Have you ever heard of someone doing a 30-day self-sufficiency challenge? On today's podcast, I'm talking with Carl who, for 30 days, ate only foods he could either grow or source from his own property, or locally to where he lives. This included everything from beverages, fats, seasonings, and more!
I'm very excited to introduce you to Carl from Self-Sufficient Hub Homestead. He took to doing a 30-day self-sufficiency challenge where he could only consume or use products that were sourced on their homestead or locally to them, even down to their salt and spices!
It's amazing what was gained and learned from a short 30 days that have actually stuck around and that my guest is still doing today.
A little backstory here, but Carl does all of the things we'll be discussing in today's episode while also maintaining a full-time job. I share this because I think it's important that people don't eliminate the possibilities of what could be, simply because homesteading isn't their full-time job.
Carl started homesteading on eight acres in the UK. But prior to moving, his family was similar to many other families we know who simply purchase their food from the grocery store and call it a day.
Within a year, his family established gardens, bred pigs, had a milk cow, planted perennials, and even started beekeeping. He says, “I basically jumped in with both feet and never looked back” but also shares that he and his wife really didn't have any experience with homesteading prior to this.
30 Day Self-Sufficiency Challenge
Carl jokes that in order to become completely self-sufficient he would have to find a new job. Running his YouTube channel and podcast, or even recording this podcast you're listening to would be impossible unless he mined his own minerals and ore and then created his own iPhone.
He's not under the impression that all modern conveniences are bad, or that we should even be moving away from them. But he had a desire to bring more of what he could get control over into his own hands.
Carl documented his entire 30-day self-sufficiency journey on his YouTube channel. He shared that there were highs and lows, but he learned so much through it all.
His one “get out of jail free card” was that he could trade. Meaning he could trade food for food, of an equivalent value. But he couldn't trade a potato for two spaghetti bolognese dishes. And he also couldn't trade an hour's worth of labor for food.
During that time he only traded some of their farm eggs for flour from the local bakery and some homemade goat's cheese for honey (as their bees weren't quite producing enough for their family at that point).
One of the biggest challenges he faced was in the daily preparation of the food. As mentioned, Carl worked a day job and was accustomed to buying his lunch while at work each day. Obviously, this was no longer a luxury he had.
He says the actual challenge of the challenge was the time everything took to process into a usable product to cook a meal.
I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Please click through the resources below to follow Carl on his journey, and be sure to check out his 30-day challenge videos on YouTube!
In This Episode:
- We sometimes learn best from our mistakes!
- Wild edibles such as Woodhaven or Clove Root (Geum urbanum) – you can watch Carl's video on this edible weed here.
- Mushroom foraging – you can learn more about foraging for morels here, and a great morel and asparagus quiche recipe here.
- Making salt from seawater (watch Carl make salt!)
- Alternatives for seasonings like pepper.
- Using Meadow Sweet in place of vanilla.
- Hogweed seeds to replace cardamom or coriander.
- Magnolia flowers for ginger.
- How to make rhubarb extract and other ways to use rhubarb.
- Many more benefits from Carl's 30-day challenge.
Melissa: Hey, pioneers. Welcome to episode number 341. Today's episode is just fascinating. We are going to be talking about a self-sufficient challenge. This was a 30 day challenge that our guest did, but here is the part that I find fascinating. This includes all spices, including salt, had to be something condiments, the whole thing had to be items that he was able to produce and make from their area or their homestead. I've talked to quite a few different people who have done different versions of challenges with their eating, where they were trying to do for a certain amount of time only things that they produced or only homegrown harvested. We've had a couple different episodes of that, but it has never went to the depths and the level actually including your own salt and spices, every single aspect, but finding those things through foraging or being able to grow in instance some of the spices and the salts. That we go into in as fasting.
In fact, you'll hear where I get really excited about one of the items that we're already growing and how I can use that more. It's rhubarb, but used in a way you probably have not thought of, or at least I have not used before. So, lots of great little tidbits like that, but what I think was the most fascinating was what was actually gained and learned observational wise from the challenge and how there were so certain things that impacted and changed the way that Carl is still eating to this day. So, so many good things in this episode, including we get into some foraging and different things like that there.
It just a breath of information, but I also think you will find it very insightful and inspiring along with a lot of food for thought that you'll then be able to think through the items that you're reaching for and things that you are making and where are some ingredients that are still coming from outside sources, and maybe, maybe you'll be able to use some of the tips that Carl shared with us, and they will be things that you'll be able to grow, produce, or forage yourself as replacements.
But our guest today is Carl, who is the host of the Self Sufficient Hub Podcast and YouTube channel, and what is interesting is Carl does all of what we're going to share with you while still working a full-time job, including the self-sufficient challenge. That, I hope gives you lots of inspiration, because I know many of you are in positions where you are still working a day job, but it doesn't limit you as much as you would think. You're still able to do quite a lot. For all of the links and resources and different things that we talk about in today's episode, you'll want to make sure that you go to the blog post that accompanies this. That's at melissaknorris.com/341, because this is episode number 341.
Again, melissaknorris.com/341. Today's podcast episode is sponsored and brought to you by ButcherBox. Now, it goes without saying, I do firmly believe in raising it yourself is the absolute best, and if you can't raise it yourself, finding a local farmer or a local place in your community that you are able to get that. However, there are instances where that is not an option for you at this moment in time, and ButcherBox can be a great source for your meat needs. They are partners with companies and farms that have the highest standards of quality, especially for 100% grass fed beef, which is really important to us.
We do grass fed and grass finished beef and pastries for all of our animals, but if I was ever to not be able to raise our own for anything or had to search out an additional source, a hundred percent grass fed beef would be the only way that we would go and ButcherBox has right now, a special. If you go to butcherbox.com/pioneeringtoday, butcherbox.com/pioneeringtoday, you can get two pounds of ground beef free in every order for the life of your membership and ground beef is one of the staples or the cornerstones that I use in our cooking, because I can turn it into so many easy dishes, especially if I haven't really meal planned or prepped ahead of time and things that I know that the kids will enjoy and like.
