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Heavy, real paper books are something I have to think twice about packing up and lugging along my transatlantic journey from the USA to Tanzania. This means that all the books that have made it over here with me are well-vetted, well-loved, and, in our off-grid life, indispensable because of their practical and non-battery-dependent content.
In this post I’d like to share the top books from a few different homemaking- and homesteading-type categories that have made the journey with me and which I refer to time and again.
1. Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World
by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutsen
I was gifted this book by friends in Pittsburgh, and it’s a great “gateway” guide for those interested in DIY all-natural and homemade solutions for everyday life. The book has great projects written up by a witty and ingenious couple devoted to finding ways to do things themselves (i.e. do things better). It features projects large and small, which are scaled so that wherever you are in the world or on the DIY spectrum, you’re guaranteed to be able to make some positive changes and / or try one of their many doable projects, like vermiculture or growing microgreens. Towards the larger and more-involved projects are chicken coop construction and what Coyne and Knutsen refer to as “backwards beekeeping”; both are sections that inspire the interested reader to do further research elsewhere.
Originally titled “Old Fashioned Recipe Book,” this book has inspired hundreds of thousands of people since the early 1970s. I found a copy for myself at a used book sale a few years ago, which I bought mostly for sentimental reasons at the time (my mom has her own beat-up copy). Little did I know how much helpful information I would find inside. Reading the introduction and all of Emery’s personal experiences intermixed with her practical and down-to-earth guidance is truly eye-opening and sometimes jaw-dropping.
2. The New Laurel’s Kitchen
by Laurel Robertson, Carol L. Flinders, & Brian Ruppenthal
Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, this updated version of “Laurel’s Kitchen” is an essential cookbook because of its can-do tone and its devotion and faith in proper nutrition and its place in family life. It has the perfect mix of warm and friendly guidance through its descriptions of cooking and baking techniques, recipes, and nutritional advice. For data-oriented people like me, it’s also appealing for its nutritional tables of all of the foodstuffs used in its recipes. This book saves you the hassle and time drain of endlessly googling whole-food recipes and nutrition facts for semi-obscure ingredients, (I speak from experience on this). Put your smartphone aside and let Laurel guide you – you’ll be glad you did!
Jeavons’ gardening methods are taught to and promoted by Peace Corps volunteers, which goes to show how proven his methods are in improving soil and garden production all over the world and with limited resources. Jeavons’ focus is on soil health: good soil will grow healthy and productive crops. This book has in-depth guidance on composting, soil amendment, and garden bed preparation. Its planting advice uses French intensive gardening methods, which maximize usage of the surface area of a garden bed more so than other popular methods like square foot gardening or planting in rows. Again, for data-oriented people like me, this book has fantastic appendices chock-full of growth and nutritional data for almost every imaginable crop you’d like to plant in your garden or on your farm.
5. Introduction to Animal Science
by W. Stephen Damron
For those who have little or no experience in keeping livestock, this textbook can answer many basic questions and provide you with a good biological background as you expand your knowledge further. (I linked to the 2012 edition because used copies of that next-to-most-recent edition are pretty inexpensive on Amazon.) This book’s animal nutrition and feeding, sheep and goat, and rabbit sections are particularly informative. For those interested in ration balancing and mixing their own animal feed, this is a good place to start. It also has helpful charts for calculating adjusted lamb and kid weight gains and good information on rabbit housing needs. This is another book that has given me accurate information without me making endless Google searches for the exact same information!
What are some of your favorite books you refer to again and again? I’d love to hear.