Old is New Again: Six Underrated #grannyskills that are Super Simple to Learn
The rise of the homesteader is real, exciting, and mighty practical in 2020, just as it was when our grandparents were kids. Skills for thrift, low consumption and sustainability can be powerful decentralising tools as we look for more stability and resilience in local communities. Faced with the climate emergency, booming population and a rapidly changing political system, we can help ourselves and those around us by looking to granny skills! As empowering as they are interesting, these classic handy bits of knowledge have already proven themselves to be life-changing for me - read on, as they may be for you, too!
Being able to identify edible wild foods may sound apocalyptic to some, but to others it's another way of viewing and connecting with the Earth and its gifts. A skill as old as our First Peoples on this planet, foraging looks a lot different now, thanks in part to urbanisation as well as introduced and naturalised species. By learning face-to-face with someone who knows their stuff, you will see your lawn, local park and favourite beach in a whole different light! There's food growing in the most unlikely of places, it just takes a bit of knowledge, practice and a keen eye. I have a basic knowledge of some plants and fungi that I learned from friends and books - start with The Weed Forager's Handbook (by Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland) if you're local to southern Victoria, or check out Diego Bonetto (The Weedy One) in Sydney. For more, chase down workshops with people such as Kirsten and Nick from Milkwood Permaculture (Huon Valley), Taj Scicluna who is The Perma Pixie (Melbourne), and Meg and Patrick of Artist as Family (Daylesford). In Geelong, Little Green Corner run foraging workshops that are utterly delightful!
Crochet or knitting
A couple of winters ago, I attended some crochet classes just for something new to try (that was indoors!) I picked up the basics but never got into it much, until I came across some modern, no-so-granny-like patterns through following Geelong-based @littlegoldennook on Instagram. In iso lockdown 1.0 I got into beanies, scarves and even started a jumper - it was so satisfying! It meant I could make some useful and handmade (extra special) gifts for friends and new babies. There's of course so much more you can do with crochet and knitting, but it's always easier than you think! YouTube made my life that much easier, with every stitch demonstration under the sun. If you're keen to give it a go, ask around family and friends to see if they have any old tools lying around (they typically do) or visit your local opp shops. A skill for life!
Preserving fruit and veg
Canning, bottling, saucing, fermenting, salting, stewing, drying - there are so many ways to extend the life of fresh produce, and all are fairly simple. If you don't already have a family tradition of preserving something (Italians, I'm looking at Nonna's Passata Day with envy), then start your own! This is perhaps the most satisfying group of skills a foodie can learn, and you can pick your poison. While I like to experiment with all types, you might like to learn how to simply pickle veggies, or just how to make summer fruit into jam. Whatever your preference, I can guarantee there are books, blogs and websites galore on these things and homesteading mothers tend to have the best tricks and hacks, passed down through generations. If you can find a good local workshop (which I plant o run eventually) these are even better. In the meantime, you can find a sauerkraut recipe here on my blog, with more preserving recipes to come in the near future!
The simple needle and thread is a handy pair to have, now and always, and a rebellious weapon against fast fashion in this modern age. Despite lots of practice when I was young, I'm still really terrible at sewing and being neat is not my specialty! However, when a favourite shirt gets a hole, work pants bust, or the couch cushions cop a beating, being able to mend something at a basic level saves so much money and waste! I have found that for any craft, YouTube is a wealth of resources where you can learn anything. So next time your hoodie's hem begins to unravel, jump online, call Mum or Granny, and get sewing!
Baking + and understanding recipes
The Art of Baking is a skill that has changed a lot over time, but where old-fashioned handmade still very much dominates. I rarely bake with a recipe these days, and when I do, I inevitably change it! Because I've learned to understand the properties of ingredients over the years (I've been baking since Primary School) it's now simple to estimate measurements and know how to substitute, the latter being an invaluable skill for adaptive cooking (especially with alternative dietary requirements)! I suggest spending a little time looking up the properties of flours, eggs, milks, gluten-free alternatives, fats and oils, gums, sugars and raising agent, then paying extra attention to your baked goods and noticing things. Once you start experimenting (there will be some fails, but they'll teach you a lot!) you will really get a feel for things and work out kinks. Or alternatively, you can of course take cooking classes. Being able to throw something together last minute or with restricted ingredients saves money, time, packaging and is very satisfying!
The stereotype of older women in suburban yards, bent over at the hip with a little trowel, surrounded by plump pumpkins and thick-headed sunflowers is, to me, very outdated! So many younger people and families are rediscovering the power and satisfaction of home-grown veggies, and it's a marvelous shift in consciousness. Chances are that our mother, grandfather, aunty or neighbour will have reams of growing knowledge just waiting for you to ask and, being Spring time, it's the perfect time of year to get planting! You can find plenty of resources to get a patch started on my own blog and Instagram profile, as well as via Gardening Australia (website, socials or on ABC TV). Food, flowers, tea, natives, and even medicines can all be grown, with a little love and knowledge, at your doorstep. For beginners, I recommend starting small, with just a couple of your favourite foods (checking first what can be planted now in your climate), and once you're hooked, the sky's the limit!
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