In fact, one of our favorite things, and it's just so simple, but hamburgers. We love to have hamburgers because you can really change up the flavor by adding in grilled mushrooms and cheese, or doing a bacon and avocado, of course, just your standard pickles. I even like to use [inaudible 00:05:29], which is a El Salvadorian Spanish version of sauerkraut. My goodness. That's one of my favorites, or you can even get a little bit crazy with your hamburgers.
There was a burger we had at a local restaurant. This is going to sound weird, but I tell you what, it was one of the best things I've ever had. Now, this is a comfort meal. I am super hungry, going to have type of hamburger, but it was a mac and cheese hamburger. I know. I know. So, they took the Mac and cheese and they must have made it and then put it in a little circular form and then baked it so that it did hold in that circular form, and then they put an extra slice of cheese on top and melted it, so it helped hold it to the bun and the patty. You guys. And then they had a Chipotle sauce on top of it. That was at one of the local restaurants that we have in our area, but definitely duplicatable at home if you have good ground beef.
Then we actually did a taste test of our grass fed beef against ButcherBox's. They sent me out a package so I could try it, and ours was a little bit brighter in color, but taste wise, I didn't even tell the kids that it wasn't our grass fed, homegrown ground beef and made meatballs with it, which is one of their favorites, and they couldn't tell a difference. So, cooked, tasted great, really good quality, even us living way out in the boonies, always arrives completely frozen in an excellent shape. So, to take advantage and get two pounds of ground beef which with meat and beef prices what they are right now, that is becoming even a better deal. You can grab that at butcherbox.com/pioneeringtoday. Now, into this interview with Carl. Well, I am so excited to have you here, Carl. Welcome to the Pioneering Today Podcast.
Carl: Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here.
Melissa: Yeah. So, I was very, very intrigued. You first sent me an email and what I loved from what you shared with me and I was like, my goodness, I really need to have him on the podcast to share this was you did a self-sufficient challenge, trying to say that one three times fast, but what I found fascinating about that is that included salt and spices, and I have actually, I have never spoke with anybody who has harvested their own salt and also was able to incorporate spices. What I also found fascinating about your story is how, when you came, when you guys became to improving your sustainability and all of that, your story and how long you've been living this lifestyle as well. So, I'd love for you to back us up just a little bit, let us know some about your guys' journey that you are doing with your wife and your guys' kids, and then really dive into the nitty gritty of what your self sufficient challenge was.
Carl: Yeah. Cool. Well, I suppose I'll try and keep to the short version, although even the short version isn't really short, but the long story short is I'm a builder by trade, and my company was doing an awful lot of work for a lady that I'd known for a long, long time, so long that we'd become very, very close friends and we were basically renovating this large country property that she owned among many others with a view to her moving in and then literally a week or so before it was due to move in, she changed her mind, decided she was going to live somewhere else and basically said to me, would you like to live there? I said, well, obviously I'd like to live there, but I could never afford the rent, because she was looking to rent it out, but she didn't want to just put it on the open market because she'd done it up for herself to use.
She said, well, I can basically offer it you a massively reduced rent. So, we had this opportunity to move into this country house, I say country house, the house itself isn't particularly grand. It's a lovely house, but it's not massive. But the grounds, it had eight acres of garden basically, and we had this opportunity that we would otherwise never have had to live here at a rent we could afford, which is where we've been for the last four and a half years, something like that, and when we moved in, we had no real background or interest in growing our own food and doing anything like that. We were just your regular people that you bump into in the supermarket that are buying all of their food in the shops, and we kept a few chickens and we'd come from a rural background.
So, we were still fairly connected to the out of doors and nature and the nature's cycles. I used to do a bit of foraging, but that was about as far as it went, and then it very instantly dawned on me when we moved into this property, I could feel another version of myself, the other side of the hedge, looking over the hedge and thinking, well, what a waste. You're not doing anything with all that land. I just couldn't bear it. I couldn't bear the thought of letting this opportunity and letting any of the land go to waste, so I immediately set to work, trying to make every single corner of the land do something and be productive. So, literally within the first year, we'd gone from a completely standing start to having milking goats, pigs we were breeding, obviously, a big vegetable garden.
I'd planted loads and loads of fruit trees and an asparagus bed and I'd signed up for a beekeeping course, and I really jumped in with both feet and it grabbed me and took hold of me, and I've never looked back. I've always been someone that has had an interest in preparedness and prepping and that kind of thing. That tied in nicely, but like I say, we'd not had a background in much food production up until that point, but it was just something that really grabbed hold of me and has become a huge part of who I am now.
Melissa: That is amazing, because in the first year that you guys went into raising and [inaudible 00:11:52] the pigs and doing dairy animals and having this huge garden, that is a ton in four years, let alone one year. We don't even breed our own pigs. Now, we do raise and we have butchered them ourselves and we actually just got, since you and I talked last, we just acquired our very first dairy animal. So, we got a dairy cow.
Melissa: Literally two days ago when I'm already like, there's so much to learn and that's just bringing one new thing and you brought a lot in. Kudos to you, because I know how much work that is, but it's really exciting, I think, because I love that whoever's listening into this, you don't have to have grown up with this as a background. I was very lucky that I did grow up raising beef cattle and we had a big vegetable garden and my mom canned and preserved and that type of thing, but you are a testimony to, look, you can do this and you can actually do it relatively quickly. It doesn't have to be something that you have always known because I think sometimes people are like, well, I'm not going to be able to do that because X, Y, Z. So, I love that you've shared you guys didn't have that background and you've been able to jump in. You said both feet, but I'm like, that was both feet and hands.
Carl: Well, it's probably worth mentioning Melissa, just because I did all these things, that's not to say I did them all well, and one of my greatest strengths I think is that I'm super, super comfortable making mistakes and failing, and I think if you've got that mindset that you are quite willing to have a go, I call myself the have a go homesteader, because I'll have a go at anything. I'm really quite comfortable sharing, not only my successes, but my failures. I think that's by far the quickest way to learn, and when I say that we had milking goats and all of those things, I don't know. I think I was probably milking within a year of us moving in, but I might not have been, but we certainly had the goats, and again, with the pigs, we eased ourselves into it.
