Read an Excerpt
The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 1992 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
IntroductionThough I enjoy eating, I dislike cooking in the same way I dislike washing clothes or dishes; and cook books are not really my thing. Having said that, I must also say that I am the first to affirm and celebrate the existence of those who love the task. If Effie Lord, whom you will meet in this book, were in danger of losing her unique café, I would gladly lay aside all other obligations to help lead the fight for her survival, for she represents the rare antithesis of the impersonal fast-food restaurant experience that has swept the landscape. Effie is a grandmother who cooks for her patrons as though they were guests in her home, with pride and joy in her ability, as well as love for, and a sense of obligation to, her visitors. Her food is not fancy, but the service is at least as fast as McDonald's, since guests simply walk into her café kitchen and help themselves to the meats and fresh vegetables scattered about in pans and pots over her huge stove. At just over two dollars per loaded plate, the price is certainly competitive with the fast-food chain, but with an important difference-the hostess here is a concerned grandmother who will let you settle up later if you're on the short end of a paycheck.
In many ways, Effie is a symbol for this book. Aside from the fact that she is one of my favorite people, with her spattered apron and her determined, no-nonsense air, she stands for the mountain food tradition-unpretentious, solid, and fulfilling. You'll find no slivered sautéed mushrooms in these pages, or stir-fried bean sprouts or soft-shell crabs or delicate pastries or casseroles with enough exotic ingredients to fill a shopping bag. You'll just find normal food rooted in, and infused by, an age when what was consumed was what one raised; when the only techniques of preservation were drying, pickling, and salting; when nothing was wasted ("We kill a pig and we eat everything but the squeal"); and was so important that usually the only buildings locked on a typical farm were those that held the "rations."
That's not to say that affairs of the stomach were stark or desperate. Plenty of food was raised and plenty was served. The noonday "dinner" for a houseful of working folks was a woman's glory, albeit a chore-several different meats, five or six vegetables, gravy, biscuits, pickles, preserves, pies or custards, coffee, and milk-and there was variety enough, as you will soon see, except in the toughest of times, to satisfy almost everyone.
But neither is it appropriate to get unnecessarily romantic about such meals. A sense of balance is in order. Killing and scalding and plucking one's own chickens and cooking them for hours over a fireplace or wood stove is not the stuff of which many dreams are made, and the recent "set yourself free" commercials for Stouffer's products certainly strike a responsive chord in me. In other words, I can get wistful for home-cooked meals-as long as I don't have to be the cook. As ninety-two-year-old Aunt Addie Norton, one of many women interviewed for this book, said, "I have moods, honey. Sometimes I'd rather somebody take a hickory and whip me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet as to say for me to get a meal."
There is, though, something about the foodways of the mountains-another dimension that resonates in these recipes-that is undeniably compelling, even graceful. Perhaps it has to do with the power of the experience, for older mountain women, of first having learned to cook and then of the act as a rite of passage in their lives, though which one of their more important roles, right or wrong, was legitimized and certified. Aunt Addie again:
Just about the first thing I learned to cook, you know, is regular everyday food. You know what I mean. I made lots of [mistakes]. I lived with my daddy and he'd be gone of a day. I wanted to know how to cook, but I didn't know nothing. I did know how to put on a cake of corn bread and I'd cooked some Irish potatoes and beans for one of my aunts, but that was about all I knowed. I didn't know much about cooking and I had to learn the hard way. So I'd look me up a recipe in the paper or something and I'd try it out. Just something like a cake, you know, and I wouldn't get enough of something in it and it would fall. If it didn't do just right I'd put it in the slop bucket and feed it to the hogs. If my daddy would've found that out, he would've whupped the hound out of me! Yeah, when it didn't look to suit my notion or taste good, I'd just put it in the slop bucket and Daddy never knew it. I guess he thought the sugar got out awful quick! I really wanted to learn. I made a lot of mistakes before I learned how to cook. I sure did; I made a many a one. I put in hours of piddling. Anyone else would have to do just like I done, come up by myself and nobody to tell me how to do nothing. But I tell you one thing, if you learn it by yourself, if you have to get down and dig for it, it never gets out of you. It stays there as long as you live because you had to dig it out of the mud before you knowed what it was. All I knowed about cooking I done myself. Mostly I'm a self-made cook. But I had all that to learn. If you're interested, you can learn. If you don't care nothing about it, you can't learn. I loved to cook pretty good then. I though I was doing something. You know, I though I was doing something that was pretty up and up: I was cooking, a little young'uns a-cooking. And I thought I was doing something wonderful. Come to find out it was just another old drudgery [laughter]! But I enjoyed cooking for my children, them and for Lester. It was a joy for me to cook for them, to cook up something they all liked, you know, and watch them enjoy it. You know, I enjoyed that kind of cooking for children, and sometimes I have friends I enjoy cooking for, used to, but I don't have anybody who comes much and stays for meals now. They think I'm not able to get it, but I could if they would just let me [laughter].
Perhaps that compelling quality has something to do with the fact that food, for those who made the dishes described in these pages, became somehow a metaphor for the generosity and interdependence of life here that transcended the food itself. How else to interpret the argument I heard between two Rabun County people when one, who felt he had been wronged, said to the other, "I thought I could trust you. You were my friend. You ate at my table!" Or the time I myself had a serious dispute with a friend here who became drunk enough and angry enough to try to hurt me. After what must have been an hour of arguing outside his home, he made me come inside, and I did so on his oath that, "No one has ever been hurt by me sitting with his feet under my table." I believed him, he was true to his word, and we ended the discussion late that night over biscuits and coffee.
Or perhaps part of what makes the foodways compelling has to do with the fact that though overall they are rather plain and functional, like good warm quilts, there are, as with quilts, those moments of planned design and exuberance that decorate our lives-times when a meal, like a friendship quilt, is designed to mark an event in some memorable way. These grace notes were made all the more savory years ago because of the tremendous difficulty of obtaining any foods other than staples.
Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, for many residents of the area, the preparation of food-Brunswick stew, for example-or the canning of it, was traditionally a means of engaging everyone's energies around a common task, passing time productively, and cementing friendships permanently. At Aunt Arie Carpenter's, cooking became an event, as opposed to a utilitarian task. Of the scores of visits my students and I made to the log cabin where she lived alone, there was not a single instance when she did not ask us, with more than a little apprehension, hope, and anticipation in her voice, "Now will you'uns stay and eat with me?" Our love for each other was cast for all time during those hours when the act of cooking over her wood stove brought us all together around the tasks of drawing water from the well outside, peeling potatoes, slicing cabbage, frying sausage, making bread-and talking and laughing quietly as the food hissed over the fire and wonderful smells filled the room. The food was fine, but the activities and the conversation that preceded and followed its consumption were the main events.
In any event, here is a book the contents for which we have been collecting intermittently for eighteen years. The recipes within each section are arranged in roughly chronological order from times of cooking on a fireplace with the most basic of ingredients; through the growing availability of ingredients like sugar, vanilla, and coconut in general stores and the presence of wood cook stoves; to present times, with more modern kitchen appliances. A generous sampling of human conversation accompanies the recipes in our attempt to wed a human dimension to the foods we so often encounter here in our Southern mountains. Though most of the recipes cannot be said to have actually originated here-many having been brought intact or combined with foodways known to the immigrants who peopled our area in the 1800s from Scotland, Ireland, England, Africa, and Germany-all will be familiar to local residents, and all are gladly shared by them with you in the same spirit of mountain generosity with which they would welcome you at their tables.
Excerpted from The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery Copyright © 1992 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.