September 26, 2009

Old Skills For A New World: Canning, Baking, Gardening on The Upswing

Modern society moves at a bewildering pace. Hardly able to keep up we succumb to the enticements of technology, entertainment, and the fast life. We are busy having fun, but along the way we have forgotten how to take care of ourselves. Basic skills of self sufficiency are dying with our elders. Increasingly, people are looking to low tech 'heritage' methods of living.

Progress and prosperity have made us into the largest collection of humanity in history incapable of taking care of ourselves. Houses and cars have become wombs, government and big business the umbilical cord. What will we do as we are born into a new world of expensive energy and deteriorating environment?

Our fault is to feel safe and secure in our habits, as if the way things are now is the way they will always be. Recent global economic turmoil has shown us the precariousness of this illusion. Things can, and will change, and we best be ready.

Heritage skills, as we refer to them today, are tried and tested instructions for taking care of ourselves. Activities like sewing, canning, and kneading bread seem like quaint pastimes from ancient history. Victory Gardens are making a comeback, as are food preservation workshops.

VicinSea, commenting on a previous post here, let me know she is a 20 year simple liver and part-time heritage skills teacher teaching food preservation, basketry, sewing/repairs and other self-sufficiency workshops in the Seattle area. It looks like she is keeping busy.

We are dependent on technology and low cost fossil energy to provide us with what we need. What happens when cheap energy is gone? Will you reach for the power can opener, or its hand-powered equivalent? What happens if trucks stop delivering food to our supermarkets, or the food they deliver is so expensive we can't afford it? We can learn skills to take care of our needs within our communities. Victoria, B.C. has a variety of options for learning.

Who has time to bake bread, let alone can your own produce? Make your own clothing? Right. But when cheap energy is gone, or we have lost or quit our job, we will need to look for healthier, less expensive alternatives. Life skills from days gone by will serve us well in the future.

Choosing a less complicated lifestyle is about freeing up time so I can live in ways that are beneficial to myself, others, and the environment. You either spend time in the blackberry bramble and the canning corner, or you spend time at work so you can pay someone to pick the berries, process them, and ship them to your local store.

I would rather harvest the berries and risk the bramble thorns. I would rather tend a bubbling cauldron of blackberry jamiliciousness. I would rather live a slower, less money-oriented, independent existence.

I love having the time to choose to pick berries and get scratched... in the rain. An added benefit is that I know what is in my food. I am in complete control of ingredients. No MSG, no high-sucrose corn syrup. And it saves me money.

If you are a life-long student, creating a simpler, slower-paced lifestyle could be for you. My household has already had Blackberry JamFest 2009, and a case of the freshest Blackberry jam available awaits the whole wheat, home-baked bread. We have had time to learn about a whole food, vegetarian diet. It has not been a burden, this change to simpler, lower-tech living. It is an interesting, thrilling, and tasty adventure.

Now my partner and I are learning how to cut each others hair. This is a money saving idea that is sure to be popular with the women, most of whom would rather go out in public without makeup than let their partner anywhere near their hair with scissors. Go slowly - you can always cut it shorter, you can't cut it longer. What could be next? Rock wall building? Hide tanning? Flint knapping?

What will you do when the power goes out? How about setting your songbook up on your inert laptop, take out your acoustic guitar, and, using your old-style ipod shuffle as a slide, sing the power's-out blues. Then have some home-baked bread with your own canned jam, followed by canned peaches by candle light. When it is time to turn in you can crawl under the bed cover you quilted with scrap pieces of fabric from your electric blanket. Heritage skills, not just for your grandparents any more.


  1. Anonymous9/29/2009

    Canning is for wussies. Just go shoot something that moves, cook it, and eat it.

  2. Anonymous9/29/2009

    I found this article that complements your post.


  3. For those of you who are going out and shooting something, canning whatever you bag is a great way to go. Check this excellent article to find out how to do it properly:


    In my community many people pressure can salmon and crab. Canning - not just for wussie vegetables.

  4. Amen! Great photos of beautiful blackberries and the fun factor comes through loud and clear. Good Work Soldier1

  5. mslusar,

    Thanks for your comment. I am glad you heard the "it's fun" in my post. Change can be an enjoyable learning experience, save money, and be better for ourselves and the environment. Are you harvesting any berries in Nova Scotia? Any blueberry jam-making in your kitchen this fall?


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