Self-sufficiency for kids.
Until I had children, my only encounter with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ stories, was through the television series. When I read the books I was amazed at how much more there was to them than the dewy-eyed sentimentality and moral instruction of the tv show.
The first thing to note is that these books don’t tiptoe round the harsher aspects of pioneer life. They are full of the practical details including how to make butter, cheese, maple syrup, even Blue Peter style instructions on how to use a hollowed out log to smoke meat.
I read the series of books to my kids not long after we’d moved from Brighton to remote West Wales. It was a great way to introduce discussions with the children about where our food comes from, what resources we use and where they come from and imagining what life would be like to live off the land and have to provide all your own food, clothing, fuel and entertainment yourselves.
Having just moved to the countryside, I had this idyllic vision of us living off the land. I thought all the fresh air might miraculously cause me to develop some common self and a hitherto unseen usefulness. I’d transform from being uptight, urban and inept. I’d go barefoot, wear a kaftan hand-woven from my own armpit hair with pockets filled with kittens. I’d grow all my own food, make candles, all the while clutching a well-thumbed copy of John Seymour’s classic tome on self-sufficiency to my breast.
I even went so far as borrowing a butter churn from a friend, but it never got used. In fact I think it’s still at the back of the cupboard coated in an even layer of dust like virgin snow, and now I’m vegan so it looks like butter-churning’s not happening any time soon.
Despite my best intentions of working up an earnest pioneer sweat by living off the land, my time is fully taken up with reading, writing and knitting footballers in my own little house, surrounded by weeds. Although in fairness, I have got kittens. However, even if I don’t manage to do anything else from the book, one day I will make iced maple syrup treats like Laura her family do. They look amazing!