Book Review: Appalachian Cooking

Appalachian Cooking:  New & Traditional Recipes, by John Tullock

One of the lesser known parts of my background is that I was born to a farming family in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Western Pennsylvania and that my Appalachian identity has always been an important part of my own approach to life and my own ambivalence towards a lot of what goes on in the United States.  It is perhaps unsurprising that I am also ambivalent about the phenomenon of Appalachian cooking, and this book provides plenty of material for one to be ambivalent about.  Admittedly, ambivalence is not the best of things to feel, but there are few cuisines about which I do not feel at least some ambivalence given my own allergies and peculiar tastes as well as my religious opposition to certain kinds of meat, and Appalachian cooking as a whole tends to be full of pork, which is something that makes it less appetizing than it would likely before most people who were natives of the region or others besides that.  But for those who are willing to appreciate the foodways of the Appalachians for what they are, this book certainly has a lot to offer the reader.

This book of about 200 pages is divided into several chapters, as is common in cookbooks, based on various themes.  The author introduces the book with an introduction and a brief discussion of what the reader will find in this book (which should be fairly obvious to many readers anyway).  After that the author begins with recipes for stuff that someone would put by, made mostly of various kinds of pickled preserves (1).  This leads to a discussion of foods that use the native three sisters of corn, beans, and squash, which leads to a lot of recipes, many of which would be unfamiliar to most readers (2).  After this the author looks at food that is based from potatoes and tomatoes (3), which leads to some very interesting choices of dishes.  After this comes foods that come from field, forest, and stream, which includes plenty of the usual pork dishes as well as rabbit and some fish dishes that are a bit more quirky and unusual (4).  After this comes a discussion of sweets (5), which include some tasty pies and cakes as well as some foods that are too good to leave out although they do not fit the previous themes, like pimento cheese dip (6), after which the book concludes with sources, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

It is always intriguing to see the different approaches that people take to making cookbooks.  Most of them are thematically organized, but some writers look at various ingredients or lists of incredients and some appear to engage in a bit of subtle meal planning as is the case here, with various pickled dishes serving as appetizers, foods based on native or European vegetables as obvious side dishes, and meat serving as the basis for the main dishes, along with sweets and various other supplementary dishes finishing the hearty meal.  I happen to like this sort of planning even if, as is the case generally with Appalachian cooking, a lot of the food happens to include large amounts of varied pork products in the ingredients list.  The fact that the author has written books on how to turn one’s gardening efforts into a part-time business capable of making $10k a year suggests that the author has a strongly practical bent with the sort of foods that he is putting on a menu list, perhaps assuming correctly that many cooks will want to grow quite a few of the ingredients or bottle them personally as a way of either saving money or making money.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Appalachian Cooking

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    It’s interesting, although not surprising, that your grandmother in PA didn’t can vegetables or fruit. The corn fed the cows and the apples grew wild. She probably didn’t have time to gather and can those due to her full-time occupation with the dairy farm. I remember my own mother canning all the vegetables and fruit gathered from our own little 1.7 acres. She used these as the basic ingredients for many of our meals and desserts. She also pickled the okra, cucumbers, onions and beets that we grew. Although I faintly remember eating a few pork products as a very small child (we stopped doing so when I was eight), I’ve never had rabbit, squirrel, or many of the crustacean (or other) unclean sea life that find their way on many tables.

    A very close friend and distant cousin of mine who lives in the Northwest cultivates her own garden. She works the ground with perseverance because she is a true homemaker at heart. She was panicky one day, in tears, because she was not able to do her weeding and watering that day. She was also worried about the lack of rain and what that meant for her crops, both now and in the future. We had been talking about lean times ahead and, as I tried to comfort her, she cried out, “I need to be able to feed my family!” Her pantry is filled with canned goods and her home wafts with the flavors of the food she prepares. She is a creative cook and everything she makes–every item she buys– caters to the tastes of her loved ones. Fresh bread dough always sits in a bowl on the counter in varying stages of rising. When I see her at work, developing meals from local foodstuffs and doing multiple things at the same time, I am reminded of the pioneer women of times past. I think I’ll move into her house when things get rough.

    • I agree; that friend of ours is definitely someone whose attention to logistics is masterful. Not everyone has such skills when it comes to gardening and food preparation and storage, and such gifts are to be appreciated. Speaking of said gifts, I had a large amount of alfalfa sprouts that had been grown by our mutual friend/relative 🙂

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