The Accidental Homesteader

Ten years ago, I could barely boil an egg. I couldn’t pair food with wine, or braise oxtails, or make jam, but I had a desire to nourish myself--body and soul. To learn, I painstakingly cooked my way through the Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook, 75th Edition, a gift from my future mother-in-law. It took me six years.

In those years I learned the basics of cooking from times to temperatures to cuts of meat and soups and well beyond. When I got to the end of the cookbook, I looked around my kitchen, I was proud of what I accomplished, but ready for a new mission: finding my own culinary voice in the ingredients. Where did I stand in this new world of food and what did I want from it? That was when I began developing my own recipes, and savoring the art of cooking.

Then my mother-in-law came calling again, as she had so many years before when she had bestowed me the key to my culinary wisdom and that cookbook which taught me everything. This time, though, she wanted to know if I would come and help her can and preserve. It was nothing I had ever considered, but my interest was peaked.

I showed up, apron in hand, not knowing what to expect and left with strawberry jam. I was blown away by how easy the process was; how one could take strawberries, macerate them, toss them in a pot with sugar, pectin and lemon juice and emerge the recipient of one’s own hard work, jam in hand, was a miracle to me. I was hooked.

Over the next few years, we brought my own mother into the canning fold, and developed a relationship with a local farmer. We canned everything from beets to bruschetta to nectars. Before I knew it, I had completely cut out store bought canned foods from my diet. This was when I truly started my inquiry into the ingredients themselves, where they were coming from, and their overall quality. From BPA in cans to pesticides on fruits and vegetables, the American food supply can begin to look a little scary.

Next step? Realize a previously unknown dream to produce my own eggs. To these ends, I enlisted my husband to build me a fox-proof chicken pen. He toiled for weeks on that pen, pouring over every aspect as if it were a carefully worded love note to me--which it was. We welcomed our happy flock of ten Rhode Island Red-hybrid chickens, and within a couple weeks? Eggs. Both of brimmed with delight at these eggs, bragging to anyone who would listen about the cute brown eggs that our chickens laid as if it had never in history been done.

As my husband and I fried up our first eggs and enjoyed them with our homemade jam, he leaned over to me and said, “Now if we had a pig or two, breakfast would be practically free.” It was then I began to see all my efforts in a new light. After all, I had just planted an orchard the week before as part of my project to cultivate more fruit to feed my canning and preserving habit.

Over the years, my journey of food had led, quite unexpectedly, to homesteading. As I make my way to the community garden space at my friends’ down the road, as I tend my chickens, as I grow my orchard, I now realize I am participating in something other than simply eating well....though I never meant it to be that way. The experience of wanting high quality foods on a tight budget has made me into an accidental homesteader.

Being a foodie and craving ingredients that are superior, less processed, and generally pesticide-free has given me little other choice but to produce my own. Had any of that occurred to me so many years ago when I was just learning to cook, the thought would have been overwhelming. In hindsight, I see it was within me all along. My journey with food has taken me to places I had always hoped I might be capable of, but never dreamed could be my reality.

With each passing year, I go a little deeper into my journey with food. I learn something new, and I build upon the skill set I didn’t even know I was constructing. I love food so passionately, and as a result, my journey to healthier food is natural--accidental--and joyful. I am simply: an accidental homesteader, and I am loving every minute of it.

So tell me, what have you accidentally become and loved? Would the thought of it previously overwhelmed you?? Share it with me in the comment section below!!!

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