So, the first pigs we had here were actually someone else's. We had this piece of woodland. I didn't have any use for it and I thought pigs are perfect. My family had quite a lot of reluctance to us raising our own meat here. I took a stepping stone approach to that. So, what I did is there was a small holding that we drive past, or that I drive past on my way home from work most days, and they kept pigs. So, I knocked on their door and said, would you fancy having... Because they were running to the maximum capacity of their ground, I could see that, and I said, would you be interested in having an extra litter this year and keeping them in my wood? I will look after them. You pay for the food, they're your pigs, but I will raise them.
I'll look after them and provide the land absolutely free, and then at the end of it when they go off to get slaughtered, we'll have some pork count of it. That's how we did it. And then the second year, we moved a step further and we bought our own pigs and raised them from piglets, and then they went off the slaughter, and then the third year, I did the butchering and slaughtering myself and then we introduced a breeding program. So, it was an incremental thing, but I definitely started everything all at once.
Melissa: Yeah. I really want to pull that out where you said that you don't do everything well, and there are failures, because I'm the same. I know it can be easy when we're sharing and teaching or when you listen to people where they're at now, it's really hard to put in all of the ways that you have failed, but as you said, the learning, at least for me, I learned so much more from my failures or when I do make a mistake than I ever do from the successes, which we live in a society overall which tends to glorify the success. We love those stories where we see people like, I did this and we see that after picture, but I'm with you. All of my learning has really came, the most part, from when I have made mistakes or failed at something.
I learn more from what not to do, I think often than more the to dos. So, I'm glad that you brought that out and said it was done in stages, but here's how we started year one and then moved through that. Something else that you touched on briefly earlier, which I would love to talk about more because within gardening and home setting and self sufficiency, there is a lot of focus on what we are cultivating and growing in orchards and livestock and gardens, but there is a good deal of food that we don't actually have to grow ourselves that we can harvest, and that is within foraging. So, could you talk a little bit more about the foraging and how you fold that into your guys' overall self sufficiency?
Carl: Yeah. Well, foraging is something that I have been into since I was a child and I've got that. I would say I'm in my mid forties now. I've spent all my life with one toe in the water of foraging, but I really dove into it head first, maybe 12 years ago when I had an illness that basically kept me off work for a few weeks and I had nothing to do with my time and I went out. Mushroom foraging has always been my thing. I really dedicated a great deal of time to learning that area. Again, it's something that's just grown from there. I lead foraging courses now in the Southwest UK. Just the idea, you go out for a walk, you see these mushrooms lying about and you think, well, I can eat some of these and some of them will kill me.
Surely, I should spend some time learning which is which, and because we are passing all this amazing food, but it doesn't just stop at mushrooms. Something else I really enjoy sharing, people are just unaware of the abundance and rich history we have with the native wildlife that's growing all around us. So, I try and use permaculture principles in my garden, and one of the things that we talk about when we talk about the permaculture is learning from nature and how nature provides abundance without anyone having to be there doing all the things that we waste our time and energy doing sometimes.
There are things out there that we can be using, and one of the stories that I love to share is around a plant. Now, I don't know, obviously I live in the UK. I'm very, very familiar with all the things I can forage for here. So, I don't know how well this will translate to every one of your listeners, depending on where they live and what grows there, and perhaps you'll know. Does a plant called herb Bennett or wood havens grow where you live? It's quite a common weed here in the UK.
Melissa: Not that I'm aware of, but I know that there's some things that we do share like weed, but sometimes they'll be called local names.
Melissa: For things where it's actually is the same. For a quick example, we had a plant that was my grandfather's absolute one of his favorite flowering bushes, and we always called it a Chinese rose bush. Well, lo and behold, I didn't find out until I was probably almost 30 years old, it's actually called a flowering quince.
Melissa: Which is very common, but I would just like, it's a Chinese rose bush, because it was that localism. That's what my grandfather had called it. He knew the plant as, so sometimes I know that there can be localisms on plant names. Not to my knowledge, but I can't say that it doesn't grow here because it may by something else, a different name that I'm not necessarily familiar with, but we do have here for me specifically, living in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of mushrooms and it sounds like you guys do too. To be very curious, what mushrooms are you predominantly forging? Because I want to see if there're similar varieties.
Carl: Great. Well, if you don't mind, I will answer that, but I just quickly want to tell a quick story about the wood havens.
Melissa: Yes, yes, yes.
Carl: The scientific name and I'm not sure how you pronounce this is geum urbanum. Now, I only ever use the scientific names in written text, so I'm not familiar with pronunciation, but that's what it's called anyway. But the point being is that another name for it, a common name for it is clove root, because the roots are an exact like for like equivalent for cloves. There was a time in our history, in British history when you would have to have some clove root in your mouth or about your person when you spoke to a dignitary, because it would hide your peasant-like smell. There was equivalence of this in obviously the far east and the only reason, and this is a plant that grows everywhere. I can't think of a woodland or hedgerow that doesn't have some growing in it, and the only reason it fell out of favor is fashion.
When the spice routes opened up to the middle and far east and we started importing all of these spices and things like that, then using cloves at clove root, using that plant to flavor your food was just a sign of your status. It's what the peasants did. Whereas if you could afford it, you would use the imported version despite the fact it's no better. It's exactly the same. That's just one great example that is a plant that's growing everywhere. No one uses it. Everyone buys cloves in the supermarket and chances are, if you've got a garden, you've even got it growing in your garden. We have it growing all around our garden here. That's a story I love to share. Going on to talk about mushrooms. Sorry, go on.
