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Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Harriet Fasenfest started this discussion over at the intro post, but I think it deserves it's very own thread.

Here's what she said,

"Oh but that I could call myself a punk housewife.  I'm more your crusty ex-pat N.Y. still-talking-about-woodstock householder with grown kids and a husband who can't figure out what I do all this stuff (interminally slow learner).  But I'm digging what's happening and I'd love to know more about how all this really works for you.

 

You know, I know, that you know, that there was the first book.**  Now I'm thinking about the workbook cause I know going backwards and taking on all the skills and trades to make this work is hard when added to all our other commitments and lures of modernity.

 

So past the vision and the narratives are the real tools of home-ec.  The budgets, the timelines, the storage, the meal planning.  In essence, the nuts and bolts of a functioning home economy.  So where do you get stuck.  I'm wondering.  I got some ideas."

 

(Harriet's first book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, is a great read. I can't actually believe she joined my group. Lil ole Apron Stringz. How thrilling!)

Tags: DIY, ec, home, homemaker, householder, housewife

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Replies to This Discussion

this is a great topic. the how to books tend to all cover the same subjects. if i read one more time how to make your own yogurt, i might throw up.

more interesting to me, because they're less talked about, are the connections. how do you fit yogurt making's all important timing into your busy schedule, how do you organize your kitchen to accomodate an efficient yogurt set-up, what do you do to use up all the yogurt that's getting a little old in your fridge, and how do you deal with the fact that after 7 years of intermittent yogurt making you have finally admitted t to yourself that you can't like the runny consistency of homemade yogurt... ahem.

i'm not sure if that is exactly what you mean, Harriet. but those are the kind of questions that, in the long run, I have found far harder to solve than simply learning the basic skills.

a big one for me, again, over the long haul (i don't know if you read my blog, but i've been at this stuff for some 15 years) is balancing my relative asceticism against the excesses of the world around me. like, dealing with feelings of almost jealousy that everyone else goes blithely through their day, buying whatever they want. and not be tempted to use it as an excuse to fall short of my own ideals.

what i mean is, i fall short all the time. but, figuring out how to not feel... left out of the rest of the world i guess.

another big one that you and me could talk late into the night about with maybe something a little stronger than beer, is how to balance your own ideals and visions with your spouse's. wowza, right? no one ever talks about this, but come on! this is so essential! my man and i share the same basic values, but our interpretations into life are vastly different. i feel always pulled into normalcy, and it's sticks like a burr. but how do we come at this topic without sounding like bitchy wives? i hate bitchy wives.

then there's kids. another subject that's usually kept separate. not how to be a parent, but how to balance parenting with this DIY lifestyle. this is actually a lot like the spouse issue. it's accepting that there are now 4 people in our home, all full of spit and vinegar. all with a distinct and vibrant opinion on how things should go down.

i don't know if this is what you meant at all, actually.

what does everyone else think of as the nuts and bolts?

i'd like to write a post about this, and maybe encourage folks to head over here to say their own piece. this is good stuff.

 

Hey CJ

 

What I mean is exactly whatever is coming up for folks.  So I'm hearing you talk about systems.  Yogurt on monday - yada yada.  Do you get raw milk?  Do you go through it in one week?   Those are some questions I have because it relates to your system.  Don't know why your yogurt is runny.  If you care and you tell me I might be able to help you there.  Old yogurt can become many things.  All this is easily solved.  Householding is about systems and modern day householding has to keep in mind the issue that confront us in modernity.   Some of it is about commitment and some of it is about time.  Other parts are about not having the resources. 

 

The bigger issue you seem to be talking about is balancing.  Yep, that is a big one.  In part I think we find balance  by talking to others that are attempting to do live the same way.  My suspicion is that anyone attempting this way of living feels a bit out of sorts or out of time with the world around us.  I know I do.  Householding?  Punk Housewives?   How does one explain it exactly.  Don't know about you, but folks stay away from me at parties (wrong parties I'm hoping) thinking I'm a little bit of a freak or throw back.   Or, they don't know what to say cause they're not on the path.  I understand.   It's a strange one.  But I don't think its just about finding others on a similar path but find those on a path for similar reasons.  This is not about nostalgic domestic splendor for me.  This is partly about revolution. Yeah, I love doing lots of this but I do it for a reason and it isn't so I can put cute gingham hats on jars of jam.  

