A couple of years ago, I got the proverbial burr under my saddle blanket and I decided that I wanted to spend a few weeks doing food prep and cooking without benefit of electricity or natural gas so that I would have a slight idea what the characters in my books went through while making a meal. I wanted to try living without some of the modern conveniences we’ve all become accustomed to. I told my DH my brainy idea and he asked me how often he was going to have to run out for pizza or burgers during the course of this adventure, and “please tell me we’re not going to be without electricity or the air conditioning.” I was not amused.
Anyway, I set about purchasing the tools and cooking utensils I would need for this grand experiment: hand held potato masher, hand operated mixer, a charcoal powered stove/oven (which can be purchased at the larger camping outlets, BTW), and a few other odds and ends.
My first attempt at baking homemade bread was an utter, unmitigated disaster. It resembled hard-tack, though it was a tad bit chewier. The bottom burned and the middle wasn’t fully cooked. And, for some reason, the bread didn’t rise. Okay…not to be deterred, I got online and started asking a few friends that I know bake all the time what I did wrong. I got a few suggestions and the next two loaves weren’t so bad, but they still weren’t that light, fluffy airy stuff I was used to. Not even close. But, at least it wasn’t hard-tack and this time, the bottom of the loaves didn’t resemble a charcoal briquette.
I discovered if I wanted supper to be ready by six, I had to have that oven fired up and ready to cook no later than three in the afternoon. And then I had to babysit it to make sure the temperature remained steady while the food was cooking. It really was like babysitting a temperamental, tantrum-throwing, burn the crap out of your knuckles while pulling a pan from its depths spoiled brat. How in the name of heaven did our ancestors manage this? Making mashed potatoes was fun. I could take out a lot of frustration on those poor things as I mashed them into oblivion. I discovered I like to use the hand-held masher over the electric mixer, even now.
However, by the end of my two week experiment/adventure, I’d become comfortable with the little stove/oven’s quirks, could actually cook a meal without it being overdone or still cold in the middle, and gained a greater appreciation of what my grand-parents went through. My dad’s mom cooked in a wood stove until the city told her she couldn’t burn wood in the city limits any longer. At the end of those two weeks, even the DH said I surprised him. I never gave up, I kept trying, and for the most part, he didn’t starve. He did admit to stopping at the Golden Arches a time or two on his way home in the evening and eating in the car before he pulled in the driveway—you know, just in case.
So, now if the power goes out for a long time, or the world tries to come to an end, I think I’ll be able to keep us fed for a while. Just don’t ask me to bake bread. I never did master the art of light and fluffy.