What cooking skills could your character learn? How should your character care for cast iron? What experiences might your characters bond over? What kind of advice can an adult ask a child for that would make them thrilled? What tastes awful? Find out on this episode. 

Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s weekly inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode #72, 10 Generationally Passed Skills (Part 2). Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could possibly go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.

 Rural life has many skills that are passed down from one generation to the next. Some are passed down to everyone, and others are passed down to individuals who want to learn them. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even older siblings can teach these skills. Today we will cover 10 more of them. 

11) Cooking

Cooking is a learned skill, and recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes they are tweaked, and many times they are not. In most cases, women are the ones teaching. Other times it is the men. In my case, my dad taught me to cook. In fact, when he was teaching me to make bread he messed it up so badly, there was flour on the ceiling, but it was so fun, I wanted to keep cooking. 

There are many things that can be learned, and it will depend on the tribe, era, foods available, and other factors to decide what your character will be learning to cook. Some of the things they can learn are to cook over an opened fire, how to turn wheat into bread, how to cook in a kiln oven, how to use modern stoves and ovens, how to know if the food is fully cooked, how to make the fire for open cooking, how to cook from scratch (that means starting with the individual ingredient and making a meal instead of premixed things you bought at the store), smoking meat, barbecuing, and so much more. 

Historically, and I assume in an apocalypse staple foods were something that was taught. These include, but are not limited to, butter, cornmeal, bread, biscuits, and even things like making flour and sugar. 

Cooking can be a bonding experience, or just another chore. How people see cooking largely depends on their mindset. 

12) Caring for cast iron 

Historically, cast iron is one of the most widely used types of metal to cook with. The first known cast-iron skillet came from the Han Dynasty in China, in roughly 220 AD. Cast iron was a staple cooking tool by the 16th century in Europe. By the 18th century in America, some books refer to them as more valuable than gold. With a tool this important, caring for it is essential. 

One thing everyone with cast iron knows is that it should never be cleaned with soap. I know that sounds crazy! However, the heat the cast iron conducts will be enough to kill germs. While soap does kill germs, it also affects the coating of the cast iron that keeps it from rusting. 

Ok, I know I just lost some of you, so let me explain. You see, cast iron will rust easily when it comes in contact with water. To stop this process, your character will season the skillet or other cast iron. Seasoning means that a thin layer of oil, or fat, is covering the cast iron. This thin layer protects the cast iron, makes it nonstick, and can leave a distinct flavor. Some people can tell when it is cooked in cast iron, and others can’t. Soap will break apart this thin layer and the cast iron is susceptible to rust when this happens. 

Instead, cast iron is wiped out after every use, and rinsed in hot water. The seasoning will keep it safe from the water. Then it is carefully patted dry, and some people even warm it back up to make sure it is fully dry. A thin layer of oil can be added if it is needed. That’s about all there is to this one. 

Ok, I hear some of you, “But Alley, what if it gets really gross?” Good question. That depends on what gross we are talking about. If the oil your character used to cook with has floaties and other debris, it is brought to cooking temperature, and corn starch is added. It will cook the corn starch, but the corn starch will combine with the nastyies, and can be removed like this. 

If something horrible happened, and there is no other option but to wash the cast iron, it can be done with a wash and heat up method, until all the black flakes come off. These black flakes are the seasoning when it is removed in this way. It can take time and a cast iron scrubber is used. A cast iron scrubber is basically a small section of chain-mail. Literally looks like the links of chain-mail. This is used so scrapers do not scrape up the cast iron. After it is clean of all the flakes, it is immediately re-seasoned. No one waits to re-season it the next day, and your character should not either. If they did, it would be one giant rust pot, and no one wants to eat rust. 

Seasoning is done by covering the whole thing in a layer of oil or fat. Sometimes more than one layer is added. always wipe off extra oil so there is not a grease fire. Then it is heated for an hour. This can be done on a preheated stove or open fire, but this can risk spots not being fully seasoned. An oven is always best to heat it as this will give it even heating and cooling, but it will work with a stove or open fire. Once it is fully seasoned, turn off the heat, or take it off the open fire or stove, and let it cool before trying to use it. This can be done to re-season it if the seasoning comes off. 

