- Virginia Johnson
Some people hike through the Appalachian Trail as quickly as they can, trying to set speed records. Some people spend hours in the car each autumn, looking at the bursts of colorful leaves on mountainsides, before heading back to their homes on flatter ground. They get something out of their journeys, sure, but they are missing a whole way of life.
Living in the Appalachians can be hardscrabble. Many of the people there are poor in material things. Why don’t more of them leave for better jobs? Some do. But many prefer to stay, and the answer lies in the strength of their families and communities. For hundreds of years, descendants of mainly Scots-Irish, English, and German immigrants, as well as members of the Cherokee Nation, lived in a culture that is self-reliant, and, yes, hospitable—assuming their visitors remain well-mannered.
Foodways are a big part of that culture. In his James Beard Award-winning Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine, Joseph E. Dabney delves into those delicious delights, while including enough personal notes that you’ll feel you’ve spent some time chatting on screened porches.
You’ll enjoy your visit to Appalachia with Mr. Dabney. Here are some sample chapter titles: Sassafras Tea—Spring Tonic Supreme; Barbecue—As Old as Fire; Ramps (“Tennessee Truffles”)—Wild Leek of the Mountains; and Wild Grapes, Plums, Pawpaws, and “Mountain Apricots.”
Of course, there are chapters on other staples, such as ham, jams, apples, and corn, as well as sometimes spirited homegrown libations This cookbook might seem plain on the surface, but, spiced with personal stories and simmered with history, it makes perfect fare for a lazy weekend read or something to soothe you on a cold autumn night in front of the fireplace. If you enjoy this book, you might also want to check out another by the same author, The Food, Folklore and Art of Lowcountry Cooking.
Some recipes are too good not to share with the wider world. Below, the chef at Boone Tavern’s restaurant in Kentucky uses a few modern tools—but old-fashioned ingredients—to whip up a big batch of delicious spoon bread. Click here for a family-sized version.