Appalachian foodways: Cooking ethics and traditions of a diverse population
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Appalachia is a mostly mountainous area situated in the eastern section of the United States, It stretches from Alabama in the south to Pennsylvania and into parts of New York in the north. The people living in that area originally migrated from Africa, Asia and Europe. Since World War II the Appalachian culture, once allowed to develop on its own, has been incorporated into the American infrastructure. Although highways and chain stores now dot the mountainsides, even in the most remote sections of the hills, legacies from the early settlers of this diverse area still remain. One such legacy is that of their cooking traditions.
"Mountain" food may not have a homogeneous style, but it is particularly distinct. Although climate and topography have played a large part in what the Appalachian land is able to produce, the area offers much in the way of natural resources. Combine that with the food-ways of the American Indians, which melded with those of the early settlers, and you have a unique culinary style, which includes the selection and combination of food products, as well as ways of cooking and serving it.
Authentic Appalachian Foods
According to food historians, the most authentic foods from this area appear to be: chicken and dumplings, cornbread, apple stack cake, biscuits and gravy, soup beans, fried potatoes, pork chops, fried chicken, deviled eggs, and green beans. Ellen Bogle, an Appalachian historian, also identifies grits, country ham, kraut, peas, poke, and venison as being equally important.
At the "Heritage Festival of Whitesville" Kentucky in 2002, shucky beans, fried pies, apple butter, wilted lettuce, okra corn pone & fritters, molasses, and berry cobbler were among the important foods displayed, as well as boiled cabbage, rhubarb, baked sweet potatoes and bacon.
These foods are still relied on and enjoyed by Appalachian residents today. Many of the iconic foods of this region are equally common in the southern states; such as, cornbread, biscuits and gravy, fried apples, and chicken and dumplings. Foods such as moonshine, buttermilk and potatoes can be connected with those of Britain.
Drying and Preserving
One method of preserving foods in Appalachia was by air and sun drying. Apples grew well in the area and were used in many dishes. The best way of preserving them was to dehydrate them. After coring and peeling the apples, they were cut in half and then quarters. Each quarter was cut into two or three slices. When the apples were ready, they were spread on a large white cloth and placed on top of a shed or other flat area to dry in the sun. A wire screen was laid over them to keep the flies and bugs out.
The slices could also be dried by a wood-burning stove, in a sunny window, or in the oven at a low temperature. When completely dried, they were stored in cloth bags or glass jars. Today, apple dehydration is still very popular. The procedure is basically the same, but utilizes more up to date drying and preserving methods, such as freezing the finished product.
Apple Stack Cake
One of the most "mountain" of all cakes is the Dried Apple Stack Cake. It is a unique variation that replaces the wedding cake, which can be very expensive in the economically deprived area of Appalachia. Friends and family each bring a layer and the bride's family spreads apple preserves, dried apples or apple butter between each layer. It looks like a stack of thick pancakes.