reason to start a sourdough starter)
– soap!??!?

how many calories a day does a human actually need to eat, and how do you know how many calories are in stuff?

life without refrigerator:
– how do you keep your scraps to make veggie stock with if you don’t have a freezer?
– how do you keep butter/yogurt? Even if you knew how to make these things?

what do you feed the dog?

how do you overcome your terror of botulism?

Life without caffeine! NO CAFFEINE! No shitty green tea even! Imagine. No chocolate!

Need to get more books on:
– root cellar building
– lactofermentation
– picklin’
– cannin’
– recipes for shit like apple butter

Right now I have Astyk’s book, this classic Everything Garden How-To book by John Seymour which is so incredibly charming (“why does the humble parsnip make such excellent wine? I do not know. I only know that it does.”), with drawings of how to make a bee hive and stuff. How to kill a rabbit. How to grow an acre of wheat. How to put your bee hive behind a tall hedge so that the bees have to fly up in the air before they can go anywhere, thus you’ll stay out of their line of fire. And then I have the fabulous Urban Homestead, which is just tremendously filled with useful shit even pre-apocalypse. How to build a fancy outdoor solar shower. How to build self-watering plant troughs. How to make your own laundry soap.

These three books contain most of the information you’d need to stay alive in a pinch, but now I am stressed out about PRACTICE. I don’t know how big an acre is! I don’t know how to grind wheat for flour. I don’t know how to saw a board and nail it to something, even! There is so much shit that our ancestors took totally for granted, and now we have to learn from scratch, and it’s pathetic. Plus we all have full-time jobs (well, I don’t, but one day I might) and lives and we need to stay in the present even as we try to access certain parts of the past. I have no intention of abandoning my dreams of academia and high heels just so I can grow 20 acres of corn and kill my own rabbits. But I do want to know how to do some of these things, and I do want to implement however much I can, in my modern life as it currently stands. Certain major changes ARE REALISTIC, even for the way we live now.

I crave a house with a yard, and I feel like it will never happen. I am so exhausted from craving a yard to actually have a garden in. When will this occur in my life? But I have to focus on what I can do. My worm bin is getting really badass. I make my own stock and then feed the scraps to the worms. I buy bulk olive oil. Um…there is probably a lot more I could be doing. Hence these books!! My next project is to learn to can. And my long-term project is to move to more of a reliance on local staples and change the whole way I think about my diet. Make more relationships with local farmers; figure out where I can buy bulk flours; spend tons of money all summer at the farmers’ market but can and pickle it all, to save me money in the winter; etc. And of course, it’s never the right time. So now we are moving in August, am I supposed to bring my huge boxes of jars of carrots and green beans with me??? Oh god I don’t know. I want to make sauerkraut.

I just feel like, I don’t want to be a fucking idiot. I want to know what an oat looks like in nature. I don’t want to be lazy. Astyk is like, oh, you’re probably thinking you don’t have time to can a bunch of tomatoes, but I would like to point out that the average American watches 4 hours of television a day. DAMN YOU GUYS, WE DO HAVE TIME.

I want to make my own wine out of parsnips. Apparently I need a “sheet of muslin.”

So much advice on how not to let jars explode.

Anyway, if you have any book-recommendations for really good, precise, realistic HOW-TO books on most any subject, please let me know.

Don’t you love the Oceans 11 movie franchise? Those guys are so charming.

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8 Responses to Garden of Earthly Delights/Sin

  1. Vicki says:

    Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, badass Irishwoman who runs an old-timey culinary school that follows the seasons etc., and who (Allen) also knows how to make a duster out of a goose wing, and shares that information in the above book. Also contains my favorite kale recipe (hint: it involves nutmeg).

  2. mokin says:

    I have this book on my library hold list, so I haven’t read it yet, but I read an interview with the author that was REALLY amazing:
    Radical Homemakers : Reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture by Shannon Hayes.

    It sounds like it covers a lot of the same ground as the book you mentioned, though.

  3. eileen says:

    Your blog erased my comment! AUGH

    1. Radical Homemakers is NOT AT ALL a credible source, due to huge bias, and also is not a how-to guide, but a faux sociological study. IT’S BAD. My review:
    2. I have a list of roughly 1 million books you should read, and I am not going to type them all out again now. Tomorrow. (Or check my amazon list I suppose.)

  4. sarah says:

    James and I found that a good book for fermentation and using food (and scraps) to the utmost was Sander Katz’s ‘Wild Fermentation.’
    Easy to follow and a very diverse recipe list for many climates. We’ve been in love with it since we bought it a few years ago.

  5. Jessica H. says:

    Oh man, Radical Homemaking is a SNOOZE. Interviews with like 10-12 people in various stages of DIY or back to the land culture that is super repititititititititive and very much like “i live for free on my parents farm with my 3 children whom I home school and we made 8000$ last year total, selling firewood my husband chopped” and people trading goat meat for check-ups for the children.

    There is a book I have that is the canning and food storage bible called “putting food by” and it covers EVERYTHING and is not like a sexy food culture book, it is for people who want to dry their own meat and save beans.

    You can also start by seeing if there is a community plot available, getting some easy heirlooms and getting a book on seed saving. I have like 100 baby food jars for seed saving I can send you. I want to can too, but I think this year we are just going to start with makin’ jellies. Garlic and Strawberry, but not mixed.

    It is totally a process, and it’s hard not to obsessed and try to go all in at once. I am just working on how to make better compost in a non-plastic container and rotate my planting in the garden this year, and grow what we want to eat in the proper quantity. Like 60 lbs less tomatoes and more beans so we can harvest more than 4-6 green beans at a time.

  6. elizabeth says:

    Wild Fermentation! (Remember that NYer story about the author? and how they go meet someone who has decomposing meat in a jar? to eat?! that’s not what he does. You can start with sauerkraut.) And I second Putting Food By.

  7. Yours Truly says:

    these are great recommends and anti-recommends, guys!

    Elizabeth, I totally have Wild Fermentation on my list but I didn’t put it together that it was THAT GUY!!!!!!!!!! Extra excited now! Not gonna eat rotten meat though! Actually that was another guy, not this guy.

  8. mokin says:

    Sheesh, I should know better than to recommend a book I haven’t read yet, but at least now I know it’s lame. I’m glad that I can delete it from my hold list and make room for more worthy books.

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