 

As for the spouses --- TOTALLY.  And the kids  - once again....totally.  And on that point I have lots to say and I think you are right.  Beers et. al., are the ticket and I'm game.  But again, I think "nuts and bolts" it is about fleshing out these issues with others and working to define this life as a movement.  

 

So in the end we seem to have two narratives - The nuts and bolts of systems and those related to social issues.  Let the conversations beging.  

 

 

Hope you don't mind my jumping in here, but I see this lifestyle... whateva you want to call it... as a new essentiality (not a word, I know).  To echo what many have said before, mainstream American lifestyles are generally not sustainable.  Especially with the aftermath of 2008, there are even fewer jobs than before and so the concept of two working heads of household (if you're going with the "traditional" paradigm, though that's kind of unrealistic) for every family is not necessarily realistic.  I also don't buy the argument that every family "needs" two wage earners to survive.   There are always exceptions, but often through a careful examination of priorities and choices, many families would continue to do well without the second paycheck.

 

Problem is, I don't think making yogurt or any other specific skill is THE answer.  It's more about becoming convinced (as I have) that people did these things back in the day, and even if we don't have anyone in our immediate families to impart that knowledge, we still can learn.  Which is where communities like this come in.

 

Basically, I find the systems more challenging than the skills.  Between the Internet, other technology, and classes offered locally, I can learn how to do anything.  But, how do I balance letting the bread rise in a chilly 140ish-year-old farmhouse with needing to run errands (incidentally, I've learned that if I do a load of dishes, the dishwasher kicks off enough warmth to solve that very problem)?  How do I develop a smoother transition between container gardens when we move every few years?  I realize that's kind of specialized, but I don't see (or accept)  a contradiction between being able to produce things at home with all the crap that requires and having an itinerant lifestyle... and I'm interested in making that work since that's my particular life.

 

Without getting too therapy-sessiony, I'm scrappy and feel confident enough in myself and my ability to learn to admit I don't know how to do something.  My mom called herself a "homemaker" but actually produced very little and had no patience for teaching skills and things to myself and my brothers.  She definitely believed there was "women's work" and "men's work" (and would have been horrified to learn that I was mowing the lawn with our reel mower at 36 weeks pregnant... but hey, my husband was out of town, the Belgian gypsies were casing houses in the area, and I needed to make it look like someone lived at our house and actually gave a damn).  Other than cleaning a house and doing laundry, I've had to teach myself pretty much everything else.  That's just how it is.

 

Sounds like there's a gradation involved... skills and systems for relative novices such as myself.  And then, maybe, a next tier for home makers who already know how to sew and cook and things like that.

 

I look forward to reading other comments on this subject.  Thoroughly fascinating.

Hey Gypsy,

 

It seems everyone is becoming aware that it is not just recipes and individual skills we are after but the systems that use those recipes and skills in a logical way.  I mean, what's the sense of making cheese if you don't have a dairy animal?  Cheese making was historically a way to deal with excess milk.  It's an art and can play a role in the householding kitchen but mostly if it is connected to a farmstead  - urban on otherwise.

So tasks separated from logic are illogical tasks.  Much of what I see people reaching for are symbols of rural culture or an esthetic of sorts.  Unfortunately, they generally don't jive with the lives we life.  I mean raising chickens if you don't have room for a run or a willingness to slaughter them after they stop laying is sorta silly but everyone with a tattoo has some these days.  Not that I'm wanting to be smarmy but so much of this movement looks as much like a fashion statement as anything else.  Yet, to not be totally dismissive, I understand, completely understand, the calling and what folks are really after.  But how to get there in a way that is both specific to one's lifestyle and supportable in the long run?   These are the things I have been thinking about and will be more of what the next book is about.  But I will offer some things as the questions come up as long as everyone understands I'm on the journey with them.

 

It seems the first thing to realize is that you are a gypsy.  I mean big chest freezers are not moving all that easily.  So buying a whole pig or half cow requires a certain commitment.  Of course I don't know if you are a vegetarian but there are questions we must ask of ourselves before we go forward.

