Appalachian Home Cooking

Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Appalachian Home Cooking
    Book Description:

    Mark F. Sohn's classic book, Mountain Country Cooking, was a James Beard Award nominee in 1997. In Appalachian Home Cooking, Sohn expands and improves upon his earlier work by using his extensive knowledge of cooking to uncover the romantic secrets of Appalachian food, both within and beyond the kitchen. Shedding new light on Appalachia's food, history, and culture, Sohn offers over eighty classic recipes, as well as photographs, poetry, mail-order sources, information on Appalachian food festivals, a glossary of Appalachian and cooking terms, menus for holidays and seasons, and lists of the top Appalachian foods. Appalachian Home Cooking celebrates mountain food at its best.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7181-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sheri Castle

    Cooking my way through this book made me want to prepare huge portions of food to share with friends. The recipes made me hungry for flavors I haven’t enjoyed in years. They made me remember to tell my little girl the stories and songs I learned from my grandfather and to feed her the recipes I learned from my grandmother. This book and this food made me want to go home.

    Historical cookbooks are much more than collections of recipes and menus; they show not only what people eat, but also how they live and what they value. The best...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Mark F. Sohn
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Map of Appalachia
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  7. Part One: Appalachian Foodways
    • ONE Food Origins: Regional and Cultural Roots
      (pp. 3-23)

      Appalachia, reflecting the diversity of its people, does not have a homogeneous style of food and cooking. Its food has neither a linear history nor a predictable shared taste. Certain ethnic foods are Appalachian because Africans, Asians, and Europeans migrated to the region. Other foods became popular because the region’s climate supported their growth. For example, settlers arriving from Ireland in 1860 traded an island for mountains and sheep for pigs. Ireland offered opportunities for fish and seafood, while the mountains offered large and small game. In order to survive, the settlers adapted quickly. They needed food, and they ate...

    • TWO Breakfast Traditions: Biscuits, Gravy, Apples, and Grits
      (pp. 24-38)

      Mother and daughter or father and son may argue about what to serve for an old-fashioned mountain breakfast, but on one issue many agree: The early mountaineers ate gigantic breakfasts. But mountain lifestyles have changed, and mountain breakfasts have gone through a three-phase evolution. First, 75 to 150 years ago, as the settlements became communities and as railroad companies pressed their steel tracks into mountain coalfields, breakfast was extensive. Cooks loaded the table with sliced side meat, sausage, and pork chops—all at one breakfast. In the absence of pork chops, they served pork ribs and backbones, fried chicken, or...

    • THREE Vegetable Delights: Green Beans, Cushaw, and Chow Chow
      (pp. 39-55)

      Today, the bean that was once a primary Native American food—the pole bean—includes green beans, half-runners, shuck beans, and shelly beans. The beans can be made up into countless dishes, such as three-bean salad, pickled dilly beans, and green beans boiled with pork. But more on that later.

      Even today mountaineers pick beans by the bushel. Then they retire to the porch and, sitting on padded rockers, hanging swings, wooden benches, or hickory bark chairs, talk and snap the beans. Everyone helps. When the washtubs are full, they carry the beans to the stove and ignite the burners....

    • FOUR Dinner Side Dishes: Macaroni and Cheese, Cornbread Salad, and Fall Greens
      (pp. 56-68)

      It may seem that “everyone” is eating out, but rural Appalachians still gather for large dinners of home-cooked food. Some come together for church and family reunions; others enjoy Sunday dinner at the home of “mamaw and papaw.” Families partner with food to celebrate births, graduations, weddings, and retirements. They eat together at club meetings, school events, award banquets, and funerals and graveyard reunions. Holidays such as Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend, as well as the regular Sunday church service, are also occasions for large gatherings where they serve home-cooked, covered-dish dinners.

      In Appalachia, one...

    • FIVE Farm Starches & School Lunches: Soup Beans, Potatoes, and Slick Runner Dumplings
      (pp. 69-86)

      When the first frost nips the poke leaves and the sun is so low in the sky it fails to reach deep mountain hollows, soup beans come into their own. Fifty years ago they often simmered on the back of the stove all winter, and in the eighteenth century when hill country householders were truly pioneers on the frontier, the combination of soup beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread provided sufficient protein for healthy survival. Initially, the original Americans gave the settlers knowledge of beans and corn. The native people were successful farmers, and early European settlers learned from them how...

    • SIX Corn: Gritted Corn, Cornbread, and Custard Corn Pudding
      (pp. 87-106)

      When Europeans arrived in America, native people had been growing corn for 6,000 years, and they enjoyed a diet that also included beans, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, and pumpkin, as well as smoked wild game and an abundance of fresh and salt-water fish. The environment had a large variety of foods to offer the new settlers; however, over time, it was corn that became dominant. Europeans soon learned that corn is a high-volume, high-energy grain that can be used to make cereal, livestock feed, and bread. Cornbread has evolved with our culture and tastes. Before the Europeans arrived, Native Americans...

