When I was a child, I read the "Little House on the Prairie" series. It was fun. Now, I read those books to learn from the experiences of those wonderful, hard-working, self-reliant people. One of my favorite things to read about was how the Ingalls family prepared to have food through the winter. I remember how wonderful it sounded, even when I was young, to read about their little house being stuffed with good food for the winter. The attic was full of pumpkins & other squashes, braided onions, dried red peppers...the pantry had cheeses and barrels of salted fish...they stored the grain that they grew...they had pork & smoked venison...it sounded delicious!
I am far from that kind of preparedness or self-reliance. I've lived my whole life in close proximity to a grocery store and with no knowledge of how to make salted fish, hunt, grow grain, make headcheese...
I WAS raised, however, with a better start toward self-reliance than a lot of people my age. We always had a garden, and a storage area that usually contained at least one extra of whatever shelf-stable food items our family ate. I was taught how to cook and how to preserve the harvest by making jam & bottling fruit & vegetables. I learned how to take care of chickens & milk goats. I learned how to fish, and I learned how to clean the fish. My dad kept bees part of the time, although I was never involved in caring for them.
I started my own garden for the first time four or five years ago. I was scared. I'm not sure why I was scared of it, but I remember staring at the dirt & staring at the little tomato plants I had bought at the local nursery...and I had no idea what to do. Questions flooded my mind: How deep should I plant them, how careful did I need to be with the fragile little roots & stems, and what else did I not know about gardening? Fortunately for me (and for the tomato plants), I was using my dad's garden. He saw me sitting there staring, and when I told him I didn't know what to do, he came over & saved me. He scooped out some dirt with a hand trowel, plopped the tomato plant in the hole, and shoved the dirt around the stem. No careful measuring, no gentle handling of those roots that had seemed so fragile just moments before...he just stuck the plant in the ground & went on to the next one. By the third tomato plant, I laughed at myself for being so afraid of the garden. I happily took over planting, filled with a sudden freeing realization that I could just plant things.
That early experience with gardening led to a love for the soil, the plants, and the miracle of life & growth. I absolutely LOVE being a part of the growing of our food. I have chickens now, too, and it is a true joy to go out to the back yard & find dinner.
I haven't bottled fruit or vegetables for years because it didn't seem worth the effort when I figured the pressure cooking process was destroying the nutrients I had worked so hard for. The past few years, my gardening efforts have been focused on things I can use during the spring, summer & early fall. The exception is potatoes, because they grow & store easily. This year, I set a goal to become more self-reliant by gardening with winter in mind. I didn't decide to start bottling vegetables again; I decided to grow more of the things that didn't need to be bottled. I grew butternut squash & potatoes to store for the winter. We have an added-on room that isn't heated, so it functions as a root cellar if the food is covered to keep the light out. The squash & potatoes will be there for months...unless we eat them all before that. ;) I also grew cabbages to make traditionally fermented sauerkraut. Traditional sauerkraut doesn't need to be cooked. It's full of probiotics. I even read somewhere that fermenting the cabbage actually INCREASES its vitamin C content. I made Mexican Sauerkraut with a friend, using the recipe in Nourishing Traditions. It is delicious! I put some on my scrambled eggs & felt happily satisfied eating a delicious meal that came from the back yard.