Homesteading – Cooking Like a Peasant

I love to cook good food. I hate to cook bland, ordinary, tossed together from cans of stuff food. When I get a new cookbook I ignore the recipes that tout the convenience of canned soups, frozen vegetables and cheys whez (deliberate misspelling). I want a cookbook full of recipes that start with “Pluck the goose…” and “dig about a half bushel of new potatoes…”

Ingredients. Basic, looks-the-way-God-made-it ingredients. I love peasant cooking.

Wherever I live and whoever my local friends are, I want to know how they cook and eat. I want to dig into their ethnicity and learn how to make posole, verenyky, and oyster pan roast. I am overjoyed when I am given a five pound, irregular hunk of moose roast or ten pounds of blue potatoes. If there wasn’t a slow food movement already, I would start one. And it wouldn’t be the foodie version that includes truffles, unless I had a truffle-seeking pig of my own.

Our local food in the dead of winter is potatoes. Red, white, yellow. We eat a lot of potatoes in various ways. I scrub and quarter them, pour a dab of olive oil on them and sprinkle them with dried herbs, then roast them at 350F for forty minutes or so. We also have turnip, apples and onions, and about half a cabbage. The carrots are gone. The turnip was finished tonight. I have about 30 pounds of potatoes left, nine pounds or so of onions, a few apples and the last of the Christmas clementines. I will use the last of the canned tomato sauce this week. I do have garlic and ginger, neither local products. I will have to shop by the end of the week.

I delve into my Scottish and British cookbooks for food ideas in the winter – Lancashire hotpot, shepherd’s pie. The older Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks are great sources of getting-by food. The newer ones have too many canned soup and cheys whez recipes. Even in the most traditional cultures, the ways change, and the housewives can get to a store more often. I am just a few miles from a moderately good grocery store. I could buy all the cheys whez and canned mushroom soup I want. (Which is none, but if that is what I have, I will use it and be grateful. And contrary to popular belief, the neon orange cheys in a jar is not actually one molecule away from plastic. That doesn’t mean it is a nutritious choice, but it won’t turn to playdough in your veins, after all.)

But what is the point of homesteading if every time we “feel like some nachos” we climb into the Dakota and roar down the backroad to buy some corn chips and neon cheys product? If we can’t make it through a few weeks on the plentiful though plain provisions we have, how can we expect to make it through a year on food we grew ourselves? Because cheys whez is not a crop.

We won’t be living off the land entirely this year. This is the year to try out different kinds of garden produce, to see how many chickens we need and learn how to make our own goats’ milk cheese. There will be some error, and it will be really nice to have the Spend Easy just down the highway. We may never be able to get away from buying grain products unless we can get more acreage. But I am expecting that this year will take the easy livin’ weight off our midriffs and duffs.


13 thoughts on “Homesteading – Cooking Like a Peasant

  1. I couldn’t agree more! A cookbook for you to check out if you don’t have it already is More-with-Less by Doris Longacre. I love mine, it’s made simple cooking a lot easier. It’s a Mennonite cookbook, originally published in the mid-70’s but now has a 25th anniversary edition out. You can get it from Christian Light Publishers. It even has an easy recipe for basic white sauce with mushroom option so you don’t have to use canned mushroom soup. 🙂 I rarely have to go to the store for ingredients, unless of course I’m running low anyway.

    • Thanks – I’ve had TWO copies and the follow-up second volume and all THREE have disappeared by being “borrowed”. I didn’t know it had been re-issued and I had her name wrong when I recommended it to someone recently! I love my friends but I am not lending out books anymore, especially my cookbooks.

  2. I love cooking and cooking with real ingrediences from scratch. My workmates always go on about ‘it is fine for you now but once you have children you will never have time to do that and you will be thankful you can get things that are prepared in advance’. I am not saying that I know what it is like to have children but really I know plenty of families who have children who eat proper food even when both parents are working so I am not extremely worried I will lose my convictions about cooking if I am blessed with children.

    • I know lots of women (myself included) who have cooked from basic food ingredients even with children at home. You have to make your priorities, of course.