    • SEVEN Herbs and Game: Dry Land Fish, Greens, and Wild Game
      (pp. 107-121)

      Morels are one of the great luxuries of Appalachia. Mountaineers gather them in abundance and collect them with pride. Morels are earthy in flavor and robust in texture, and perhaps because the mushrooms are collected so frequently and by so many, Appalachians know them by various names including: markels, dry land fish, hickory chickens, molly moochers, dog peckers, sponge mushrooms, pine cones, and spring mushrooms. Some mountaineers say they call morels dry land fish because they taste like fish, while others use the term because they fry them like fish. InMore Than Moonshine,Sidney Farr says that her family...

    • EIGHT Homeplace Meats: Chicken, Pork, and Lamb
      (pp. 122-140)

      The “old homeplace” is a house, outbuildings, and farm. But this land, which for some families becomes almost sacred, is also a gathering place and is frequently the site of the family’s cemetery. As long as the old folks are around, the homeplace is a center for the family and a place for Sunday dinner, with long visits on the front porch. As is often the case, when mountaineers gather at the homeplace, their minds drift off to mamaw and papaw or to age-old homeplace traditions. They enter a unique environment: At one time the place was a food production...

    • NINE Sweets, Fruit, and Nuts: Apples, Peaches, and Pecans
      (pp. 141-162)

      Honey is almost as sweet as love and surely as old. Some 4,000 years ago a Sumerian clay tablet described a bridegroom as honey sweet, a bride’s caress as more savory than honey, and the wedding bedchamber as honey-filled. In the Old Testament, the Promised Land is flowing with milk and honey. Honey is the oldest sweet used by humans, and it has not changed for 10,000 years.

      Years ago, many mountain families either kept bees or knew how to track them. Once they found a bee tree, they cut the tree and robbed the honey. Today, mountain families continue...

    • TEN Sweet Endings: Pies, Cakes, and Candy
      (pp. 163-174)

      When large numbers of hill folk grew what they ate, cut timber with axes, crossed rivers in boats, and mined coal by hand, they ate pies for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Even today, the cooks of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains make twice as many pies as cakes. They serve these pies sweet or savory, hot or cold, thick or thin, light or heavy, single or double crust. Some pies are distinct. Stack pies are thin, turnovers are small, and upside-down pies have fruit on top. Rather than being a passport to marriage, as they were years ago, today...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. Part Two: Appalachian Food
    • Recipes
      (pp. 175-180)

      To keep Appalachia’s culinary tradition alive, the region’s foods have to be cooked, and while the following recipes could easily be used in the context of living history reenactments, their new life starts in the modern home kitchen, where fresh ingredients and healthy foods are paramount.

      Some scholar-historians might prefer to include ingredients, recipes, and techniques that were used in the past, but are, by today’s standards, obscure. For example, it is true that long ago home cooks started with a whole pork liver or ten dozen ears of corn, and they added lard to every ingredient that passed over...

    • Breads
      (pp. 181-187)

      Biscuits can be eaten with peanut butter and jelly, but in traditional mountain kitchens they are covered with gravy, spread with butter and honey, or split open for a sausage or ham filling. For a traditional dinner, serve biscuits with Southern fried chicken and coleslaw or chicken-fried steak; or for a country breakfast, offer biscuits with hot sorghum molasses, fried apples, fried potatoes, pork chops, sliced fresh tomato, and gravy.

      Preparation time: 10 minutes

      Start to finish: 25 minutes

      Yield: 8 to 12 biscuits depending on the size of the cutter

      2 cups all-purpose flour

      1 tablespoon baking powder


    • Sauces
      (pp. 188-193)

      This recipe produces gravy that resembles a thick cream of tomato soup. Tomato juice is the primary ingredient, and with only four other ingredients, this boiled sauce is easy to prepare. Tomato gravy has countless uses. Serve it for breakfast or dinner over hot biscuits. Pour it over fried green tomatoes or fresh, ripe, sliced tomatoes and garnish with basil leaves. And for a wonderful hot lunch, try a tomato gravy sandwich. Layer slices of toast with sliced fresh tomatoes, meat loaf, and mashed potatoes. Moisten the filling with tomato gravy and serve as an open-faced or closed sandwich, garnished...

    • Salads & Soups
      (pp. 194-204)

      No mountain dinner is complete without deviled eggs. At dinner on the grounds, they may be plucked away before the blessing is given, and at Thanksgiving dinners, even small families often serve two platters. Local markets sell deviled egg trays, and unlike yeast dinner rolls, which few cooks prepare at home, many cooks make deviled eggs.

      Normally mountain cooks prepare deviled eggs in the American tradition flavoring the yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. However, like the cooks all across North America, mountain cooks experiment with other flavors. For a Mexican flavor they add chili powder and coriander. To...

    • Vegetables
      (pp. 205-219)

      The first Kentucky cookbook,The Kentucky Housewife, by Lettice Bryan, offers recipes for stewed green beans, French beans, and common snap or bunch beans. The directions in this recipe are quite similar to directions given by Bryan more than 160 years ago, “… gather common beans in the morning; pick young and tender; draw off the strings; soak in fresh water; add bacon and salt; and boil until tender.” In the tradition of Lettice Bryan, mountain cooks prepare the recipe with a popular summer bean, the white half-runner.