Melissa: So, while you were sharing the story, I'm like, I got to Google this and see what it looks like. I'm looking at it right now and I'm like, I am pretty certain that I have seen that out in the woods. Of course, I'm going to have to do a deeper dive to make sure I'm accurately identifying anytime for foraging, but I am pretty certain that if it's not that it's one that looks very simple, similar, and may even be of the same species. So, I'm going to dive into this more, but that's actually really exciting. I will be looking at it more, but I think we may actually have it here, but I love the history and the stories that you're sharing there of how we got away from a lot of these plants and using them in every day society, and some of them are just absolutely silly reasons, but they are what they are.
Carl: Yeah. It's just crazy, and you can relate that to so many things. That's the reason why a lot of people don't eat rabbit. It's all to do with fashion, isn't it? And now it's ironic to me, we're on the cusp of this new culinary wave and we are seeing things like offal only showing its head in really high end restaurants. It's cyclical because when something's rare, it becomes sort after and then everybody wants it. It's bizarre to me, and as far as I'm concerned, everything begins and ends in the kitchen. If you cook well and you know how to use things, then all of these ingredients are almost created equal.
Melissa: Yes. Well, and even with lawns. The reason that we have large grassy lawns was because that showed that you were rich enough, you didn't have to raise all of your food in the front of your home, and that's how we came as a society to have more of these manicured grass that does nothing, but make you work for it. It doesn't provide anything, but that's how that it was a status issue, which is just fascinating. That is really fun. So, I am super curious though, on your mushrooms. I love mushrooms. They're my absolute favorite, and we are just getting ready here for our morel season to come on. Next week we should have morels popping up and I just can't wait.
Carl: You are very lucky over there in the States to have a morel season. We do occasionally see morels. I've only ever found black morels once in my life, and it's a very, very infrequent cut find over here in the UK. Very, very sort after, and it tends to grow over here in wood chip, imported wood chip that people have put into their gardens and it might grow there if you're lucky for two years, but usually just you get one flush, that's it, then it's gone. We don't have the forests of morels that you guys have over there. That's one area that you definitely have the advantage.
Melissa: Fascinating. Okay. Probably the more common mushrooms are your favorite ones that you guys have available and forged for.
Carl: Yeah. So, super common ones, we're just about to start seeing St. George's mushrooms, which are our first big mushroom of the new year if you like, then as we go a bit later into the year, much like I imagine everywhere, it's the autumn when we do probably most of our harvesting and we have something called the trooping funnel, which you also have, I believe, over there. Clitoybe geotropa, and when you find them, you can find them in huge perfusions. There's a troupe growing in Europe, I think in France, something like a quarter of a mile long and they're these really big mushrooms. The heads on them, the caps on them grow to the size of dinner plates. I'll be harvesting those and drying loads of those and we'll use them all year round.
We also have the parasols and shaggy parasols, which again, we in this household we'd harvest them every year. Giant puff balls, which I think are fairly ubiquitous. A great tip for giant puff balls is to, well, firstly, they are one of the safest mushrooms anyone can forage. There's nothing that looks anything like them. The only tip you need in terms of safety is, when you cut them, clean through the middle, if they are clear white all the way through, they are safe to eat. Simple as that. When they get a little bit older and the inside start turning to spores, they will discolor and darken and actually become slightly carcinogenic. But while they're clear white through, they're really, really safe to eat, and what I like to do is cut them into about half inch strips and then use them as pizza bases. Absolutely fantastic like that. Yeah. Really good. There's hundreds of mushrooms. There's probably 30 or 40 that I forage for regularly as in every year. Chicken of the woods is another one that you will have out there that we have here.
Melissa: Yes. I'm curious, lion's mane or chantrelle? Are those either of those?
Carl: So, chanterelles, yes. Not as common. Well, I don't know how common they are where you are, but they're not as common in my particular mushroom horn. I only know a couple of places that grow chanterelles that we definitely have them. Lion's mane is an interesting one. I know someone who comes out foraging with me sometimes who's found it once, but it's something that is now becoming more prolific. When you look into mushroom books from a few years ago here in the UK, it wasn't listed as a species, but because it's so easily cultivated and it's one of the things that people cultivate in their gardens, we are seeing more and more escapees now naturalizing in the UK. Yeah.
Melissa: Okay. Very fun. Yeah. Lion's mane is one of our absolute favorites here. At least I should say for us, it's a little bit harder to find on our own land or where we go. I don't know about where you guys are, but here you have a really good mushroom place. I have to really, really like you or I will ever show you my mushroom hunts, because they are very much prized, prized areas. It's something you hold really close to the vest. You don't necessarily always share that. I should say within the places that we go and that I know, we have been able to find lion's mane, but not as prolifically as chanterelles or even the morels.
Those we find just much more abundantly out and about not all over, but almost, but lion's mane, as far as eating, flavor and texture, lion's mane is one of my absolute favorites. Interesting. Okay. Do you guys have truffles? We're supposed to have truffles here, but I personally have not found one, but it's my new mission. If they grow here, I'm going to find some truffles.
Carl: Well, truffles do exist here, but for whatever reason, and I can't tell you what it is, they're just not something I've ever spent a tremendous amount of time or energy looking for or learning about. I suppose I'm a little bit too lazy. I follow the 80/20 rule. I do the 20% of the work that's going to get me 80% of the benefits, and then I move on to the next thing, I guess.
Melissa: Yeah. No, I definitely hear you on that. It's funny. Every now and then I'll get a bee in my bonnet, so to speak, about something almost obscure and it becomes my mission. I just want to find one of those here. That's where the truffle is for me at this moment in time.
So, really interesting because there are definitely similarities, but I think this also speaks to, it's really important to know your local area, and that no matter where you live, there's going to be some type of food that you can forage that is wild grown where you live, but it may look different obviously based upon your climate, even compared to your climate, Carl, versus my climate, but that means that find someone in your area, do some research, but there will be things that you are able to forage in your area. And so if you can just be like, okay, I'm going to find two that grow here that are edible and that I can forage and focus on that for your first season or your first time, and then you can begin to build out on that as you go forward and build up and find out more things that are in your area and go from there. There is something in everyone's area that you're going to be able to forage for.
