Can You DIY? Learn How to Do What Your Grandparents Knew

Sweeten with honey, darn a sock, and refrigerate without electricity: Learn how to do what your grandparents knew

Before the global sugar industry, local honey was the universal sweetener. Because raw honey has antibacterial properties and  tends to crystallize, it can store indefinitely.

HONEYcomb.jpgStock up on raw, local honey in the summer when it’s been freshly collected. The freshest and purest honey will crystallize rapidly—and this is a good thing. It’s what preserves the quality of the honey. The actual rate of granulation will depend on the floral source: Blackberry honey may granulate in two weeks, while fall wildflower honey takes about a month. Honey granulates quickest at 57°F, so aim for that.

When you need some honey, scoop crystals into an open jar. Set the jar into a pot of hot water for a minute or so, and it will return to its clear and liquid state. Then you’re ready to use it.

For baking, substitute 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of honey per cup of white sugar. Reduce the amount of other liquids by 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup for every cup of honey used. Lower the oven temperature about 25°F because honey browns faster than sugar. Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey in your recipe, because honey is naturally acidic and baking soda will temper it. 

Darn a Sock

Put an old lightbulb or glass jar into the sock so that it shows through the hole. That keeps the material supported and gives a smooth surface for your needle work.

SOCK.jpgThread a large needle with thread similar in weight to the thing you’re mending: Embroidery floss works for cotton or synthetic socks.

Use a small running stitch to circle the hole, far enough outside the damage that the fabric won’t unravel later. Don’t use any knots; leave the ends unsecured.

Use long stitches to stitch horizontally across the length of the hole. You will eventually weave a framework of stitches to fill in the damaged area. Sometimes it’s easier if you turn the sock upside down on every other stitch.

Once your horizontal stitches are done, turn your sock sideways and start weaving your thread vertically, in and out of the horizontal stitches. Secure the vertical weave at the end of the row with a couple of small running stitches. Turn your sock the opposite way and weave again. Keep going until your hole is filled in.

Capture Wild Yeast

You don’t need a package of yeast from the store to make a loaf of bread.


Mix 1/2 cup filtered or spring water (no chlorine!) with 1/2 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup of white bread flour (using malted barley flour can also be helpful) in a glass bowl. Cover the bowl with a wet towel to let air in but keep bugs out. A warm day is optimal. Let the culture sit for 36 hours. After that, feed your culture every 12 hours by removing half of the old culture and replacing with a mixture of white and rye flour and an equal amount of 85°F water. Mark the level of the culture so you’ll know how much rising has happened.

The culture should get more vigorous with each feeding. When the culture is bubbly and doubles itself in 12 hours, around Day 4, you can start feeding with only white flour and water.

After about five to seven days, a successful culture can double itself in eight hours or less, smells pleasantly sour, and is full of bubbles. That’s when a “culture” becomes a “starter,” and it’s ready to bake with. Store as you would any commercial sourdough starter.

If your culture is slow to get going, some people suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar to raise the acidity, which encourages the yeast.

kale flowerSave Kale Seeds

Kale is a winter green and offers more nutrients per serving than any other vegetable. In mild climates it can be a four-season crop. Once temperatures rise, older kale plants will start going to seed. Kale plants create hundreds of tiny flowers on stalks that emerge where the leaves attach to the stem. In a couple of weeks, the flower petals fall off and seed pods form on the stalks. Let the pods ripen and dry on the plant—they’ll get brown and brittle—then harvest the largest pods. Remove the seeds from their pods—there will be hundreds—save them in a paper bag, and plant them in early spring. 

Refrigerate Without Electricity

The pot-in-pot cooler uses the evaporative power of water to draw heat energy away from the contents. In Nigeria, where 90 percent of villages have no electricity, these pots preserve tomatoes for 21 days instead of two or three days.

In a well ventilated dry area, place a small clay pot inside a larger clay pot. Fill the space in between them with wet sand and keep it moist. Cover the top with a cloth. Store produce in the inner pot.

As the water evaporates, it pulls heat out with it, making the inside pot cold.