      Notice that it takes 40 minutes to break and string the beans...

    • Starchy Vegetables: Corn, Beans, and Potatoes
      (pp. 220-232)

      The miracle of this recipe is the simplicity of the custard, and because it is a true custard, most cooks bake it in a water bath. The slow, even heat of the water bath keeps the egg from getting too hot and curdling. For this pudding use either cream-style or whole-kernel corn. Note, however, that commercially prepared canned cream-style corn is often too creamy and too saucy. It may also be high in salt, sugar, water, and cornstarch, and unfortunately, it may not contain much corn.

      Serve the corn pudding as you would any savory corn or other starchy dish....

    • Main Dishes
      (pp. 233-241)

      To make this dish, you will boil the macaroni, prepare a white sauce, add cheese to make a Mornay sauce, combine, and then bake the casserole. For a hearty main dish, include the diced ham; for a side dish omit it. The recipe results in a dish of quality and a casserole worthy of the label, fine home dining. It can be served as a main dish or as a side dish with broiled trout, and spinach strawberry salad or green beans.

      Preparation time: 25 minutes

      Start to finish: 55 minutes

      Yield: 12 servings

      For the macaroni:

      12 ounces (3½...

    • Meats & Fish
      (pp. 242-256)

      For a crisp coating, fry the fish immediately before serving, and for a chef-like effect, fry it tableside and serve it from the skillet. Garnish with wedges of lemon and parsley or other fresh greens. Serve with tomato aspic or cucumber salad. Or match the trout with fried mush, boiled new potatoes, sweet potato biscuits, or fried cabbage.

      Preparation time: 20 minutes

      Start to finish: 20 minutes

      Yield: 4 servings

      ¾ cup flour

      1 tablespoon salt

      1 tablespoon dry parsley

      4(10-ounce) brook or rainbow trout, cleaned with heads intact or removed

      2 tablespoons oil

      2 tablespoons butter

      Step 1 Shake...

    • Pies & Cakes
      (pp. 257-270)

      Tasting this pie at a church dinner, second grader Lily Castle Tidwell closed her eyes in rapture and said, “This isn’t pie, this is heaven.” And she is right, in comparison to squash or pumpkin pie, this mix of sweet potato is more substantial, and the sweet potato yields a fuller, more complete, more dense, and even richer taste. The pie is usually prepared from October through the winter when sweet potatoes are in season. In addition, in the fall, candy corn is used to add a crisp yellow and orange garnish to the white pillows of whipped cream. See...

    • Desserts, Candy, & Tea
      (pp. 271-284)

      Many mountain cooks prepare pudding with biscuits. Some use day-old, crusty buttermilk biscuits while others use any leftover breakfast biscuits. Biscuits are available at many fast-food restaurants as well as the frozen section in most markets.

      Preparation time: 15 minutes

      Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes

      Yield: 6 servings

      3 large eggs

      ¾ cup sugar

      1 teaspoon vanilla

      3 cups milk

      6 large biscuits, about 3 inches wide and 1½ inches high

      ¼ cup raisins

      cinnamon sugar

      Step 1 Slide a pan of hot water large enough to contain a 2-quart casserole into the oven, and preheat the oven...

  9. Festivals and Events
    (pp. 285-292)

    Pride, history, imagination, and modern culture converge during community festivals, and some of them are named for food. Today, many communities celebrate their heritage with street fairs, food booths, exhibits, contests, music, and parades. These gatherings draw together entrepreneurial and creative spirits to present a show that must include food. But what food? While the following list is far from complete, some almost-iconic Appalachian foods such as ramps, apples, and sorghum have become the focus of festivals.

    Every Appalachian state from New York to Georgia features an apple festival. Communities schedule the festivals from the time the trees bloom in...

  10. Foods, Terms, and Expressions
    (pp. 293-302)

    You can buy many of the foods defined in this glossary from vendors listed in the next section, Mail-Order Sources, page 303.

    Apples, Dried: Home-dried apples are very dry and the flavor is concentrated. When making dried applesauce, dried apple stack cakes, and fried apple pies, some traditional mountain cooks used dried apples. A bushel of fresh apples yields about 3 pounds of dried apples.

    Beans, Green Beans: A classic mountain vegetable. The popular Appalachian varieties are different from the small, soft, uniformly shaped beans that are sold frozen or canned. Robust mountain green beans include varieties such as Kentucky...

  11. Mail-Order Sources
    (pp. 303-318)

    When exploring Appalachian food, it may be useful to pick up the telephone and have a conversation with someone who knows it. Ask a few questions, and allow time for a chat. Many suppliers of mountain foods are friendly and like to talk about the weather, their products, and cooking. Tell them where you are from and what you are cooking.

    A few hard-to-find, indigenous foods are a traditional part of Appalachian cooking, and this book would not be complete without a list of sources. To make a purchase, send a fax, click on a web site, or call in...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-330)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 331-332)
  14. Index
    (pp. 333-345)