Carl: A hundred percent, so much. When I did my September challenge, I relied on wild stuff for lots of the herbs and spices, or particularly spices and replacements for things that you just don't grow, things like vanilla, where's no way I'm going to set up the hot house required to grow my own vanilla, but it is something that I would've missed. So, I was forced to really think about alternatives and the wild food is really what did plug the gap for a lot of those things. Not all of them, but for a lot, for sure.
Melissa: Okay. Let's talk about the self-sufficient challenge. So, what were your parameters that you had set up for it? Was there a timeframe? What were the parameters? Share about that, because the salt and the spices aspect as I preface before we got going, I was very, very fascinated about that.
Carl: Okay. Well basically, obviously I have a podcast and a YouTube channel, and I thought it would be a great thing to share with my audience this idea of setting myself a challenge, because I'm always talking about self-sufficiency and I'm under no illusions that I'm ever going to be living completely self sufficiently. If I want to have this conversation with you, Melissa, I would have to go and mine my own minerals and smelt my own ore and learn how to make my own iPhone, wouldn't I, to have this conversation. Well, that's never going to happen, and I'm fine with that. I'm very okay with that. But for me, it's all about the journey and the direction of travel. I want to move in that direction all the time. I just felt it would be a really interesting idea to set myself the challenge of actually being self-sufficient for a month. I did it for the whole month to September, and again, I'm under no illusions.
I chose September because I thought that would be the easiest month to do it in. I didn't choose a difficult month. I chose an easy month, because I was under no illusions that I think we can all do the simple stuff really easily, but I wanted to do the whole hog, and I literally didn't want to consume anything that I had to buy in a shop. So, I was really super strict because I've seen so many of the self-sufficiency challenges where really it's just maybe meat or vegetables or both that they're doing, and they say, well, okay, we're being self-sufficient, but we are buying our flour or our grain or our sources or our spices. I wanted to go 100%, even my drinks and things like that. I gave up the coffee I was drinking and all those kinds of things.
I just thought I wanted it to be a challenge, and it definitely was. I documented every day on YouTube. There were highs and lows. There were a couple of low points, but mostly it was really, really, a really great thing, but the parameters of the challenge that I set myself were really quite simple. I was only going to eat things that I could procure myself, whether that's by growing or by fishing or by foraging, or however did it. I only had one get-out-of-jail-free card, which was that I could barter, I could trade things, but I was really strict with myself on that as well. I could only trade food for food and I could only trade things of equivalent value. So, I couldn't trade an hour of my time for a lasagna, for example.
There were only two things I traded over the whole month. There were only two items I traded and one of them was flour, because we don't produce our own grains, and we traded our eggs that we produce with our bakery that's just up the road, and they gave us a bag of flour. We gave them loads of eggs though. So, I got that. The only other thing is something that now produce, and that is honey. I had bees, but I didn't have a very good year with my first year having bees. We weren't able to harvest any honey. So, I traded some goats cheese that I made for some honey. So, I think I was as strict as I could possibly have been, and I was doing it with a view to even the things I was trading and bartering for were things that I could produce and I probably would produce at some point in the future and it was just honey and flour. So, those were my rules and I didn't break them for the entire month.
Melissa: Okay. Was your family on board with this or were they doing it with you or was it just you?
Carl: It was just me. My children are young teenagers and they're all in school and stuff and there's only so far that the family are willing to go, but what was interesting, even when we sat down at dinner, still 80% of what we were eating was the same. It was just that tinkering around the edges and the difficult stuff was the stuff that I was doing on my own.
Melissa: Okay. That is fascinating. I love the parameters on. It had to be equal value and food for food, not time or things like that, and so it was the flower and the honey. We will definitely link, guys, in the blog post that accompanies this episode and the show notes. We will link to the series on Carl's YouTube channel where you were going live every day with this. I'm curious, one for the main, with the salt and the spices, especially the salt, your top ones that you used and you really found this really made the difference on me enjoying eating this, versus not. You felt the most important ones, I guess.
Carl: Yeah. Well, salt, obviously, I think is a necessity, not only dietarily, but for flavor, but ironically, it was one of the easiest ones to take care of. I just harvested some seawater. It's as simple as this. If you're going to do this, you want to check that you are harvesting clean, safe seawater. I'm very lucky. I live in the UK. If you live in the UK, you're never more than 70 miles from the coast. That side of it is fairly simple. It's not always the case for you guys over there in the states, I know, to be that close to the coast, but harvesting some seawater. There's all sorts of different environmental websites in places you can use to check the water quality, but you want to get from somewhere clean, but bear in mind, we're also going to be processing it in a way that's going to clean it as well.
I just passed that through a very fine cloth to filter out any impurities and then literally boiled it, boiled it, boiled it, boiled it, boiled it right down, and then you are left with salt. Simple as that. Sea salt. From just one liter, which is two pints, roughly, of seawater, you're going to get 35 grams of salt and six grams a day is the recommended daily amount. So from one liter, two pints of seawater. You're going to get roughly enough salt for a one person for a week. So, you can see, you don't have to harvest very much. One bucket full and you've got a month's worth of salt. That was actually really, really simple.
Melissa: How long did it take then? Say, you have a bucket for a month worth. How long did it take to boil that before you actually got it evaporated down to the salt, out of curiosity?
Carl: It probably took a couple of hours. Of course, you can do this outside on an open fire, if you want to save on fuel costs and what have you. It's definitely something everyone can do. If you live near the coast and you've got kids, it's a great thing to do with kids, and then sprinkle that salt on your chips that night, and you've got this sense of achievement. Something that you wouldn't probably think of doing, because salt's so cheap in the supermarket, but I couldn't have done it. I couldn't have done it without that. That was a huge part of everything that we eat has got a little bit of salt in it one way or another, or most things.
