How Were You Initiated?


We used to have apricots in our backyard when we lived in California. I found the confidence to make apricot jam after discovering

Mostly, when I try something new in the kitchen or garden I start by reading a book or going to the World Wide Web. But the real initiation comes with learning by doing. If my efforts culminate with the desired results then I can say I know something. I am far from an expert cook or gardener and I am not writing this blog to repeat what I’ve learned from people writing other blogs. I’m more like the one who walks you through your initiation, and then walks you through it again as needed. I know you need encouragement sometimes, because I do too.

I’ve made all sorts of pickles and relishes since I learned the basics at

Almost two decades after starting down this path of achieving at least the ability to be self-sufficient, I still feel like I don’t know much. I meet people half my age who seem to know more than I do about everything. They appear to have researched in far more depth about doing things that have never occurred to me. And they have less hangups than me too. I mess up meals that I haven’t told anyone about. I have a chicken laying rotten eggs but I don’t know which chicken. I tried my own sourdough biscuit recipe last week that turned out like a load of bricks. There are moments when I feel like a fraud because I still shop at the grocery store. And other moments when I’m made to feel like I’m crazy for composting and doing all this old fashioned stuff at all…

I was looking at my pantry shelf yesterday, full of jars of preserved food, and I thought about how I can trace back most of the recipes I use to websites and blogs written by people with more experience and knowledge than me. They write articles and make videos with detailed instructions on almost anything you might get a mind to accomplish. I also was thinking that even though these people have been my teachers I have rarely, if ever, communicated with any of them. I wondered how they were initiated. Did they grow up on a homestead? Did they learn everything from their mother or father or skip to one of their grandparents, or did they learn it all on their own, or find a community of homesteaders?

I now prefer to can grape juice with whole grapes because it’s so much faster, but I started out making traditional “polished” juice according to the instructions at used to be like scripture for me. I did everything exactly according to the instructions on that website. Pickles, jam, grape juice, chow chow, it’s all there in detail. The site’s main purpose is to provide a comprehensive list of farms across the country that allow you to come pick your own food. It is a great resource for anyone who doesn’t have a garden of their own but wants to can their own food. Published by J. Blake Slemmer, he explained to me that he’s “happy to share not just with my sons, but with everyone else online, helping to see the small farm survive – and thrive – and people get back to nature and know where their food comes from!” My problem wasn’t finding the food but what to do with all the food that my husband was growing in our little backyard when we lived in California. I really didn’t have a clue where to begin and I didn’t know anyone who was canning or even was interested in growing food. I remembered that my mother used to make applesauce when we lived in Albuquerque and had a small apple orchard in our yard. But she put all of hers in a deep freezer in the carport, and I didn’t have space for that at the time. opened the door for me. I went to work in earnest, with the confidence that I wasn’t going to poison my family. Everything else has flowed from there. I asked Blake how he was initiated, and interestingly enough he explained to me that it all goes back to his mother’s applesauce.

When I moved away to college, I asked my mother if I could take some jars of applesauce she had made (she did it every September, it was a family tradition going back generations). She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You’re an adult now, make your own!”.

I REALLY liked the homemade applesauce… so I started making my own at age 19. That’s when I learned my mother was a masochist, or maybe just plain cheap. For years, she made us (her kids) cut apples with a knife and a cutting board and work the Foley food mill for hours. I’m pretty sure I could have called child protective services on her if she did that today…

When I found out about the Kitchenaid and the sieve/grinder attachment and a $5 apple corer/segmenter, I could have killed her. She knew about them, but was too frugal to get one. Years later, I got her one as a Christmas gift. Now when she complains about tunnel carpel and arthritis in her fingers, I just shoot her a dirty look and say “It’s your own darn fault for being so cheap!”. Hey, a Kitchenaid may cost $200 or so, but I’ve had mine for 20 years so far and will probably use it for 20 more… that works out to a mere $5 a year…

From applesauce, it was just natural to make apple butter and to try jams… and then pickles… salsas and so on.

J. Blake Slemmer, publisher of

Please share your own initiation experience by leaving a comment below!

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