Book Review: Made From Scratch

I just finished another book I very much enjoyed. I only put it down once, when I was overcome by the urge to try the butter bread recipe in the baking chapter – reading it inspired in me the overwhelming need to bake right then. I finished the book yesterday and am now trying out another recipe – the three egg quiche, which is smelling delicious! Both recipes are, like the title of the book, made from scratch!

The book is Jenna Woginrich’s Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Press. Over the course of the story, Woginrich moves to a rental “homestead” in Idaho and learns to tend her own flock of chickens, plants a garden and grows her own food, teaches herself the fiddle, and aquires a hive of bees. She also learns to bake from scratch, sew and knit and make her own yarn, raise angora rabbits, and build community in the form of neighbors, and fellow “homesteaders” and musicians.

There are points where the story feels like playing house, pretending to be a pioneer in the cold West. The part where she teaches her huskies to pull a sled and a cart is the gleeful realization of a childhood dream, rather than an entirely pragmatic life skill, and Woginrich isn’t pretending otherwise; she openly acknowledges her childhood iditarod fantasies. But I can relate. I very much want my own chickens, not because I think it will save me money or make me a bonafide farmer but because I have always wanted chickens. If I ever get any they’ll be nothing more than vaguely useful pets (more useful by far than my cats, who have caught exactly one mouse in five years…my husband has long claimed that one died of cold in our cabin and the cats just pretended to have killed it after the fact). And in my urban-chicken-fantasy, we will build our own coop, and raise rare birds, and bake wonderful quiches every night…and the chickens will look like this:

(Blue Laced Red Wyandottes. Photo courtesy of Murray McMurray Hatchery

I’m also partial to these little chickens: Mille Fleur Bantams. I find them simultaneously silly and adorable, but the hens are supposed to be great mothers, as Woginrich points out when she chooses bantams for her first flock:

(photo courtesy of My Pet Chicken)

Throughout Made from Scratch, Woginrich’s tone is sometimes folksy, often hilarious, always engaging. I intend to try out more of her recipes and have the strong impulse to start some seeds in peat pots (she teaches the art of the homemade, recycled greenhouse in the appendix section). The chickens will have to wait, and I don’t think I’ll be teaching our dog to pull a cart anytime soon. His only accessory for the time being will remain the lampshade collar he’s wearing to keep him from irritating a hip injury. Woginrich isn’t espousing anything I haven’t already embraced. She advocates buying your stuff used and your food local, making your own entertainment instead of sitting in front of a screen, and participating in your community. It’s nice to know that there are others around the country doing some of the same stuff I’m interested in, like baking their own bread, and often for very different reasons. For Woginrich it seems to be more of a back-to-the-farm ideology than a sustainability interest that drives her initial interest in homesteading. But she makes the skills accessible. She narrates her failures and heartbreaks as well as her successes. Her chapter on chickens had me laughing, loudly, in the doctor’s office. People were staring. I didn’t care. The chapter was that funny.

It was an honest, funny, relatable read, and I enjoyed it…enough that I’m subscribing to her blog. She’s in New York instead of Idaho these days, and she’s expanded her homestead to include more rabbits, sheep, goats and ducks. You can find her at Cold Antler Farm. Enjoy! I know I did!