Victuals, by Ronni Lundy
The title of this book should be pronounced “vittles,” and this book is a very fascinating effort at someone to attempt to signal that the writer belongs to a given community while also seeking to subvert that community’s food traditions by making a book that is designed to appeal to contemporary hipster tastes in food. This can be seen, for example, in the way that the author substitutes kale for the turnip greens of Appalachian cooking. That is not to say that this is a bad book, although there are not very many recipes that I would be able to eat because of the massive amount of pork that is to be found in Appalachian cooking, whether we are talking about lard, bacon, or things. While a great deal of insight can be gained into this sort of cuisine by making substitutions for turkey bacon or vegetable shortening to provide the same sort of flavor in a way that is acceptable to eat, this book is most fascinating as a look into someone who might fairly be considered a trojan horse, someone who really wants to subvert the old-fashioned ways of Appalachian cooking while paying lip service to the worth of maintaining its traditional foodways.
This book of about 300 pages is divided into several sections, all lovingly illustrated with bright and beautiful photographs and frequent discussions of various aspects of the author’s Appalachian experience that are told at the beginning of each section of hipster recipes in a (vain) attempt to gain credibility as a native Appalachian whose interpretation of the local foodways can be seen as trustworthy and authoritative even if the results are something that would be better suited to New York and San Francisco than to Asheville or Bristol. The book begins with an introduction and then a discussion of foods made out of roots and seeds. After this comes a look at foods which owe their taste to the use of salt in the recipes. There is then a section of recipes using corn, and then one that is based on apple recipes (some of these look wonderful too). After that there is an entire section of recipes involving various pickled dishes used as preserves, and then a chapter that is based on food from animal husbandry, most of them pork-related. The author then closes with some recipes that are related to the joys of the Appalachian spring, after which there are acknowledgements and an index.
This particular book is certainly an interesting one. The photos in the book are fascinating and the author’s tales are highly revealing in the way that they reveal someone who wants to make their own spin and their own interpretation on the region’s cooking while making enough genuflections to tradition and history and culture for the author’s hipster-leaning dishes to be viewed as suitably authentic. As a reader I saw through these transparent attempts at seeking to pass muster with Appalachian regional gatekeepers, but not all readers may find this element of the book to be as interesting as I do. Even so, while most of these dishes are unclean due to the pork that shows up continually in them, most of the dishes can be made with a bit of cleverness and some suitable substitutions into something that is tasty as well as biblically acceptable to eat. Pass the fried chicken and chicken and dumplings and beans and potatoes, please, along with some of that apple stack cake, please. Some of the dishes in this book are certainly tasty looking and worth trying, and that is enough to make a book like this a success.