 

Among other things, how, really, do you eat?  Do you cook meals regularly?  Do you have a system?  Our parents and grandparent were not fancy cooks they were functional cooks. Today we are into food porn.  Thousands and thousands of cookbooks and no one cooks.  Crazy, no?  For them it would have been pot roast on sunday and leftovers monday and tuesday.  But they cooked and ate in and generally, in season.  But then I'm pushing 60 and still remember a mother who cooked and shopped the seasons.  I tagged along.  Lots of "kids" (anyone under thirty to me) grew up with a very different shopping universe and few may have eaten meals at home every night.  There is no memory of it so it feels odd or forced or out of sync with how they have imagined themselves in the world.  But menu planning is not a throwback, it is a part of a logical system.  How do you eat?  Grains, beans, dairy?  How much?  Simplify.  You don't need every darn bean or grain out there.  What grows in your region?  How much would you need for a year?  Could you, say, buy bulk whole wheat berries and use them to cook as a grain, crack with a grinder (good tool) for tabboulli, grind further for making bread or pancakes?  One grain many uses.  If you think about peasant cultures (and I often do) I think about how they ate.  Simply, repetitive meals. Stock may always have been cooking on the stove and ladled out to be eaten with noodles (wheat or rice - the grain of the region).  It was the stable and it did not get all fancy and far reaching until the nobles, or elites, or bourgeois wanted folks to cook for them with all the ingredients they were getting off all those colonies they were plundering.  I mean, give me salt and I'll make it work.  So think about how you eat and what you think a menu should consist of.

And since you live an iternerant lifestyle  (as you say), I would say look to those cultures.  Flatbreads, sprouts, crocks of starter that can come with you.  Hell, fermented foods are way healthy for you and you can get buy with most of them and a little grain to the side.  Think of cultures that ate pickled cabbage and rice almost every meal.  Once you think about how you eat and what sort of foods will be staples in your diet you can think about the system that requires their production.  That's when yogurt making goest from being a recipe or skill to so a tool in a system.  Fermented dairy products (that still have the whey in them -- cheese generally has the whey pressed out) makes for good eating and can turn into other things as well.  It can also be cost effective if you buy raw milk.  I have kept figures on all of this -- my "value added" sheets as it were.  With dairying I don't save as much in cash as I do from all the bottles and packaging and stuff that drives me crazy.  Two big bottles of raw milk that I can return each week and I make all the other stuff we need.  If I get milk on Monday I turn it into other stuff on Tuesday or Wed (depending on what I'm making).  But they are power players in my kitchen so it makes sense to me and I give it my time.  I don't yammer on about how delicious it is with port infused figs (or some such thing).  I don't turn it into food porn.  It freak'n yogurt but it freak'n works.

 

If you move this logic over into the garden you can begin to see how one thing turns into another.  What is your space and do YOU (particularly) have the capacity to tend a garden.  Will you be moving from here to there often?  Is it best for you to look to sprouts for your greens or forage (dandelions are so freak'n fabulous).  Is fermentation the best way for you?  

 

How much time do you have to give to all of this.  Me, personally, I stay at home so it is considerable.  Others have less. Others want less.  Budgets are key.  We piss tons of money on going out.  It's part of our culture.  How much for a cocktail these days?  Holy mother of the universe - nuts.  

 

So it is 2:00am in the morning and I'm not sleeping all that well cause I got this creak in the neck but I wanted to write you.  Happy to write you.  The first books was a lot of narrative and some how-to.  Certainly enough to get us going.  But this is going to be an ongoing conversation as more and more of our systems are going to be up for re-evaluation.  So keep them coming.  

fascinating. complex. groovy, man.

a couple of things before the baby wakes up.

harriet, don't forget that you live in Portland, Oregon. this could be argued, but i would say you are at the epicenter of the DIY food movement. not everybody is surrounded by tattoed punks with chickens and sources for raw milk and half cows. i mean, really. i'm in new orleans, and it's cool and hip, and up and coming, and there ain't nowhere to buy raw milk or half cows. might be some punks with chickens, but i haven't met any. and i'm looking.

this is important cuz it means you have a different view of the state of things. also you are in the middle of the 'movement as fad' which is an inevitable part of any decent sized movement. some of the most devoted and sincere of your readers will be the ones who are true freaks, living in places where none of this shit is happening, not surrounded by the culture of DIY, fadized or not. just their very own nuts. keep them in mind.

i think looking at it as the systems for the lifestyle is perfect. i love systems. just adore them. how about kitchen set-up? i think efficiency in the kitchen is key. i wrote a whole set of overly geeky kitchen analyses last year on the blog. some people even read them.

re the glamorization of homemade. i am so with you. i think it's related to what i was saying about the culture of excess. we reject it, then feel left out, then try to make out DIY lifestyle match up by glamorizing our homemade yogurt with port infused figs. so that we can look like a magazine too. cuz that's what we've been taught to want.

we can turn away from our origins, but it's damn impossible to truly shake it. i don't know anybody who has.

