- Virginia Johnson
Anybody interested in DIY projects or maker culture or just getting back to basics should take a gander at the Foxfire series of books. Beginning in the late 60s and continuing on through today, a class at a rural Georgia high school decided to take a different tack at English class and create a magazine.
They had no money so the venture needed to pay for itself. As there was little market for poetry or short stories found in ordinary high school magazines, they decided to print folklore and folk ways gathered from people in their own community. It was the beginning of something amazing.
The magazines eventually morphed into books—a whole slew of them. The first Foxfire book sold over a million copies and is still in print. They collected their very readable material in the hills from elders who still kept to the old ways.
Aunt Arie was such an elder. Living in a log cabin with no running water and just one fireplace, much as one might have done in the 1880s, she was gracious with her time and her teaching. The students used a tape recorder and captured the way she spoke as well as the way she worked. For work she did—butchering hogs (and using almost every bit), putting up food, gardening and more. All at 84.
They found other folk to discuss woodcraft—kinds of wood and how to work with it up to and including building a log cabin with a rock chimney. Of course, a house needs to be furnished with chairs and beds and quilts and baskets and how to make these things was shown to them and are diagrammed in the book. Recipes were asked and given (and shared with readers) for Brunswick Stew, Hushpuppies, Gingerbread, Carrot Cake and more, including home remedies. Later an entire Foxfire book would be devoted to just Appalachian cooking.
More talk yielded advice on hunting as well as dressing game and some cherished stories from long ago. The book’s chapters on snake lore, the art of making moonshine and faith healing round out the first Foxfire book, making for enlightening and entertaining reading about a close-to-the-earth culture that nearly slipped away unrecorded.
Other volumes run the gamut from making musical instruments to gathering wild foods to ghost stories, spinning, weaving, and midwifery. Of course, everything old is new again, and fans of today’s “maker culture” could learn quite a bit from the do-it-yourself ways preserved in these pages as carefully as kettle-cooked apple butter.