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My ten favourite simple living/growing/cooking/making books

Posted by on Tuesday 11 October 2011 in cooking, Featured, growing, making, wild food | 5 comments

(Inspired by book-aholic buying behaviour this month, I’ve decided to have a bit of a book-themed week both here and on my recycling site, Recycle This.)

Despite living on the internet & using it/blogs for most of my day-to-day info, I’ve got quite a few simple living related books and as you might expect, some are better than others. Some were chosen after careful research, others randomly picks from charity shops & the like – but as is often the case, there is little correlation between that and which are the better books!

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites:


  • The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour – this is a great overview book of so many different things. It’s admittedly more aspiration than practical for me at the moment – and because it covers so many different areas, it doesn’t feel like the most practical book anyway (it doesn’t have space to go into detailed how-tos/trouble-shooting on each different topic) but it’s still very useful. If I was fleeing to escape the zombie hordes*, this is probably the non-fiction book I’d grab.



  • The Vegetable & Herb Expert by DG Hessayon – my first veg growing book and the one I keep going back to over & over again. Not hugely detailed on each type & some bizarre comments about only eating chillis if they’re part of “your heritage”, but very clear, with lots of pictures (very useful when troubleshooting pests/diseases) and packed with useful info.
  • Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom – this book is almost the opposite of the Hessayon – lots of detail but not anywhere near as easy to dip into and few illustrations. I like them together but would struggle with the Larkcom on its own.
  • The Edible Container Garden: Fresh Food from Tiny Spaces by Michael Guerra – I was a little disappointed when I got this as it includes a lot of whitespace, big pretty rather than purposeful pictures and a lot of general overview text — but the 30 pages on “what shall I grow?” made the book worth it – very useful reference information about varieties, pot depths etc. I would recommend it to anyone who grows more than just the basic herbs in containers – but try to find a secondhand one so you don’t resent paying for the padding.



  • Mushrooms by Roger Philips – not a field guide but a very comprehensive, very clear reference book for all sorts of fungi found in the British isles and thereabouts. No “if it’s got this shape cap, it’s this” identification charts but lots of very clear pictures once you have an idea what you’re looking for.
  • Wild Food by Roger Philips – it may be bordering on foraging sacrilege to say so but I prefer the original 1983 book to Richard Mabey’s Food for Free. Not an identification book really but very useful all the same – and neatly in calendar year order. (I haven’t seen the newer edition so can’t comment on that one.)


I mostly use the internet – and more specifically personal blogs – to find recipes when I need them so there aren’t any straight cooking books in my favourite list, just two books that straddle the line between theory & cook book…


  • Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz – this area of food fascinates me and the book is very well written. My only bugbear is that Katz has tried to cater to us European folk by including metric measurements but still by volume (for example “2 liters of flour”) which is a little confusing. I’ve not tried that many things from it due to laziness/impatience/time but I’m determined to use one of the vinegar recipes before the year is out, dagnammit.
  • Home Smoking and Curing by Keith Erlandson – this was the only smoking book I could find that had a decent section on cold-smoking. There is also a section on “smoke roasting” which is a little unusual for these parts too.



What are your favourite simple living books? What would you recommend? What would you save from the zombie horde*? ;)

* I’m reading a book about zombies at the moment so thinking about them a lot. I don’t generally live in fear of them attacking either literally or metaphorically.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. louisa

    I’ve just realised there aren’t any frugal living books on my list – I’ve yet to find a “live frugal” book that I’ve liked — like most mass media articles on the topic, they all seem to trot out the same tips again and again, stuff that most frugal people either cut out years ago or never had/did in the first place.

    Do let me know if you’ve found a golden goose of a book that goes further!

  2. lovelygrey

    I can vouch for the Roger Phillips books. I’ve got both of these in old editions and have had them for years. They’re great! x

  3. Jono / Real Men Sow

    Love the John Seymour one.

    I know its a popular choice, but I’d have to save the River Cottage Cookbook. Its so inspiring, great recipes and the photos are beautiful.

  4. PipneyJane

    For a “live” frugal living book, check out The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacycyn. This is the compendium volume containing all the newsletters, including the 3 volumes previously published. Last time I looked, it was still £14 on Amazon.

    This book is different from the others because Amy clearly describes her methodology and thinking behind what she does, instead of just giving a list of tips. In addition, Amy gives budgetting advice and costs out how much something may cost her in both money and time. Because of that, even though a project mentioned may not be suitable for your circumstances, you can still copy the methodology to come up with something that is. For example, in the early part of the book, Amy describes how she refurbished her son’s lunchbox by removing the half-peeled-off decal on the lid and replacing it with a dinosaur cut from a magazine, finishing it off with clear contact paper. I don’t have kids so, on the surface, that would never be applicable to me/my lifestyle. However, I have used her methodology to creat waterproof labels for the recycled Douwe Egbert jars I use to store my spices.

    One of the most annoying features of the frugality-tip type books can be illustrated by another story. I have a copy of The Pennypincher Book by John and Irma Mustow. In it, they mention buying blackened bananas from the greengrocer for pennies in the pound and using them to make banana bread BUT THEY DO NOT GIVE A RECIPE!!! Pre-internet, that meant an afternoon in Waterstones and buying yet another cookbook so that I could put this tip into action.

    – Pam

  5. Su

    We obviously have completely different taste in books Louisa! I hate the Hessayon books and the John Seymour book, but I really like the Micheal Guerra one!
    I like ‘Low cost living’ by John Harrison, it goes beyond the ‘put a jumper on if it gets cold’ type advice, but is not too technical. As a bonus it only costs about £6 brand new. I also like ‘Self realiance’ by John Yeoman, though it does get a tad extreme by the end of the book (to say the least!) but it is wittily written.

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