Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat like a pioneer, back when people were more self reliant and worked hard to produce what they ate? Have you wondered how hard it would really be to achieve this goal? As homesteaders and gardeners, we decided we were up to the challenge and decided to start eating like pioneers. Sort of. We did allow ourselves to buy dairy (as we do not yet have a cow), and we did sneak in the odd chocolate bar, and at least a few bottles of Kahlua. The intent was not to punish ourselves, but to get a reasonable appreciation for where we’re at, in terms of providing for ourselves, year-round.
Over the course of the summer and autumn we stocked up a plentiful winter pantry. In addition to what we grow, it gets filled with staples like oats, beans, lentils, sugar, flour, coffee & tea. (You can read more about this in the article: Stocking a Pantry) This year there were over 800 jars, carefully preserved from the food we grew in the garden and foraged in the wild. (You can read more about this in the article: Creating a Homegrown Winter Pantry) There was a good stock of pork in the freezer from the pigs we raised, and a nice stock of wild crafted wine ready to be bottled. We were even experimenting with fermented foods, sour dough, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and at least a couple more (I forget!) Things were looking great.
In the late autumn as we were pulling up the last of the root vegetables and tucking them away in cold storage, we wondered: How long can we go just eating from what’s in the pantry?
The Eat Like A Pioneer Challenge!
We decided to embark on a challenge to eat only what we had stored in the pantry for as long as possible. We figured that by depriving ourselves of convenience and luxuries we would soon figure out where we were weak, what we were missing. The ultimate goal is to be able to eat luxuriously from the food we grow and produce, right here on the homestead.
Spring has arrived and the snow is melting away. We will soon be working in the gardens again. We are both eager to be eating fresh food again. We’ve learned a lot about food and the challenges that come with trying to eat exclusively from what was stored in the pantry. In this challenge, there have been highs, and there have been lows but there are no regrets. We feel good, confident and ready for this lifestyle, more than ever before!
Eating Like a Pioneer: The Good
Organic Healthy Ingredients
It feels good knowing that the ingredients that we are using are healthy and free of pesticides. Our only challenge is to grow a bit more of it, with more variety! There are a lot of unwanted additives in everything, these days, and we really like knowing the exact ingredient and the origin of what we eat. How much pesticide did you eat last year? How about preservatives? How about strange additives, and filler? Dye? Bleach? Do you know?
Money Saving (Fuel and Frivolous purchases)
With so few trips to the store over the past six months, we’ve had great cost savings when it comes to fuel and wear and tear on the truck. I have read on-line that there is a big trend towards the “Eat From Your Pantry For One Month Challenge”. It’s a popular way to save money. I suppose our challenge is the hardcore extreme version of this?
Weather / Preparedness
There were a lot of storms this winter and at times, the driveway and roads to town were unusable for days at a time. There were also some lengthy week long power outages. We didn’t have to worry about anything, around here it was business as usual.
Improved Cooking & Baking Skills
We’ve become far more skilled at cooking meals from scratch. I can whip up pizza dough (and then a full pizza) almost as fast as you can order one, and mine will probably be better. Soups and stews come naturally as well. It’s a proud moment when you can stand in a pantry and look at a bunch of raw ingredients and come up with a delicious meal. There was a time when I would have stood there thinking “there is nothing to eat”, and would have run to the store.
When the apple wine turned sparkly it provided us some variety from the dry wine we seem to consistently produce. Another time, I accidentally dumped a jar of apple sauce into the tomato sauce I was making. Not wanting to waste food I decided to just go with it. Maybe no one would notice. Well, it turned out amazing (so amazing that it’s almost the standard). Apple sauce in tomato sauce? Blasphemy, right? Try it.
Eating Like a Pioneer: The Bad
Lack of Variety
While it seemed like we had a wide range of food to choose from, it just wasn’t enough. We started to crave things we didn’t have like mushrooms, cauliflower and spinach. We also started to desire fizzy cold beverages and anything other than apple juice. With practice this can certainly be remedied. There are many healthy fermented beverages with fizz and growing mushrooms is not difficult to learn. The biggest problem was probably meat. I am vegetarian but my husband enjoys eating meat. With only pork in the freezer, after a while no amount of creative cooking could mask the fact that it was “pork again”.
Overusing Recipes and Ingredients
I discovered that lentils taste really good when prepared correctly and we have a lot of them stored in the pantry. My husband went on “lentil strike” about a month ago deeming lentils banned from the food repertoire until further notice. You can get tired of the same ingredients week after week even if you are creative about preparing them. I have learned to not go overboard with certain ingredients.
Lack of Freshness
In March we started to crave fresh fruit. It had been such a long time since we had an apple, orange or pear. I went and bought some and they were gone in days. My husband who could often pass up the fruit bowl was eagerly helping himself each day. Fresh fruit was such a delight after so many months having gone without.
Running out of Ingredients
We hoped that we had estimated our food needs properly but we are on the verge of running out of some things that we really enjoy eating and drinking. Sugar is running low as is coffee. The apple juice is down to the last six mason jars full. We have ideas about producing our own sugar that will alleviate this in future years.
We ended up with too many of some items. We have barely dented the shelf of pickled green beans and dill pickles. There are about eight jars of rose petal jelly awaiting us, and so many rolled oats that we wont need more for several years! Although all of these things are truly delicious, we have eaten more than a reasonable amount of them. Fortunately it will all keep but I won’t be making any more of it this coming year.
Chickens Stopped Laying
This year the chickens started moulting in late September and they didn’t lay another egg for us until March. We usually have so many eggs that we are giving them away even into November. This halt in production was unexpected and I realized too late that I should have been preserving eggs much sooner.
On the whole we thought that this challenge went really well. Self sufficiency with food and eating like a pioneer is achievable. This experience, the good and the bad has shown us where we are weak, what we need to improve and has given us confidence to continue ahead on this path. We do need to learn some additional skills such as tapping maple and birch trees for syrup and raising honey bees, and creating various wild yeasts for baking. These skills will help us diversify our food sources and provide additional security. Although there are some items we will always need to buy such as: wheat/grains, salt, pepper, baking soda/powder, coffee and tea with some refinement we will be able to reduce our reliance and spending even more in the years to come.
PS As I write this, I do so drinking a glass of carrot wine. We grew the carrots, turned them into wine, bottled it months ago, and just now, opened a bottle (slightly early, I might add.) How does it taste? Well, it actually has very little taste. It does not taste like carrots. Body? Skimpy. Anorexic. Aroma? Quite nice, although, somewhat lacking. Color? Absolutely gorgeous, a golden triumph. Strength? POTENT. Drinkability? You can definitely buy worse.
That might not sound so great, and really, it isn’t. There is vast room for improvement. And you know, next years batch will be better. And the year after that, better. Taken together, this quirky wine is a wonderful metaphor for homesteading: not quite what anyone really expects, odd but intoxicating, constantly evolving, wonderful for the soul, and almost certain to get you drunk.