  3. We use the more with less cookbook too, it is a great resource, and we have several favorite recipes that we make over and over again. Another cook book we use is the 1944 Victory binding of the American Womans cook book, wartime edition. It has good recipes, about 800 + pages of them, along with directions on setting the table, managing during wartime including an article about, “the return of the soup kettle”.
    Magdalena there are recipes right up your alley, for example:
    Boiled Hare or Rabbit
    1 hare or rabbit
    Salt and pepper
    Skin and clean the rabbit or hare, wipe dry, split down the back, (it goes on),
    you really can’t get more cooking from scratch then that.

    There are recipes to make head cheese, you need a hogs head and a hogs tongue. Recipes to cook squirrel, pigeon, brains, tripe, reindeer, just to mention a few. This is food my parents grew up on, they were children during WWII in England, where rationing was extreme and nothing was left to waste and liver, kidneys, brains, pigs feet, all were cooked into nourishing meals, and enjoyed as my parents still enjoy liver and love steak and kidney pie, and my dad speaks lovingly of how good brains were!
    Other useful items, a list of recipes to make all kinds of salad dressings, a section of vegetarian recipes, a meal planner, it is an extremely useful book. I purchased it at a used bookstore for $25 about six years ago.
    There are a fair number of photographs in the book, including a handful in color.
    I have another cookbook from 1895, but it is not really very useful, but is amusing to read, especially the home remedy section, suggesting that you smoke cubit berries to get rid of catarrh (mucus). Or dousing a person with ice cold water if struck by lighting, and repeating each hour until they revive?? Or wiping the kiddies down with kerosene to keep the mosquitoes off, hopefully they don’t try to smoke cubit berries while doing this.

    • I had heard of the first two “remedies.” Cubit or cubeb is still used for bronchitis, but I think smoking it would be counter-productive. Inhaling aromatic smoke of various herbs was once considered effective. It does get the active ingredient into the patient if it is a resin, but at what cost?

      My husband’s parents were East Enders and his father enlisted during WWII, lying about his age. His mother was just over the age for evacuation, and had vivid memories of being in the house when a bomb exploded in the street, driving shards of window glass into her hands when she covered her face. They ate all kinds of meat and food we wouldn’t consider now!

  4. Oh cooking is just the best thing! I don’t have as many cookbooks, but I do remember all the recipes that my grandmother and my maternal aunt will cook while I was growing up.

    Potatoes are not a staple in our culture, but rice is. And so far, I have been able to buy 50lbs of it at a very economical price.

    I have learned so much about cooking with what you have. Nothing gets thrown out here at the cottage. I do not have too much leftovers. But when I do have some, they become stew a day later with beans and rice.

    Cooking from scratch is really the only way I know how to feed my family and my animals.

    Have a blessed week Magdalena!


    • My leftovers are always saved for soup. Rarely the dog will get a little something left but we have soup at least once a week. We do not eat much meat, so I use beans, lentils or chick peas for protein.

  5. Chicken liver is a favorite of R’s, I can eat it but I do not consider it a favorite. As a child I hated liver but we only ate it rarely and other than heart we did not eat much from the ‘inside’ of an animal. A dried and or smoked moose or reindeer heart is a real treat in my book. It tastes like meat but softer and is delicious. Oh, yeah, I also enjoy eating cooked tongue (moose, cow or pig). As a child it was often what I wanted when I was ill and mom asked me if there was anything I would like to return my appetite…

    My mother had a very old cook book which I searched for but didn’t find when she had died. For example it instructed the reader to wash the butter thoroughly before using it.

    • I have eaten a lot of moose and some elk, but not reindeer, and I have never had smoked heart. Now I wonder what it is like! Probably the butter was washed to get any sour whey or salt out of it. You would have to knead or work it with a butter paddle to get the water out.

  6. Well try some heart if you get the chance…

    Regarding the butter I think you are right, that was what my mother said too. She grew up on a farm and they sometimes made their own butter and she said they usually didn’t wash the butter until they were using it. Regarding salt I have understood that butter was often salted quite a lot in the old days to make it last longer so that might be an explanation too.

  7. I have anther book I like. It’s not just a cookbook, but given to new brides to know how to set up housekeeping. It’s called the Brides Book of Ideas: A Guide to Christian Homemaking printed in 1980. I bought it at a yard sale back in high school. I found it very helpful when I move out on my own, even before I got married.

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