as far as yogurt, no offense, but i bet your yogurt would be runny by my standards. even a lot of store bought yogurt is runny by my standards. the only one i really love is nancy's whole milk. it has added pectin. i'm no purist, and would be happy to add pectin when i make yogurt, but i tried a few times and it didn't turn out good. also, honestly, i always found yogurt making annoying. i just could never perfect the system i guess. always let the milk get too hot and it overflowed all over the stove. then always forgot and let it get too cold, had to reheat it. errgh. i read on one blog (just found it, the girls' guide to guns and butter. awesome.) to use a thermometer that beeps when the temp is reached. brilliant. i may give it a go again someday.

 

Hi All (Again),

 

Exactly.  I guess I'm looking for skills that work within a system I can use and... gasp!... maintain.  I'm running the marathon instead of sprinting, 'cause I know myself, and I know I will overwhelm myself if I try to jump in and do everything at once.  So, I'm methodically trying to learn one or two new skills at a time.  It's not particularly showy or sexy, but it sets in better (for me)...  Figuring out how to add the new skills to the household unit in a way that doesn't make me crazy is the challenge...

 

I love to cook and have access to some amazing ingredients over here.  I'm not even bad at menu-planning.  But you're absolutely right... keeping chickens or having the ability to deep freeze 1/2 of a cow or things like that aren't always doable if you move a lot or live in areas where those things "aren't done" (as much).  Doesn't mean it's not possible, but it does require a little more ingenuity on the part of the homemaker/householder/whatever you wanna call him or her...  The DIY movement is well and good where I am, but my French is GODAWFUL... thereby making my questions and desires pretty hard to communicate.  It's not an excuse, but it does make things a wee bit more difficult at times...

 

I think finding great mentors is huge... people who've done what we want to do and can point out potential challenges as well as gently call attention to the hubris that sometimes comes along with wanting to do something better for A Greater Cause.  Not to be discouraging, mind you, but to be that voice that says, "Um, why are you buying this for canning when you're moving in less than a year?  Got some friends to give all that away to?" 

 

I love the idea of figuring out what your personal priorities are, figuring out the skills needed to support those priorities, and then designing systems around all that.  It kind of takes the pressure off and makes it easier to opt out of the "urban homesteading competition" which seems to be kind of trickling into the movement.  I know it's a very human way to be, and there are plenty of soapboxes for everyone, but sheesh!  Sometimes that can be just as off-putting as the mainstream consumerist culture...

 

Just some thoughts that occurred to me while I was reading your replies...

Totally side step the competition.  I write about it and it is unnerving.  We're all in the same boat.

 

Question:  Why french?  Sorry I guess I haven't read your bio.

 

I'm not going to discourage anything because I know it is small steps exactly as you can manage it that is going to work best for each person.  We are going backwards in time and it will take time to figure out how that really works in this totally modern world.  At least it does for me.  

C.J.

Yes, pdx is a mega center of diy.  I'm too old to make that scene, mostly because I lived a version of it already.  But it is true, we have access to things others do not.  I should keep that in mind.  What is the scene in New Orleans?  Are there no surrounding farms at all?  How about the CSA movement?

 

As for yogurt.  No offense taken.  I've made it plenty and it gets Nancy's thick some of the times.  Other times less so but not really runny.  Could be that since I'm starting with the live cultures in raw milk the set up is different.  Sometimes if you use the same container or insulated box over and over it gets a weird fage (or whatever it is called) some strain of bacteria or yeast that fights with whatever fermentation you have going on in the house.  But far be it from me to suggest you don't know what you're doing.  I can say what it is.  I do know when I use raw milk not only does it set but I get this killer fermented cream on the top from the natural separation of milk solids.  

 

I'm really looking forward to reading your kitchen analyses.  I've been looking through it all and I like it.  Really happy to have discovered it.  And that you even suggested I have devoted readers makes me blush.  I am so much the strange child but committed to making sense of this.  

