My mother tried to teach me about food. She did it all — gardening, canning, jellying, freezing, drying, cheesing. She knew all about the so-called “Hundred Mile Diet” that has become so popular in recent years, the now-trendy notion of trying to make all or most of your diet consist of food that was produced within a hundred miles of your home. She had eaten that way most of her life. She was a trendsetter, decades ahead of her time.
Too bad I had no interest whatsoever in such things. It was the 1970s, when chic modern women bought their food in boxes at the grocery store — none of that old-fashioned “raise-your-own” nonsense for someone as cool as I was.
By the time I managed to rise above my ignorance, I was middle aged and my mother was deceased. Thanks to books and the Internet, as well as wonderful personal mentors and formal training through my state’s Master Food Preserver program, I have been able to pick up much of what I missed out on learning from my mother.
Except for the most important thing of all — the one thing that is so simple and ridiculously obvious that most people don’t even see it as something to learn.
I had to learn to eat my food.
That’s right. All that growing and harvesting and blanching and pressure-canning does no one any good, unless we eat the fruits of our labors.
There are a lot of barriers to this. Home cooks in today’s society are accustomed to deciding what they want to eat, finding the recipes they like best, and heading for the grocery store with a shopping list. Doing it that way is so ingrained in a lot of people that they forget to take into account the cellar full of food that they worked so hard to put up.
Homesteaders need to do it the other way around — see what we have on hand, look for recipes that utilize those things, and put those on the menu. There might still be shopping to do, but only for that which we cannot raise ourselves and cannot substitute.
Another obstacle to cooking my own food was that as a child of the 70s, I may have since rejected the idea of opening boxes and cans and freezer bags for my main ingredients, but I was still programmed to follow the directions. Recipes don’t call for a jar of my homemade spicy pickled carrots or rhubarb sauce or green tomato mincemeat pie filling. I have found that if I want to use what I have in my larder instead of adding on to the grocery list, I need to learn to actually create flavors on my own. Using my home-grown foods requires me to actually cook, not just follow recipes.
On the other hand, real cooks don’t always use foods out of their home-preserved collection, either. Or at least, the rock-star chefs on television don’t. When I watch the celebrity chefs using all fresh out-of-season vegetables and only the best cuts of meat, I always wonder how they would do on a homestead.
Neglecting to use home-processed food is a common affliction. Most home canners have been known to lament the efficacy of canning this season’s green beans or applesauce when their shelves are still loaded with jars of last year’s.
People mean well. All those frozen bags of eggplant, lovingly peeled and chopped and blanched in lemon water, with visions of winter ratatouille dancing in my head — how can they still be leftover come spring?
Home food preservation is a wonderful thing, for a lot of reasons. It is a great way to control what goes into your food, be self-sufficient, eat healthy, minimize waste and petroleum use in food production, and practice skills in preparation for hard times.
However, if you leave out that essential last step, it is all for naught. Shop in your larder before you head for the grocery store, and alter your recipes if needed. Whatever it takes, make sure you do the one most important thing when it comes to food preservation. Make sure you eat it.
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