Sometimes you have on your shelves books that collect dust year after year. Other books are referred to almost daily. I don't actually refer to it every day but perhaps my very favorite of all books I have ever owned is The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. It is currently in its tenth edition and has been published in a number of formats of increasing length and content for over thirty years. What it contains is what Ms. Emery hoped would be "everything someone would want or need to know about family food production...a complete reference, an encyclopedia of information and skills, a practical resource anyone could use..." It is a nearly exhaustive accumulation of knowledge for living off the land and doing it yourself.
Since the inception of this book, many of it's kind have followed but none, I think, so extensive (or so wonderfully charming) as this.
I used it to find a jam recipe recently but I love to read the index to people who have never heard of it. It contains information (among many, many other things) on choosing and buying land, primitive shelter building, giving birth, caring for your dead, candlestick making, dutch-oven baking, composting, gardening, mushroom cultivating, old-time hand harvesting, crop storage and grain grinding, sugar cane production, wild food foraging, creating home made cosmetics and cleaners, tree pruning, nut roasting, wood harvesting and reforestation, canning, drying, preserving and storing, pesticide contamination, animal husbandry, home butchering, hunting, small animal skinning, hide tanning, soap making, pond farming, raising poultry, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits and bees, cheese making and recipes for everything from jam to blood sausage to slow roasted turtle.
It also contains anecdotes from Carla's life and stories, recipes and tips from many of the thousands of readers who have enjoyed and contributed to this remarkable tome over the years. It's the book our great, great, great grandmothers would never have needed but one that every back-to-basics mom should have at hand today.
On the acknowledgments page of the volume I own is the following poem by an unknown author:
Mama's Mama, on a winter's day,
Milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule,
And got the children off to school.
Did the washing, mopped the floors,
Washed the windows and did some chores.
Cooked a dish of home-dried fruit,
Pressed her husbands Sunday suit,
Swept the parlor, made the bed,
Baked a dozen loaves of bread.
Split some wood and lugged it in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin,
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she thought might spoil,
Churned the butter, baked a cake,
Then exclaimed: "For Mercy's sake,
The calves have got out of the pen!"
Went out and chased them in again,
Gathered the eggs and locked the stable,
Returned to the house and set the table,
Cooked a supper that was delicious,
And afterwards washed all the dishes,
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose,
Then opened the organ and began to play,
"When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day."
It sounds like a crazy nightmare to some but is more like my dream of the most perfect life. And this amazing book has directions on how to live it.
Go ahead, get yourself a copy. How else are you going to know which organs of an elk are edible?