Homesteading: Laugh and the World Laughs with you
Cry, and you Dilute Your Beer
(Dark beer is what I like, preferably Guiness, not weak beer, diluted with tears!)

Memoire, reality, countrylife, salt free, DIY, survival, blood pressure, vegitarian Homesteading. 19 minutes.
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Several people have asked me: “Why do you do all this canning and preserving? It’s very interesting; and it obviously matters to you, but why this compulsion to spend half your life preserving/canning, when everyone else just goes to the supermarket every week? Why don’t you?”

“You’ll have to go back fifty years for the answer to that,” I reply.

“And question two is: how come you know how to do it?”

“That’s buried in when and where I grew up: in England, in the country, during the war.”
“Explain to me why this is so important to you. It obviously isn’t easy or quick. Why don’t you just buy food already prepared. It’d save you a lot of time, be easier, and leave you much more time to write.”

Do people really need to know the whys and wherefores to understand and care about canning? Sharing hurtful personal stories doesn’t come easily to me. It makes me feel stupid, a failure. Everyone has their sensitive spots.

Admittedly, my perspective on life is different from most people’s. My brain was wired funny, that’s all. It’s the story that’s important, not the reporter. At least that was what we learned on the newspaper. This is supposed to be a story about handling produce to stay fed and alive. Not about me!

But they insisted. So.…

“O.K. They aren’t quick or easy answers, but here goes. Second question first….”

Growing up in England, during and after the war, was different from now. We were in the country and if one wanted to have fruit and veggies out-of-season then they had to be bought, or grown and harvested, when nature dictated, and prevailed upon to last past their usual life-span, not go bad; that meant some type of preserving: canning, drying or, for potatoes, putting them in a clamp, a big earthen mound with the potatoes underneath, so they would stay warm and not freeze. Home freezers weren’t available until after the war; until then there was only a tiny frozen space, inside the top of the fridge, for ice cubes.

Part of my childhood was spent going to the farm with Mummy, and seeing her buy plums and apples in season; strawberries, raspberries and blackberries we grew ourselves and had to pick them when they were ready. Helping Mummy prepare the fruit and watch her put it in the bottles, what we call jars, gave added enjoyment to eating it in the winter. It was hard work but worth it, and I grew up believing it was normal.

One statistic that has impressed me, over the years, was about the health of the population after the war. Food was rationed during the war. Do you know how much the meat ration was? One quarter of a pound, per person, per week! That’s one quarter-pounder per week! And that included skin, bones, muscle, fat and gristle. A family of four could therefore have one pound of meat per week, but for people living alone, it was tough.

After the war, a survey was made to see how many people were sick or undernourished. And the results were compared with the pre-war statistics. You know what? They were healthier after the war than before! Apparently, they had plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals without stuffing themselves every time they sat down to eat. That, to me, is a significant statistic. And that is my answer to question two.

Question one brings us to 1986, approximately forty years later. In the interim, working in London, immigrating to America, working in New York, marriage, two daughters, divorce, five years at SUNY Purchase while working full time and coping with a couple of young daughters, filled the intervening years very easily.

During that time, immediately after my first daughter was born, I went into post-partem eclampsia – the next stage on from toxemia. The prescription was: no salt. That was the beginning of reading labels for me. Everything had salt in it so home cooking was my only option.

After the divorce, and determined to do everything possible not to be dependent on the girls as I grew older, we saved. We didn’t go to the movies, McDonalds, on vacation, or spend any money except for food, education and clothes. Boy, did we save! At the end of it, when my younger daughter finished high school, it wasn’t financially possible to stay in our tiny house in the expensive school district in Westchester, but we still needed three bedrooms, which I couldn’t afford.

The building itself would have to help pay the mortgage. The answer was to start an English Family Style Country Inn.

A realtor showed me an old turn-of-the-century summer rooming house, that was affordable. It was in such excellent condition, it sparkled. It was 9,000 sq. ft, with 35 rooms but it hadn’t been significantly up-dated since it was originally built. It would need major re-modeling to bring it up to code and up-to-date.

Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea. Even the bank approved. My qualifications were appropriate: fifteen years as a controller, a lot of entertaining while growing up after the war, good business experience, and lots of get-up-and-go. My general contractor recommended an architect who had done several similar remodelings, so knew the laws and quickly gave me plans and estimates. The neighbors, bank and appropriate local boards still approved. So I bought it – and a lot of its original furniture at auction. The rest of the furniture came from an auction when one of the big old luxury hotels was to be renovated.

My routine doctor’s appointment fell during the move to the projected inn. It felt like playing hooky. My blood pressure was 210 over 110. The doctor took the readings three times in each arm, which didn’t even raise a question in my grossly over-stressed state. He didn’t bat an eyelid and no muscle moved in his face. He explained it to me later, but meantime put me on medication and a strict no-salt diet. My levels came down, but that’s another reason for cooking for myself. No pre-prepared meals for me.

Three months later, a letter from the Health Department told me that the plans the architect had given me made the building illegal, not legal. Luckily I hadn’t given up my regular job so continued to work full time, and in trying to pull the chestnut out of the fire, B&Bed the “inn” on weekends. It couldn’t possibly work and, after five years’ struggle, in the end it didn’t. My lawyer said my only option was bankruptcy. To be continued in my next…..