Pioneer Day Book Review! The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers

The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers by Caleb Warnock

This book was written because the author realized, while participating with Seed Savers, that none of his church friends knew how to save seeds, or how to do a host of other helpful, simple, sustainable practices that our great-grandparents knew.  He keens in on the day-to-day practices that can make our lives more healthy and secure.  In the preface, he writes, “self-sufficiency need not be elaborate, time-consuming, or backbreaking.”  I loved this book’s message and its beautiful photographs.

First, he spends quite a bit of time in the garden.  He reminds us that carrots weren’t always orange; orange carrots are a fairly recent standardization. White carrots are the norm in the wild, and purple carrots were a common variety in the past!  He encourages the reader to open up the mind to the possibility of more edible wonders than we find in the grocery store.  Open-pollinated vegetable varieties are celebrated, and the details of saving their seed are reviewed in simple detail, making it feel like something anybody could do.  Ways to extend the harvest are outlined, with suggestions of what to plant early or late.  The perennial and orchard chapters touch on ways to get excellent nutrition and garden beauty from very little effort, letting nature do the work.  Did you know that you can plant “walking onions” once and enjoy onions whenever you want them?  I didn’t even know they existed before I read this book.

After the garden chapters, he explains ways to keep the food without refrigeration – root cellaring, burying food in straw piles in the ground, or just leaving food in the ground and pulling it when you need it.  For example, when onions are stored, they should not touch one another (pg. 54).  I remember my Grandmother Euphemia storing her oranges this way.  She wrapped each one in a half-sheet of newspaper before putting it into a box in the cool garage.  When they didn’t touch each other, we had oranges for several weeks.  When the oranges did touch each other, they went moldy really fast.  Where is this written down?  It’s folk wisdom.  You have to learn it from your mom.  But when we don’t have a need to pass down something as simple as this, soon nobody knows it.  I’m grateful that Mr. Warnock is capturing these simple skills so we can improve our routines and our health.

The end of the book has chapters on chicken-tending, and I think that City Chicks by Patricia Foreman is a better resource.  What I did totally appreciate were Mr. Warnock’s middle chapters.  Chapter 12 talks about making your own sugar from sugar beets.  This is my family’s heritage.  My father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather were all pan-boilers, a kind of chemist in the sugar factory that checks the boiling syrup for signs of crystallization.  To think that I might be able to make our own sugar made me speechless.  It shouldn’t surprise me.  Things that are done on a big scale once started small.  I need to have more confidence in the possibilities.  Chapter 13 is a persuasive argument for homemade yeast, sometimes called “sourdough start.”  The interesting idea posited here is that the growing rates of people being “allergic” in our day to gluten breads and other gluten products found at the supermarket may be traced to use of quick active dry yeast.  Like other allergies, it becomes more pronounced over time.  He suggests that this natural yeast in its slow-rise process may break down many of the gluten elements that bother people, so the food is more digestible – healthier.  Ray’s Grandpa Smitty was a steady keeper of a “start.”  He routinely made waffles with it, or rolls.  It was just as much a pattern of his week to feed the “start” as to move the water.  We loved it.  He was always willing to share, but it was always just a fad to me.  Why bother with the stuff if I can just use the active dry yeast in the fridge?  Now I see why it would be smart to try the older way.

Mr. Warnock’s writing is engaging.  Please take a look at The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency used by the Mormon Pioneers.  It’s a great book.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this review! I can’t wait to get hold of this book! There is an excellent video on YouTube about making natural yeast. You can look it up: it is called “#1081 How To Make Natural Yeast”. It appears to be quite easy. We learned recently that the store bought yeast, like Red Star, are synthetic yeasts! This might also explain why people are having allergic and other reactions to it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the lead. I just asked my Relief Society leadership if I could teach a class on making yeast so that I would have a personal deadline to learn it, and I was assigned January for our ladies’ homemaking meeting. I’ll use your suggestion as one method. Wish me luck!

      Reply

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