One of the best, most comprehensive collections on rural, old fashioned homesteading is The Foxfire Series. They take place in the late 1960’s, in rural Appalachia. Eliot Wigginton, a fresh graduate from Cornell, moved to Rabun Gap, Georgia, in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. At the local high-school, he was in charge of teaching high school English to very uninterested students.
After a few weeks of struggling, Eliot gave up. He asked the students what they wanted to do. In the guise of writing a magazine, he asked the students what they wanted to write about. They wanted to write about something close to home.
The dedication he leaves at the beginning of the book:
“This book is dedicated to the people of these mountains in the hope that, through it, some portion of their wisdom, ingenuity and individuality will remain long after them to touch us all.”
A lot of families in this small, Georgian town still lived without running water or electricity. But their rural way of life was slowly dying out and being forgotten. Eliot sent his students out to talk to their family members and neighbors, sometimes for the firs time. Together they recorded and collected information on homesteading in rural Appalachia.
- Volume One contains knowledge on hog dressing, building a log cabin, soapmaking, preserving fruits and vegetables, hunting, cooking wild animals, home remedies, moonshining, planting and weather by the signs, and other stories and folklore. And that’s just one book!
- Volume Two goes over beekeeping, foraging, woodworking, raising sheep, midwifery, and ghost stories.
- Volume Three includes information on raising cattle, tanning hide, ginseng, foraging, building a smokehouse, and crafting cornshuck mops, dolls and hats.
- Volume Four talks about fiddle making, spring houses, sassafras tea, horse trading and gardening.
- Volume Five goes over ironmaking, blacksmithing, bear hunting, gunmaking, and other stories.
- I haven’t read volumes Six through Twelve yet, but if you do, or already have, please leave a comment below and let me know how they are!
In all of the homesteading forums and Facebook groups, people eventually recommend the Foxfire series. I have to whole-heartedly join them in this recommendation. It is entertaining, educational, thorough, and inspirational. The instructions are gone over in such beautiful detail, with such wonderful pictures, you’ll feel confident taking on any new project inspired by them. The section on how to build a log cabin inspired me so much I felt like I’d be able to do it myself!
While I find the educational article the most useful, the stories are beautifully written and give you a sense of homesteading culture. For those of us who did not grow up homesteading, and are figuring it out as we go along, the Foxfire Series becomes a teacher. We may not have been able to hear Grandpa’s tales while fixing a tractor engine, or listen to Grandma’s ghost stories while helping her shell peas but the Foxfire Series is the next best thing.
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