Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Made From Scratch

Apparently all you have to do for me to read your book is call it Made from Scratch. I have two such named volumes. The first is by Jean Zimmerman and is called Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth. I stumbled across it in 2003, the year it was published.

zimmerman cover Zimmerman is a journalist who has written several books about women’s issues. In this one she examines the history of the domestic arts from the goddess Hestia to the Martha Stewart phenomenon. The book speaks to the conflict women feel regarding their private and professional lives, the desire for a richer home life in the face of increasing technology, the homogenous goods we now buy and consume, and the irony of buying “homemade” goods.

From Chapter 1:

“Because the work of the home has been deemed insignificant, we’ve been able, over the past fifty years, to walk away from it with an alacrity that’s breathtaking. What is remarkable is how completely we’ve stripped ourselves of the skills, rituals, and allegiances that have sustained humankind since time immemorial. An age-old female craft tradition is threatened with extinction. Stitching a hem, making pie crust from memory, and countless other ‘quaint’ and ‘trivial’ domestic arts have now largely vanished from the cultural vocabulary … When we haven’t abandoned them altogether, we’ve commodified them by giving them over to the marketplace, hobbified them in a manner of holiday craft kits, or celebrated their anachronism in ‘living history’ exhibits. The domestic arts involved, which were centuries, sometimes millennia, in the making, are now undergoing their most substantial transformation ever.”

I enjoyed the rich history of domiology Zimmerman explores in this book, as well as the modern contradiction of our socio-cultural minimization of traditional skills while we also try to preserve and honor them. It’s a slightly wonky read, granted, but fascinating.

woginrich coverAnd right next to it on my bookshelf is Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich. I discovered this book via her website, Cold Antler Farm. She’s a web designer by day and homesteader the rest of the time. The book recounts her early journey after she decided to take control of her life and what she consumed. She learns how to grow food, keep bees and chickens, bake bread, sew, knit and provide her own entertainment by playing the fiddle and mountain dulcimer.

Woginrich is in her twenties. I find it tremendously encouraging that young people (wow, that makes me sound old) are still interested in learning and practicing traditional skills. She inspires, informs, and effectively blends nostalgia with a modern how-to attitude.

The book is fun, too. Woginrich writes with an easy, conversational style, is often laugh-out-loud funny, and shares both her failures and her successes. There’s plenty of hands-on information, and she provides resources for learning how to do all of the things she did, even on a small scale in a rental or an apartment. Plus, there’s an awesome recipe for coffee, which involves stirring in a square of dark chocolate. That right there might be enough to recommend it.

Now I just need to pick up Sandra Lee’s memoir, Made from Scratch


  1. All these books sound interesting. Last Thanksgiving, I made a conscious decision to make everything from scratch. I usually cook that way anyway. I could go on for awhile here so thanks for the thought provoking entry.

  2. I could go on for a while, too ; - ) Was there something in particular that prompted your Thanksgiving decision?