That was the first thing. I ticked that box off a day or two before I started the challenge. That was all done. That was ready to go. The only thing to bear in mind is once you've got this salt, because it's got nothing in it, it's got no anti-caking agents or anything in it, over the course of the month, by the end of the month, it got really, really quite damp and moist and you couldn't sprinkle it. You were almost scooping it, but that didn't bother me. That didn't bother me too much. Of course, I could have repeated the process and dried it out again.
And then for spices, well, we were obviously using a lot of things that we grow ourselves in the garden, so chilies, we can grow here. That was taken care of, but beyond that, there was just so much choice almost. There were some areas that I did struggle with, so we can grow szechuan peppers and we can keep those pepper corns and use them as pepper for salt and pepper pepper, but I hadn't done that. That's not something I'd planned and I'd done in advance. I was missing pepper. So, what I came to and it was suggested to me by someone who was following my journey was to use radish and I just chopped up radish really, really fine, dehydrated it and ground it up.
I used that instead of pepper. That worked really quite well, especially if you've got a radish that is a bit too peppery to eat, it's going to work perfect as a pepper replacement. Goodness me. Where do I stop? Another thing I mentioned vanilla. Well, there's a wild plant that grows in our hedgerows all around the UK. I don't know if it's there or not, but it's called meadowsweet. You have that.
Melissa: It sounds very familiar. I don't know if it grows here, but I do know people who grow it. I've heard the flowers, so I'm not sure exactly where it natively grows, but that one is familiar. So, I'm sure it grows in many areas of the States, because as soon as you said it, I'm like, yes, I've heard of meadowsweet.
Carl: Yeah. Well, you use the flowers to infuse things. So, I made some meadowsweet custard, and I have to say it was as good as any custard I've ever, ever had, whether it was made from scratch or from a packet or whatever. It was as good as any custard I've ever had. That was just some honey, some milk and meadowsweet. It is the flavoring for that vanilla and some flour, I think, to thicken. It's been a while since I made it. There are all these things just out there, and of course, for cloves, we had the route that we've already spoken about. We have a plant growing in every hedgerow up and down the country and it's called hogweed. It's completely ubiquitous, and you can use the seeds of that hogweed as a replacement for cardamon or coriander, that kind of blend.
We use that and you are probably familiar with magnolia trees and the flowers of the magnolia tree you can use as a ginger flavor. There were all these different options available to me beyond the things that I was also growing in my garden as well, obviously as flavoring, but you mentioned was there one thing that really stood out for me? Well, I made, and I had my heart set on this dish that I wanted to make, a pork griot, which is a Haitian dish. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but it's a spicy, a chili and citrus flavored dish. Well, we can't grow citrus here in the UK, really, not without an awful lot of effort and poly tunnels and things like that, which we don't have. So, we didn't have access to any citrus.
So, instead of citrus for this dish, orange juice is the main citrus that you use in this dish? Well, I used pair juice from our trees and a rhubarb extract that I've made myself, which has got all of that lovely malic acid in. I used that instead of the citrus and it was amazing. It was a real, real success with a load of chilies that we'd grown in the garden, some tomatoes, I think, and this lovely, meaty, chunky meat, chunky bits of pork. That was my pork griot, and that was just an absolute delight to eat, and as good as, again, any other version of that dish that I've ever, ever made and that rhubarb extract is super simple to make and rhubarb's one of those great plants that just takes care of itself pretty much.
All you need to do is harvest it every year. There's amazing perennial. We now use that rhubarb extract instead of lemon juice for pretty much everything. So, on top of pancakes, it'll be rhubarb juice and a little bit of honey. Not rhubarb juice, so rhubarb extract. We put some rhubarb, chop it into inch pieces, put it in a pot, lightly cover it with some water, boil it, simmer it down, strain it, and then reduce it. That's it. And then that'll go in the fridge and it'll last a very, very long time because it's so acidic with that malic acid, and it's just a great replacement for lemons if you can't grow them.
Melissa: Okay. That is fascinating because in many of areas of the United States, because it's so big, a lot of people can grow citrus, but I happen to live just north enough and we're cold enough, same thing. There are some people that will grow it by bringing the trees indoors, but that you're confined to the pot size, all those things. So, I don't grow citrus either, but rhubarb, my rhubarb is just flourishing right now. It's just all coming up, probably a couple weeks until it's quite big enough to harvest, but I adore rhubarb. It's actually one of my favorite flavors, but I have not reduced it like you just explained. I'm so excited.
It'll be on in two weeks, so I'm going to do that, and that is just lovely and fascinating and pear, I just put in a pear tree of our own. Pear is one of my absolute favorite fruits. A lot of people love apple butter, but have you tried pear butter? I just adore pear. Anyways, it's one of my favorites. When you are explaining that dish, I'm like, I've got to go get this recipe and do these. It sounds so delightful and so good. So, anyways, I'm excited to try that and with the rhubarb, that is just fascinating. How far down do you, out of curiosity, is there just a guideline or just go by flavor, whatever, how far do you reduce that down?
Carl: What I'm going to do, I'm going to take a pot, I'm going to put as many chunks of rhubarb in as I want to manage, and then I'm just going to cover them with water, just enough water to cover them. Then I'm going to simmer that for maybe 20 minutes, use a potato masher and just break it up as best I can, and then I'm just going to reduce that liquid down to about a third. That's going to give me something about the same strength in terms of that acidity as lemon juice, and it means that I can use that then in any recipe that calls for a dash of lemon juice. It's not exactly the same flavor profile, but malic acid, which is what you're getting instead of citric acid, you're getting malic acid. It is something that you'll see on the back of crisp packets and things, used as a flavoring.
It's just not something that people are familiar with, because who knows why? I don't know why. Why aren't we doing this? It's brilliant. I don't know if it's because rhubarb, it's looked down on a little bit by people who aren't living the sort of lives we are. Rhubarb's looked down on a little bit, isn't it? I suppose it comes back to the stories I was telling before. All of a sudden, we could import these things from far away lands, these citrus fruits that here in the European times, we'd never seen them before, and all of a sudden we could import them. So, anyone who was still getting their acid from rhubarb, I suppose, was looked down upon them, and we've never really realized the ridiculousness of that situation. Well, I have, so there you go.
