It would seem that once there is a TV reality show about something than you can assume that it’s gone mainstream enough that the denizens of the mainstream media world are interested. So it seems to have happened with ‘prepping’ – that is, being prepared for the zombie apocalypse with a garage or a bunker full of shelf-stable and dried foods, a water purification system and a couple of cases of munitions. Meh … a lot of people went nutso over this just before New Years’ Day 2000, and there always has been a lunatic fringe … but then ensuring that you have a plentiful supply of food, drink and supplies on hand used to be pretty mainstream, actually. It was called ‘getting ready for winter’ in the 19th century, especially if you lived on a homestead half a day’s journey from the nearest general store. It certainly has been a requirement for LDS church members, as I discovered when I lived in Utah. It seemed pretty sensible for me, actually – having an emergency stash of food.
I remember my mother telling me of a friend of hers, whose husband was laid off from the Lockheed assembly line. They bought a hundred-pound sack of dried beans, which formed the largest part of their daily meals until he was employed again. We never were forced to that extreme, Dad being regularly employed, but on occasion my mother finished out the last day or two before his paychecks arrived with barely a handful of dollars and change to buy groceries with. The grandparents remembered not just the Depression, but hard times before that. They always – especially Granny Jessie who was raised on a farm – had a stash of foodstuffs on hand. So, it always seemed quite natural to read in the Little House Books, of how Pa and Ma Ingalls planted a garden, harvested from it, stored away potatoes and squash in a root cellar, butchered a pig and smoked the hams and made sausage, made apple butter and wild-berry jam. I don’t remember if Ma made cheese from fresh cow’s milk; but I do remember descriptions of churning butter from it.
Mind you, my own parents weren’t that hard-core about do-it-yourself food, but they had the can-do-it-yourself attitude about a lot of things, including landscaping, home renovation and shade-tree auto repair. I came away from the assignment in Utah with a full-size freezer, a dehydrator with a lot of extra trays, and a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer with a lot of extra attachments … like a sausage stuffer, for instance. It just seemed quite natural to get interested in home brewing, and home cheese-making as well, as the results have been so delicious … and doing this had the added benefit of me being able to write fairly knowledgeably about a 19th century homemaker doing all this. Although – I am not hard-core enough to do all this over a wood-burning iron stove. But there is something very satisfactory about eating a slice of home-made baguette with a slice of home-made cheese on it, to eating fresh salad greens from your own garden, tomatoes and beans and squash that you picked just that afternoon.
We’ve just started doing jams and pickles and relishes of our own, in addition to all the other things. How much better than the purchased food will they taste? I’m beginning to think the next thing will be keeping hens for eggs, and I just don’t know how the neighbors will feel about that. Keeping a small cow for milk, though – that is definitely out. The yard is just not large enough.