The Appalachian region was a cultural melting pot as the country became more and more populated. You had the Native Americans, who were here to start with, along with a great deal of people who had a Scotch-Irish heritage, those from England and so many more.
All of these carried their own long-held traditions in cooking and preparing food, but there are some foods that are more well known as “Appalachian food” more so than others.
For main courses, wild game was certainly the meat of choice. It was often easier to hunt your own meat than to purchase an animal and tend it until slaughter time. Some families simply didn’t have the means to house an animal and some simply didn’t have the room.
So there were many times that families would sit down to a meal of fried rabbit, quail or other small birds. Even squirrel made the menu quite often. These meats were often stewed or put into some kind of soup, with vegetables and a thick base, so as to stretch the meal a little further.
Side dishes, especially during the lean years, mostly consisted of what you could grow or forage for yourself. Anyone from the mountains of Appalachian can tell you exactly what “kilt lettuce” is, for instance.
Breads and sweets were also common, though not as often, thanks to a great many fruit trees and bushes that people would plant. Apples were often found in abundance, as were corn, potatoes and usually beans, either green or dried and “put up”. Another thing most mountain folk can tell you about is “leather britches”. But there will be more about these, coming up in the future.
Some of the most common meals came from the land and the hands that raised, tended, cultivated, harvested and prepared them. There were apple stack cakes, potato candy, chocolate gravy and the breads that it went on. There was meal gravy and corn meal mush. You could turn it out to chill, cut it into squares and then fry it. (A true delicacy, in my opinion!) Biscuits and gravy graced many a morning table, even if it was the only thing there was to eat.
Mountain people will quickly tell you, biscuits and gravy makes a fine meal all by itself, and many often use bacon grease or bits of sausage in the gravy for extra flavor. Corn bread and soup beans were a supper all by themselves and the beans, which were sometimes served every day, were a great means of getting protein into your diet, especially if there wasn’t much meat to go around.
I think one thing that makes Appalachian foods so hard to replicate is the time it took to prepare them. Soup beans have to cook for the better part of a day, as do the wild game soups and stews and some of the deserts took even longer than that.
Just as authentic Mexican cuisine stems from traditions and time they took preparing everything, so Appalachian foods do too. You simply couldn’t make a truly “homemade tamale” in an hour or so. That same rule stands true for many of the foods that these mountain people ate.
I will be putting together many recipes in the upcoming days that are linked to Appalachian heritage. I would love to hear from anyone with special requests for recipes or anything else you’d like to see here.
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