One other thing to remember is cast iron doesn’t do well with acidic foods. Tomatoes, vinegar, and citric can strip the seasoning off the cast iron, and makes the food taste off. As in, it will not taste like it should, and your character might not know why if they do not know that acidic foods can cause this. 

Cast iron is most often thought of as a skillet, but there are pots, pans, dutch ovens, and even cauldrons. I have heated water for washing laundry in a giant cauldron. That was fun! 

13) Woodworking

Wood working, in this context, is using wood to make things. Historically, this was done with hand tool, AKA none electric tools. This could be, but is not limited to, log cabins, wooden furniture, wagons, wooden henges, new handles for axes and gardening tools, making bookcases, making sewing machine tables, barns, windmills, water mills, and so much more. 

Wood working is a skill that can be as easy or as hard as you make it. I can make simple stuff that is functional and will do. I know many people who can make all kinds of things that are fancier than I can do. I still remember a story about my grandfather going to town to buy some henges, and my great-grandfather had made and installed some wooden henges before he got back from town, and told him he was wasting money on the store bought henges. 

There are intricate pieces all the way back to ancient Egypt and ancient China. Both could make locks that were more complicated than we use today. Sturdy furniture that could be passed down from generation to generation was the normal up until modern furniture became popular in the 1960s. 

Woodwork is still popular, but many times it is done with modern electric tools, which make things a whole lot faster. Although changing tools, every little bit can get tedious. 

14) Small engines

Learning how to work on small engines is next on this list. Yes, for the most part it is a more modern skill, but some of the skills were used for things like well pumps, as far back as 250 BC in Rome and Greece when the Archimedean screw was invented. These have clearly advanced and many things have been added together to make the small engines we know today. 

Some of the things that use small engines today include, but are not limited to, well pumps (you knew it was coming), lawn mowers, weed eaters, chainsaws, go-carts, and more. Most of these are tools that are needed in rural life. Some are just fun. This skill seems to be picked up well by some and others have a hard time with it. It just depends on the individual. However, it is always a great bonding experience, and kids love when they are asked for their opinion on how to fix something. 

15) Butchering

Part of rural life is raising your own food. This includes your own meat in many cases. Whether you personally eat meat or not, there is no denying that it is a huge part of human life. Rural characters will be able to do this without much of a fuss. Yes, it can, and likely will, be bloody, but that is something most people get over before they are three. Why that young, because it isn’t something that is hidden, or made out to be shameful. People have to eat, and this is where it comes from. 

Butchering means killing the animal, skinning or plucking it, and removing the internal organs. If you are fancy, it will also mean cutting up the different cuts of meat. 

Now, I know some of you are wondering how kids are not attached to the animals. First, if they know that is what the livestock will become, they don’t get attached the same way. Second, no one is allowed to name the animals. I got a whippen on more than one occasion for trying to name them. 

And last, well, do you guys remember Charlotte’s Web, where the little girl bottle feeds the pig and takes care of it, then when it is time to butcher they find a way to save it? Yeah, in real life, our parents not only butchered it, but forced us to be the ones to do it. My brother still tells stories about being forced to do that. 

Now if you are thinking that is harsh, maybe, but historically, and after the apocalypse, you have to do what you have to do to eat and survive, and you have to teach it to your children too. Sometimes it is hard, like with my brother, and sometimes it isn’t. This is different with every single person. 

16) Wild edibles (including what not to eat) 

Learning what to eat and what not to eat in the forest, or even your own front yard, could save your character’s life. What happens if after the apocalypse their home burns down with all their food in it? they need to find food. What about if they are lost after a plane crash? They will need to know what to eat, and what is dangerous to eat. 

Food is essential to life. However, there are other important things your character will find useful. Some plants can be used like bandaids, and others can be used like an antiseptic. Some can be made into tea for pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and more. Did you know the liquid in the green part of a walnut shell has been used as a wormer for animals and people? Yep, and it tastes awful! 

Knowing these things can not only save your character, but could make life easier on them too. If, after the apocalypse, they are the only some to know some of these things, then it is a skill people will seek them out for. That could be good or bad. It also helps to find a way to make money or barter and trade. All things to think about. 

