Review: The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers

Walking along the book aisle in Costco the other day, I came to a rather sudden stop as a specific book caught my eye. With a name like The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers, can you blame me?  This was obviously a book stocked for a local audience, so I hope our non-Utah readers can find a copy.  Author Caleb Warnock is a local (Alpine, Utah) writer, year-round gardener, and teacher of “Forgotten Skills” classes.  It also helped when I noticed one of the people listed in the special thanks section is a friend of mine, and local sci-fi author (how’s that for a tight-knit Utah Valley). Also at only $11 or so, any tidbit that might help will likely pay dividends well over the purchase price of the book.

This book also stood out to me, because I often wonder *how* my family managed to get enough food to live.  My mom’s side of the family was that oft-discussed “hearty pioneer stock”.  However I have noticed that while many farmed to live, I have a long history of blacksmiths and military.  There is no hiding that this must be because I inherited a really lousy black-thumb, they took up other trades because of this family curse. I’m one of those people who has to work really hard to make part of his garden succeed.  I enjoy blaming my heritage on this, as it cannot be some failing of my own, right?  So I felt driven to read this book, and find out how they managed to live, despite my inability to grow enough of the right foods in the wasteland of Utah.

Quick Summary:

Audience: Frustrated gardeners, those looking for more season to grow, people who feel they need to change their gardening to be more useful.

Target Location: The author speaks heavily about his experiences in the mountain west/high desert regions (specifically Utah valley). Skills discussed will make farming there much easier, and everywhere else is just easy :)

Mormons Only? No, not even close. This is mentioned specifically because of the historical hardships they encountered when arriving in Utah, and attempting to farm in what was considered a barren land. The author relies on some old family journals for historical information to help understand why certain farming techniques work, and why we shouldnt’ have forgotten them.

The Full Review:

Forgotten Skills is an encouraging read, introducing people of the mountain west to the fact that they can grow food year-round, even in our crazy climate.  The author relies heavily on pioneer journals (mostly from his family) in order to reference specific practices for growing and preserving food that are completely foreign to most people today.  Granted, experienced readers of this blog might be familiar with many specific concepts, such as: non-hybrid seeds, canning, etc; the author goes into extra depth about how these practices were used to simply stay alive in not so distant years.  Beyond some more recently popular topics, there is great encouragement into practices that can be used by people with even small yards to produce and store food year-round by simply changing certain practices in your gardening.

This book in not designed however as a be-all reference. At only 145 pages, with many great photos, you wont’ find a book that teaches every single thing you need to be independent.  However it introduces a good number of important practices, provides basic reasoning as to why it was an important skill, and provides some modern usage examples. It makes sure you know enough about what the skill is, and gives you what you need to find more information if you want. Example: After a great discussion about seed hybridization practices, and their effects, he also spends time explaining how seed banks work and how you can participate in one to get useful seeds in your garden.

Major Topics:

Here is a list of some of the major topics covered that should get the interest of our readers:

  • Seeds
  • Extending the harvest
  • Perennial food plants
  • Trees
  • Cellaring
  • Long Keeping Foods
  • Early Veggies
  • Pioneer Yeast
  • Modern Ideas the Pioneers Would Have Appreciated
  • Eggs
  • Chickens
  • Forgotten Recipes
Yes, I did it. The Eggs came before the Chicken :-p
Many of these topics break out into several chapters, helping understand the individual aspects of the topic. Out of these several I was familiar with, but even on them I picked up bits of information that made me rethink my practices, and will hopefully break my absolutely non-green-thumb.  The chapter on Pioneer Yeast I felt was very encouraging, backing up several other things I’ve read online, especially regarding proper digestion of whole wheat.  I also am glad that he included a chapter on the topic of modern ideas.  Despite many of our modern mistakes, there are quite a few things we’ve learned that the pioneers would have gladly applied to their lives.
I do highly recommend getting a copy of this book. If you feel like you are already the best of the independent farmers, you’ll probably still pick up some tricks, and you’d greatly enjoy the quality of the content.  I’d also surely look at who around you might benefit from a copy of this.  If you are just getting into gardening, or like me you learned in a very different climate, you will like the encouragement this provides, and the errors you’ll miss because of this information.  If you already practice techniques such as square foot gardening, you’ll get better information on what plants to use, when and how to plant, and preserve.
Overall, this is a great, easy read that will help anybody feed their family just a little bit better. It definitely has made me rethink some of my planting, and how I can get a better return on my labors.

4 Replies to “Review: The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers”

  1. I was in the middle of reading this one when you posted this!  Definitely a good resource especially for the mountain west area with some really useful information on getting more from your gardening and chickens.  Nice photos and not too pricey.  Yep, buy the book. :)

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