Here at the Shire Journal we are delighted to bring you another guest author. Lucy Inglis runs the 'Georgian London' website, which has recently won the 'History Website of 2009' as voted for by the online readers of History Today magazine. Most of the time Lucy can be found swimming around the 18th century but today she is looking closer to home, and her own experiences at her grandparents small-holding.
'When small-holding declined in the late Seventies and Eighties, it was in favour of the convenience of cheap food and the lure of the supermarket. No other European country took to the supermarket with such enthusiasm and now the appeal of aisles of cheap imports has palled. Many dream of chickens, eggs and a better, more self-sufficient lifestyle, where frugality is rewarded with an improved diet. Most allotments have long waiting lists, or have stopped taking names altogether.
When I was a child my father worked away, my mother had my baby sister to take care of, and so I spent a lot of time on my grandparents Yorkshire small-holding. There, they grew almost everything they ate, except Shredded Wheat, the smell of which still reminds me of cold mornings in their clattering kitchen. They bought me a tiny Welsh pony for my second birthday, because we would grow up together and to make me responsible for someone else (she died eight years ago, as much a pet as our dogs). Early morning jobs included fending off the spurred cockerel with a rake and running into the hen house to put warm eggs into a straw-line plastic bucket. Later, Gran taught me to wring the necks of the hens who no longer laid. I cried all the way through the first one, but I drank the resulting soup happily. I learned how to make bread, the importance of closing gates and how kill a rat with a pitchfork, which mushrooms are good poached in a little hot cream and laid carefully on a piece of toast, and which will make you see blue spots. I could drive a tractor at ten, and a car at thirteen. Endless hours were spent netting raspberries, squishing cabbage white caterpillars from green leaves and carefully moving blind kittens from baling machinery in such a way so their mother would not abandon them.
I am still surprised when I am able to pick things out of the hedgerows and know they are safe to eat, having absorbed it thirty years ago without realizing it. The current enthusiasm for small-holding has its roots in food-culture and economic difficulty, but I hope the result is a realization that self-sufficiency is more than simply about food, it\'s about self-reliance and an awareness of not just what we eat, but how.'