17) Shooting guns

This is one that is part of everyday life, in all rural communities, even today. Shooting guns can be used for many things, hunting, and self-defence are at the top of the list. It can also be used to scare off unwanted predators of both the four and two-legged kind. pretty much everyone knows how to use a gun and how to safely handle it. I know little old ladies that are close to 100 and can still shoot better than I ever hoped to, and I’m not a bad shot. If your character lives in a rural setting and doesn’t have a gun, they are a huge exception, and you better have a good reason, because it is not normal and will stick out like a sore thumb. 

18) Soap making 

Making soap is a skill that is passed down. Granted, in modern times you can learn from YouTube, but it was only launched in 2005. As of the time I am recording this, that makes it less than 20 years old. 

There are many different methods to make. The oldest being animal fat and wood ash. Yes, that really does make a type of soap. Lye soap has been around for thousands of years, but is sadly illegal, at least where I live, to teach anyone to make, so you’ll have to look that up yourself. It is super simple, but your character will need to be careful. Lye water before it is made into soap can chemically burn the skin. 

19) Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing has been around since man first started using metals. The original ones were to make spear heads, arrow heads, and in some cases, pots. Blacksmithing has grown as more metals were found, and made, and more techniques were invented. Everything from weapons to wagon wheels and horse shoes have been made by blacksmiths. 

Blacksmiths were typically men, and almost all were very talented at their job. I have had hand forged (That means made by a blacksmith) tools before and they were better than anything you can buy at the store today. In fact, I have a few that even survived the house fire that was so hot it cracked my cast-iron skillet. 

Modern blacksmiths can typically weld as well. 

There are many back yard blacksmiths. This means people that are not professionals, but do enjoy doing little projects. I did this as a teen and learned how to turn screw drivers into chisels. 

A fun side note, don’t do this in the fire place in the living room if you have carpeted floors. My dad did, and he branded the carpet when my best friend’s pretty mom walked in. Yes, it was just as funny as what you pictured. 

20) Leather working 

Leather working is another skill that is passed down. Historically, it was passed down to everyone so people could make clothing, shoes, gloves and more. Native Americans used them to make teepees. Other things they can be used to make are saddles, belts, armor, bags, harness, quivers, water bags, and much more. 

Making the leather itself is a process and can be done a few different ways. What a person planes to do with it can also inference how it is made. Some winter boots and gloves were leather on the outside and fur on the inside. Tepees would be hard leather with no fur. Saddles needed to be tough. Book binding was popular at a certain time in history. Water bladders and tepees would need to be water proof. All of these were a different process. 

Many people also thought of ways to decorate the leather. This could be by the thread they use, shells, paint, smoking them other colors, or leather designs in the leather itself. These were passed down and improved apron over the generations. 

Fun fact: Lye soap is still the number one all natural soap in the world. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Before we get to the best part, if you enjoy this podcast, I hope you’ll take a minute to follow, rate, and review on your favorite podcasting platform. And if you are listening on YouTube, subscribe, hit the like button, and drop me a comment; I love to hear from you and answer questions! Don’t forget to share with a friend. As always, you can find episode show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. Now for everyone’s favorite part! 

Likely to go wrong: Your character is a blacksmith. As they are hammering red hot metal, it sends sparks flying. One of them lands on your character burning them. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character is cooking and needs to add sugar to their recipe. The sugar and salt containers look alike and are not well labeled. They mistakingly use salt. The food comes out too salty to eat. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character is learning to smoke leather and gets it too close to the fire burning a section of the leather. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character is cooking in their cast-iron skillet and let the food sit too long in the skillet, burning it to the skillet. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character doesn’t know to season the cast-iron skillet. They wash it with soap and water after using it. The next day it is covered in rust. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character misidentify’s a berry plant. If they are lucky, it will induce vomiting. If they are unlucky, this could be deadly. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is working on a small engine after it has been going for a bit. When they touch it, they burn themselves on the hot metal. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character chemically burns their hand in lye water, because they didn’t know to use gloves. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is shooting guns and one shot doesn’t fire. Just as they try to take it out, it delay fires, and scares your character. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character tires to butcher an animal after the apocalypse. They have to stop several times to keep from being sick, as they are very grossed out by blood. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character carefully crafts a wood chair for their potential spouse. However, they are not as good at this as they think, and the first time the person tries to sit in the chair, it collapses on them. 

Thanks for listening! Until next time, happy wordsmithing.