Melissa: My other thought is, when you look at this square footage, a lemon tree, I'm assuming you can get a lot of lemons, premature, grown in the correct environment, et cetera, probably volume wise. So, when we're looking at big agriculture and they're looking at maximum output for muddy returned on investment, my guess is if you took an acre of citrus trees fully mature versus an acre of rhubarb, you might be able to get more just because a tree produces way more than probably your crown of rhubarb. I don't know. That would be something I would be curious about as well.
Melissa: Maybe. I don't know though.
Carl: I'm not sure. I'm not sure, but from my point of view, so many of us would plant an apple tree or a whatever in our gardens, and again, I'm not talking about people like yourself and myself and probably most of the people listening, but most people wouldn't think, well, I want to plant some rhubarb and they should. Everyone should. If you're planting an apple tree, then you've got room for a rhubarb crown, haven't you?
Melissa: Agreed. Yeah. I do like a rhubarb barbecue sauce. Rhubarb, I love it as a dessert. It is fantastic by itself or even paired with strawberries. Strawberry rhubarb is one of the favorites, but I even like to use rhubarb as a base for barbecue sauce. It's really good.
Carl: I'll have to look that out.
Melissa: Yes. Yes, do. It's fun. It gives a different flavor and it allows you to not have to rely solely on tomatoes for barbecue sauce base. In fact, doesn't have any tomatoes at all. So, for people who you may have night shade issues, a lot of people have sensitivities to consuming night shade or tomato products sometimes, then rhubarb is obviously not in the night shade family, and so it could be a wonderful substitute if you have anybody who is allergic or sensitive to tomato products, whatnot, and it just gives a whole new thing that you can do and have this condiment or this space from a different thing, just like you were saying, rhubarb for lemon, use rhubarb as a tomato replacement in certain recipes.
Carl: Yeah. No, I love it. When I was doing my September challenge, talking about tomatoes, you say tomato, I say tomato. Talking about tomatoes, we had a awful, awful year for blight last year. It came in and it just destroyed all of my tomato crops, and in my head planning forwards, tomatoes make up such an integral part of a lot of our diet, at least in my household. We lost our entire tomato crop. We had, I think, one carrier bag full of tomatoes. That was it. That was all we harvested, and then the blight just wiped everything out. So, I was coming into my September challenge really nervous that I wasn't going to be able to have the variety that, perhaps, I thought I was going to be able to, because all of a sudden, all of these Italian sauces and Italian style dishes were almost off the menu.
Because it's not just me, it's my whole family, I had enough of my own tomatoes just to make one or two meals. But I have to say, that didn't happen in terms of the variety of what I was eating, because sometimes when I talk about this September challenge, people think that I'm going to be eating probably scrambled eggs on sour dough toast three times a day for a month, or what's the challenge in that? But I can tell you that if I were to show you my actual menu over the course of that month, no one, no one would think, what a restrictive diet. It was incredibly buried.
There was one night I made goats cheese, spinach and crayfish ravioli. I had that in a cheese source, in a goats cheese source. I'd strongly suspect that most people don't get to eat home cooked, homemade food. That sort of variety and caliber on a daily basis, and I was doing it with things that we had completely procured ourselves. We caught the crayfish out the river. We made the goats cheese from our own goats milk, and then the following night I would maybe have... I was planning to have a mushroom stroganoff. That was one of the dishes that didn't go well, but we don't need to dwell on that.
Melissa: Well, I like that you shared there was one that didn't go well.
Carl: Yeah, really didn't go. I had a bit of a wobble that day.
Melissa: I'm curious. What went wrong with the dish?
Carl: Everything went wrong with [inaudible 00:50:45]. I was using loads of dried mushrooms that I'd saved over a long period of time, and so it really hit me quite hard when the dish was basically virtually in edible, but I've got this thing where I believe that I can recreate any dish. I was riding high off the success of the pork griot, which I'd had a few days previous. I thought, well, I'm going to have a mushroom stroganoff, and I'll worry about how I'm going to recreate the flavors of a mushroom stroganoff without access to any of the ingredients while I'm making it. It just didn't go well. I had no cream, I had no mustard and I was trying to reproduce these things with what I had on hand, just some thickened milk or whatever it was. It couldn't have gone any worse.
Melissa: Was it edible or just not enjoyable?
Carl: It really comes down to what your definition of edible is really. It was certainly edible. It wasn't going to poison me. It wasn't enjoyable, but I think a lot of it was psychological, because one of I was doing this, it's all I was thinking about. I'd wake up in the morning and all I would think about is what I was going to be eating that day, because what I haven't mentioned yet on this particular conversation is that my wife and I also, we work full-time. We have full time jobs away from the house. So, I was having to squeeze all of the meal prep around that work and also the meal prep for what I was taking to work to eat, because that was one of the biggest challenges I actually found was I was in the habit of just, I would buy my lunch when I was out at work.
I would buy a lunch every day. That was something that had to stop. So, you plan everything. Your whole life, you just get consumed by this idea that, what am I eating? How am I going to prepare that? Well, do I need to prepare for tomorrow's dinner? So, you do all that, and then when you have such a failure like that, and I'd used up all these lovely mushrooms that I'd foraged and dried, it felt so much worse because I couldn't just reach for something else. That's fine, I'll give that to the animals and I'll just pull something else out the cupboard, because that wasn't a luxury I had, and I suppose in terms of the actual challenge of the challenge was the amount of time and effort that it took because I had no access to anything shop bought.
Everything, every single thing, every ingredient had to be processed myself, right from scratch, from its inception to its final place on the plate. There was nothing at all that I could do to do any shortcuts. That was definitely the biggest challenge in actually managing the whole month was the amount of time it took to live that way, and obviously having a full time job, it was all really concentrated in a few hours every day. My wife was, she was so sick of it. She said, I'm so ready for this to be over long before I was. I got into it, I was quite comfortable in it, but just because of the amount of washing up I was creating, a mess I was constantly creating in the kitchen, it was a different world because you don't realize how easy you have it when you can just reach for that jar of spices or whatever it might be, that condiment that you've got in the fridge.
