A number of books have come out in the last few years about living a homemade life, few of those books are as bookmarked and tattered as my copy of Billee Sharp’s Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It: The D.I.Y. Guide to the Good Life.
I’ve marked pages on how to make bath salt, mix homemade eco-paint, along with making kombucha and pickles from scratch. The book is a basic guide to creating more with less, and like my black and white polka dotted apron with red trimming and strings, it gets used daily.
In the introduction, the author tells the story of how in the 1990’s she trekked across the globe—from London to California—where she started a family and independent record label with her husband. In the process, she found ways to live happily and affordably and figure out what she wanted most from life. Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It offers Sharp’s hands-on experience and serves as a guidebook to help you live better than ever on less.
The idea is simple. To start, you must ask what it is you really want to do in life and then take actions steps toward your goals. Sharp offers the following example. Let’s say you want to be an artist. Think of all the related job titles that apply—such as, artist, art teacher, art tutor, art therapist, gallerist, curator, art museum worker. Even if you’ve never considered most of the jobs on your list, research the possibilities. Perhaps you can volunteer or set up an internship to gain experience in your field of interest.
The next step is to create a budget and live within your means—this may mean cutting back on non-fixed expenses (like cable t.v., internet service, magazine subscriptions) and practicing extreme thrift by using your library card, putting away a dollar a day in a jar, or utilizing your skills for trade. Personal goals and finances are the basics to master followed by a plan to create a healthier lifestyle. The author also teaches how to cook healthy meals for pennies, eco-clean the house with lemons and lavender, join a seed sharing community garden, and organize a free market. It’s an indispensable how-to book that covers every area of life.
After reading this book, we fixed our leaky faucet, kept the slugs off our red leaf lettuce by placing crushed eggshells and coffee grounds around each plant, and cured a bee sting by applying apple cider vinegar on the sting to draw out the poison and stop the swelling. We also picked blackberries from our garden yesterday with plans to make Sharp’s simple blackberry jam recipe. I’d say we’re off to a good start.
Simple Blackberry Jam
from Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It by Billee Sharp
2 cups blackberries (or try raspberries or strawberries)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 strand of lemon rind
optional: an apple slice
equipment: water bath, jars with lids, tongs
Crush the berries with a potato masher, but not too hard. Put all the ingredients in a stockpot and boil over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring the mixture to prevent it from sticking or burning. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to boil and stir. Remove any foam with a large spoon.
After a while, usually half an hour, the jam will begin to thicken up. You can put it in the fridge to speed up the process; test the readiness by lifting a spoonful and seeing if it sets. If your jam doesn’t thicken, you can add a little more lemon juice or a slice or two of apple. Pectin, which is regularly used thicken jams and jellies, is made from apples. Thus, a slice of apple will serve the same purpose.
When the jam is ready, pour it into sterilized jars The jars should be warm then the jam is added, so keep the sterilized articles in the oven, dishwasher, or canning water bath until you need them; ditto the lids and rings. Make sure to leave a generous 1/2-inch gap between the jam and the top of the jar—this is known as headspace in the world of jam. Place the lids on the jars and screw them on firmly.
Place the sealed jars into the water bath and cover with at least an inch of water. Boil for 10 minutes. Using jar tongs, lift the jars and let them cool at room temperature. You will hear the lids seal when they make a popping noise as the domed lid is sucked down.
Processed jam will last at least a year and makes a lovely gift. For small batches you can make your jam and store it in the fridge as soon as it has cooled off. If you freeze berries, you can defrost them and make jam whenever you need it.