Calamity Jane said:

fascinating. complex. groovy, man.

a couple of things before the baby wakes up.

harriet, don't forget that you live in Portland, Oregon. this could be argued, but i would say you are at the epicenter of the DIY food movement. not everybody is surrounded by tattoed punks with chickens and sources for raw milk and half cows. i mean, really. i'm in new orleans, and it's cool and hip, and up and coming, and there ain't nowhere to buy raw milk or half cows. might be some punks with chickens, but i haven't met any. and i'm looking.

this is important cuz it means you have a different view of the state of things. also you are in the middle of the 'movement as fad' which is an inevitable part of any decent sized movement. some of the most devoted and sincere of your readers will be the ones who are true freaks, living in places where none of this shit is happening, not surrounded by the culture of DIY, fadized or not. just their very own nuts. keep them in mind.

i think looking at it as the systems for the lifestyle is perfect. i love systems. just adore them. how about kitchen set-up? i think efficiency in the kitchen is key. i wrote a whole set of overly geeky kitchen analyses last year on the blog. some people even read them.

re the glamorization of homemade. i am so with you. i think it's related to what i was saying about the culture of excess. we reject it, then feel left out, then try to make out DIY lifestyle match up by glamorizing our homemade yogurt with port infused figs. so that we can look like a magazine too. cuz that's what we've been taught to want.

we can turn away from our origins, but it's damn impossible to truly shake it. i don't know anybody who has.

as far as yogurt, no offense, but i bet your yogurt would be runny by my standards. even a lot of store bought yogurt is runny by my standards. the only one i really love is nancy's whole milk. it has added pectin. i'm no purist, and would be happy to add pectin when i make yogurt, but i tried a few times and it didn't turn out good. also, honestly, i always found yogurt making annoying. i just could never perfect the system i guess. always let the milk get too hot and it overflowed all over the stove. then always forgot and let it get too cold, had to reheat it. errgh. i read on one blog (just found it, the girls' guide to guns and butter. awesome.) to use a thermometer that beeps when the temp is reached. brilliant. i may give it a go again someday.

 

Hi Harriet,

 

I live in Southern Belgium.  We're moving to the States soon, though...

 

Gypsy Mama

 

Harriet Fasenfest said:

Totally side step the competition.  I write about it and it is unnerving.  We're all in the same boat.

 

Question:  Why french?  Sorry I guess I haven't read your bio.

 

I'm not going to discourage anything because I know it is small steps exactly as you can manage it that is going to work best for each person.  We are going backwards in time and it will take time to figure out how that really works in this totally modern world.  At least it does for me.  

S. Belgium.  Pretty no?  I think Roger Doiron (sp?) from Kitchen Gardens International is over there with his family for a couple of years.  Are you familiar with their work?  Could be a great connection.  They are originally from Maine but decided to live there a few years before the kids get older.

 

 

 

You folks are doing too much writing for me to be able to keep up. Still, its interesting and I like the spirit of the conversation. I think it revolves around managing your lifestyle and tweaking it to be more & more "earth- friendly" and sustainable. As a long time advocate of sustainability I agree. I have found it is easier to form the basics and build the lifestyle around them instead of trying to fit canning or gardening into a busy modern lifestyle with little time and a social group that is not like minded.

     It took a while but by taking the time to build a group of like minded friends I now have a social circle of like minded indiviuals that allow me to combine my need for social interaction & fun with my desire to cook, preserve food, garden, build boats, brew beer....

     Seems like everytime I add a new skill to my DIY arsenal more folks are attracted to me as a source of information & mentorship. We do group activities like canning, sausage making, gardening, cooking, beer brewing (and drinking)...... making it easier and more fun. It's become a lifestyle for me and I sure hope its sustainable cause its a lot of fun.

As far as systems....I got to get busy and be constructive this morning but I'll try to jump back in again to describe some of mine later. An outdoor sink & work area are at the top of my list.

Pat--You make an excellent point.  Having social networks and people nearby who are passionate about making this kind of life work is huge.  I love this site, but having people to work with directly in "real time" is uniquely inspiring.  Happily, the "sustainability movement" (or whatever you want to call it) appears to be gaining traction right along with the return to necessary frugality and economy.  Although there are still some people who seem interested in "sustainability" as a trendy thing that involves cute canvas grocery bags, I tend to hear more talk among the people I know that involves comparing notes and figuring out cheaper ways to do things which--not surprisingly--is a lot easier on the environment and requires fewer resources.

 

The Internet--in spite of its limitations--seems to be quite a boon for sustainable living as well.  I've Googled some pretty random questions over the years, and don'tchaknow, SOMEBODY out there usually has a response or solution...

 

Harriet--Spring in Belgium makes the dreary, pre-Solstice days of December worth it.  EVERYTHING is in bloom right now, and it's completely gorgeous.  I am not familiar with Roger Doiron. What a cool opportunity to "up and decide" to move to Belgium... it's been a great experience for me, anyway.

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