Barbara Swell credits her grandmother, a West Virginia native, with inspiring her lifelong interest in Appalachian cooking and homemaking traditions. She writes that her grandmother taught her how to bake, garden, and can, and “that rum doesn’t count as alcohol if it’s drenching your fruit cake.”
A childhood interest in recording her grandmother’s and other relatives’ recipes led to many years of documenting the culinary techniques of mountain homemakers. Swell has gathered these secrets into the more than ten cookbooks she has authored. The books, which focus on such themes as pioneer recipes, baking pies and bread, and early-twentieth-century kitchen lore, are distributed by Native Ground Books and Music, a company that Swell and her husband, musician Wayne Erbsen, have turned into a cottage industry of traditional arts instruction.
Barbara Swell has been featured in publications including Our State and Mountain Xpress. She has taught at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and offers lessons and workshops in her home kitchen in Asheville.