Reveling in Books: DIY (Old) Food, Knowledge Lost and Now Found

Want to make your own cheese? How about pickles or chow-chow? Sausage and headcheese? Raise a couple of cows or keep a flock of geese?

At a time when people want, no, need, to know the how-tos of old foodways, it seems that there’s a book for making just about everything. Fortunately, because this knowledge is dying out along with the older generation, many of whom had hands-on ties to pre-World-War-II American agriculture one way or another. If they themselves didn’t grow up on farms, their parents may well have and knew how to plant gardens and preserve the bounty.*

And summer is a mighty good time to put up a list of modern do-it-yourself food books, due to the profound proliferation of flora by the end of August. You might not pack your beach bag with any of these books, but they’re still handy to have perched somewhere at arm’s length when the zucchini plants and peach trees start reproducing like rabbits. Another time we’ll look at old books written long ago on how to survive with the work of your hands, taking a leaf so to speak from the books of Scott and Helen Nearing, among many, many others.

So let’s get started.

Foxfire booksOne resource that’s not THAT old is the Foxfire series, now up to 12 volumes covering nearly all aspects of life in southern Appalachia:  Learn how to do everything, from sausage-making to beekeeping and birthing babies.  There’s a cookery book, too.

Ball Complete Book of CanningBall Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Judi Kingry (2006) 400 recipes and tips on home canning.

Barnyard in BackyardBarnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cows, by Gail Damerow (2002) The way to raise six different types of animals: “pros and cons of raising the animal, housing and land requirements, feeding guidelines, health concerns, and a schedule for routine care.”

Basic ButcheringBasic Butchering of Livestock & Game, by John J. Mettler (1986) Written by a veterinarian, this book provides clear instructions on how to slaughter and dress animals for meat.

Bread BuildersThe Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens, by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott (1999) Laurel Robertson of Laurel’s Kitchen calls this book “ice cream for the bread baker!”

Charcuterie GrigsonCharcuterie and French Pork Cookery, by Jane Grigson (2008, originally printed in 1969) One of the first modern books on making your own sausages, ham, and other pork-based goods. Traditional European products.

French Fire CookingCooking with Fire: French Family Recipes & More for Woodfire Ovens, by Maurice Sabbagh Yotnegparian (2007) The founder of Earthstone Ovens shares 83 of his recipes and techniques for using a wood-burning oven for much more than just bread.

CheesemakingHome Cheesemaking, by Ricki Carroll (2002) Artisanal cheese and equipment how-tos.

Magic of FireThe Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking, by William Rubel (2004) Presents recipes and techniques, and also delves into just what cooking is all about. “The poetry of fire.”

Meat smoking designMeat-Smoking and Smokehouse Design, by Stanley Marianski (2006) Cold- and hot-smoking techniques and details, as well as 100 drawings and fifty photos on how to build your own smokehouse.

Preserving FoodPreserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation, by The Gardeners and Farmers of the Centre Terre Vivante (2007) 250 recipes based on the work of French organic farmers and the centuries-old techniques they use to preserve foods from their gardens and fields. “Centre Terre Vivante is an ecological research and education center located in Mens, Domaine de Raud, a region of southeastern France.”

Root CellaringRoot Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, by Mike Bubel (1991) What foods to store in a root cellar, how-tos for different living situations (country, city), and how to build your own root cellar.

Seed to SeedSeed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, by Suzanne Ashworth (2002) Instructions and information on saving seeds from 160 different plants.

*A lot of this American food knowledge ended up on pages written by  authors with the Federal Writers’ Project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Left to ferment in the bowels of the Library of Congress, it wasn’t until food writer Mark Kurlansky came upon the old files while researching another book that momentum gathered to publish these amazing accounts of America’s former food life. The Food of a Younger Land contains many of the multitude of articles yet to be studied, edited, and published. Another book on the same subject, America Eats, by Pat Willard, offers  more or less the same material, although Willard actually traveled to many of the places mentioned in the WPA project papers.

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

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3 comments

  1. The Ball book is the best home canning book available. I am sure interested in the root cellaring and seed saving books. I’ll have to check them out.

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