And of course, the other thing to say is that you and I, we are living in a world where we're always reaching for things that we've prepared six months before. And of course, a lot of the time, those things that I prepared six months before, I hadn't prepared to the strict rules of this challenge. For the first two or three weeks, I was having to remake everything. There was nothing I had access to really, because even the pickles and things that I'd had in the fridge, they were used with shop bought sugar, for example, rather than the things that stuck to the rules of this challenge. So, normally, we get in the habit, simple, simple things. I do most of our family's cooking. I tend to do it at weekends. You'll have to shut me up if I'm rambling too much, Melissa. Please tell me.
Melissa: No. No, not all.
Carl: Most of our cooking I do at the weekends. So, on a Saturday, I will cook basically a dish and I'll cook 20 portions. There's five in our family. So, I'll cook enough to feed us for four nights. We'll have one that night, one portion or one set of five portions will go in the fridge to be eaten later that week, and then the other two sets of meals go in the freezer, and then I do the same on a Sunday. So, effectively, for two sets of cooking, I'm cooking enough for eight nights food for our family. And then every so often, we're dipping into the freezer, pulling something out and that's going into our...
All of that was gone. All of that was out the window, because they'd all use shop salt or whatever it might be. So, the first few days in the first week or two was much more difficult than the last days, because I was building up this repertoire of things that I could then pull out of the fridge and use, different condiments and sauces that would add the flavors I wanted that I didn't necessarily have to start from scratch with again, because I was building up that cycle of using, reusing and making and what we all do with our leftovers and stuff. It was a lot of work, a lot of physical, time consuming work to keep up with it all at the start, for sure.
Melissa: Yeah, because you held yourself to such a high standard there, like you said, even though we had made the pickles and grown the cucumbers, et cetera, there was ingredients in there that we hadn't processed, so you couldn't use it during the challenge. Even when you are able to use those things, when you are cooking predominantly from scratch, even allowing yourself to use store bought salt, whatnot, that type of stuff, truthfully, I was just having this conversation with a good friend of mine who has food allergies. Her children have two different food allergies. So, she said, I have to pretty much make everything from scratch because what one child can have in an ingredient, the other can't and to try to find things that meet both of their food allergies is almost impossible.
The same thing, she's like, it's like a full time job when you are literally making everything and then you're cleaning up. It's rinse and repeat. As a society, as a whole, we are not used to having to go to those lengths. So, I love that you brought all those points up. So, having went through this challenge and all of the things that it entailed, are you glad you did it and would you ever do it again willingly?
Carl: Yeah, I'm definitely glad I did it. I am doing it again every September, but I'm going to change it every year to maybe add some new elements or change it slightly and tinker with it. I like the idea of doing my September self-sufficiency challenge every year. Like I say, what the actual challenge is might change slightly. I like the idea, maybe one year of doing it based around utilities, so I don't use any utilities like the electricity or the water that comes into our house or whatever it might be. But yes, I'm definitely going to do it again. What actual format it takes this year, we'll have to wait and see, because we are moving house shortly and we're not really sure where we are going to sit in so far as food production come September, but I'll be doing something for sure.
And another thing to mention, you said, would I do it again, and what have you? Well, one thing that's changed permanently is I haven't had caffeine since then. I used to drink for a fair amount of coffee and I gave it up for the September challenge, because obviously I couldn't and I've had one medicinal coffee since then when I was on a long drive and I needed it to keep awake. But other than that, I haven't, and I've got no plans on going back to caffeine. There's definitely been long term repercussions from it. In terms of, am I glad I did it? A hundred percent and I've learned so much. Let me start again. Let me rephrase that. Most people who live in the Western world, in the developed world as we do have really no idea about out where their food comes from.
Most people have no idea at all. We are in the minority of people who really understand where our food comes from, but there is really no substitute to realizing how little you do know to then doing something like this and realizing how dependent you still are than doing something like this, because I genuinely didn't realize how dependent I was on mass production and the food system, the global food network and food chains. I didn't realize how dependent I still was, even though I was doing all of those things. It was a fantastic learning experience and really opened my eyes up. I went into this challenge of the feeling that it was going to be really, really easy. It really, really wasn't, and in different ways, in different ways than I thought. That's one of the main reasons I'm really glad I did it, because I just learned so much.
Melissa: Yeah. Well, I find it fascinating. I'm so glad that you shared it and that you're going to be doing it with different parameters each year. Yeah. You definitely are a learner at heart, Carl, which I always say is a prerequisite for home setting or self-sufficiency, whatever term you want to give it for the way of the way that we live. You have to be a self-discoverer as well as a learner in order to do it long term. So, you definitely meet both of those. So, I'll be fascinated to watch your next journey, your next challenge. So, for those who are listening are like, man, I want to join. I want to see more of what you're doing, where is the best place for listeners to connect with you?
Carl: Well, I've got the Self Sufficient Hub Podcast. I've recently changed its name to the Self Sufficient Hub Homestead Podcast, because I think that helps people to find it, and also the Self Sufficient Hub channel on YouTube. Those are the two best places to come and find me, and if you do happen to find yourself on the YouTube channel, I've got a separate playlist there, which was my September self-sufficiency challenge with all of the videos from each of the 30 days.
Melissa: Okay, great. Well, we will definitely link to those so that everybody can check them out and thank you so much for coming on.
Carl: Thank you, Melissa. It's been a blast.
Melissa: Well, I hope that you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. So many wonderful tidbits and things in there. And if you missed or you want to go in and actually be able to read out some of the different plants and substitutes and all of those fun things, you can grab that in the blog post that accompanies today's episode at melissaknorris.com/341. I want to thank you so much for listening to today's episode and I can't wait to be here with you next week. Blessings and Mason jars for now, my friends.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.