How hard can it be for a family to live off grid for just one day? The idea for our September Microadventure had come from my children. Daisy, who enjoys foraging, wanted to know if we could live self sufficiently and Bea, who is learning about World War II at school was interested in rationing and fuel shortages. So we decided to combine the ideas and set ourselves a challenge of living without gas, electricity or shop bought food for just one day. September seemed like a good month to try it as there is plenty growing in the garden and we knew autumn’s mellow fruitfulness would help us out. However we soon realised that this could be a very frugal diet, so in the spirit of wartime resourcefulness, allowed that we could have rationed amounts of essential ingredients provided we didn’t get them from the shops. Saving up the eggs from our hens I negotiated with family and neighbours for swaps of butter, sugar, flour and milk.
There was no lie in on Sunday morning – I had to get up to light a fire and rouse the kids to help gather our food. Blackberries are plentiful and elderberries coming in too, so we could make a decent drink. The veg garden provided potatoes, onions, kale and courgettes by the bucket load. A further root around and we found some very late strawberries, autumn raspberries, a handful of peas and some very early broccoli that I hadn’t expected to be there and probably would have ignored if it hadn’t been for the challenge.
As soon as the fire was hot enough we got going with making blackberry and elderberry cordial and some raspberry pancakes. Very tasty!
Lunch almost looked like a proper meal; veg omelettes with potatoes and kale. Struggling for new ways to combine a limited set of ingredients, tea was potato and courgette fritters with more potatoes and kale. Like a wartime mum I was keen to fill them with stodge to keep hunger at bay, but Bea was still interested to know, “Whats for pudding?” Thankfully my friend Cath the forager turned up to supervise making a blackberry and apple crumble using the campfire Dutch oven method. How we came to have some illicit off-rationing cream, I couldn’t possibly comment. A neighbour called round with some very 1940’s style rosehip syrup which we discovered works well with fried apples. Without telly, screens or even a radio to brighten up a dark house we decided to stay outside chatting under a full September moon.
What did we learn from this experiment?
- That modern habits are so ingrained that, even when we knew we weren’t allowed, we automatically reached for the lights or opened the fridge. I had to put notices on each switch and spend most of the day outside, away from temptation and where we could see properly.
- That this method of living takes up most of the day. There was very little time that wasn’t looking for food, cooking food, clearing up or tending the fire. I sympathised with the generations of women before modern cookers, boilers and washing machines. They must have been exhausted.
- That we are addicted to sugar. Even though we had probably allowed ourselves far more sugar than a wartime family were rationed in a week, by lunchtime we were craving chocolate biscuits.
- We became a lot less wasteful. We cleaned our plates and had seconds. We used all the ingredients we had and there was virtually nothing to throw away apart from some peelings for the compost heap.
So can a family live off grid for just one day? Well no, sadly not ours. David sloped off to the pub to watch the football at lunchtime and Daisy made excuses about needing to do homework, and was back on her ipad by mid afternoon. I used my phone to take the pictures for the blog, but couldn’t help sneaking some time on social media while there. But Bea embraced the whole thing whole heartedly. She played with her toys and read books, picked blackberries and helped with the cooking and stayed outside chatting round the campfire until well after dark. She didn’t quite manage a full day though as I sent her in for a hot shower before bed – she, like the rest of us, reeked of campfire smoke.
I enjoyed the whole thing but if I had been told I had to do it all the next day my heart would have sunk. We are so used to food and light being there whenever we want it. Obviously this was just a day and we cheated a lot, but for millions around the world doing without electricity and enough food is a daily existence. Its made me feel very grateful for the luxury of enough light, power and food. And to give up any idea of running away to live simply in the woods. I wouldn’t last a day.