10 Appalachian Recipes to Make This Week

You may think of Southern food as being all the same, but there are so many different regions that have their own food history. Even in one state you'll find differences in traditional recipes and ways of cooking and preserving food. The traditional foods found in the Appalachian mountain region of North Carolina, for example, are very different from those found in the Outer Banks. Which is why you don't completely know Southern cooking unless you know Appalachian recipes.

If you don't know Appalachia, you might be tempted to dismiss its food as hillbilly food. But that assumption dismisses the multiple food traditions that meet in the region, which stretches across 13 states from southern New York and Pennsylvania through West Virginia, eastern Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, western Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, to northern parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. The area was settled by indigenous groups including the Cherokee, then Scotch-Irish and German immigrants, enslaved people and free Black Americans. Into that melting pot of food traditions went the agriculture shaped by the varied terrain, high mountains, deep valleys and thick forests of, and out came a culture of self-reliance, making do with what you could find and grow, and a deep, deep connection to the land.

We've rounded up 10 Appalachian recipes you can and should cook this week. But there's so much more to Appalachian foodways; if you want to learn the history and tradition of the region (plus how to cook some really great food), a good place to start is to read anything by Sheri Castle, Ronni Lundy or Travis Milton.

Soup Beans and Skillet Cornbread

Southern Foodways Alliance

Soup beans are slow-cooked pinto beans, preferably with a little bit of bacon or other pork thrown in and served with Chow Chow. Do not drain the potlikker; that's the best part of this meal and you want it to dip your cornbread into. Speaking of cornbread, you may have your own recipe, but to make it the Appalachian way, it needs to be done in a cast iron skillet and made with all cornmeal, buttermilk and absolutely no sugar.

Get the recipe here.

Chow Chow

Chow-Chow-Vertical
Lyndsay Burginger

While you'll find as many chow chow recipes as families in Appalachia, the foundation of this spicy, tangy relish is green tomatoes, cabbage, onions and peppers. Add chow chow to pretty much anything, but you definitely want to add it to your soup beans.

Get the recipe here.

Appalachian Green Beans

Appalachian green beans aren't like the green beans you buy in the grocery store. Before you cook them, you do need to string them. And most of us have been taught to cook green beans for just a few minutes so that they stay crunchy, but these beans need an hour or more to cook. But trust the process, because these are the best green beans you'll ever eat. Another traditional Appalachian recipe is to turn these green beans into shuck beans (also called leather britches, which is a great food name) by drying them as a way to preserve them for winter.

Get the recipe for green beans here and for drying leather britches here.

Fried Corn

appalachian recipes
Grandbaby Cakes

No lie, I think fried corn might be better than corn on the cob. We're not talking deep fried; this corn is cut fresh off the cob and tossed in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet. Some recipes, like this one, use flour and fat to create a creamy sauce, while others simply fry the corn in bacon grease with a little bit of salt and pepper for seasoning. Either way, this is a fast side dish for a summer weeknight dinner.

Get the recipe here.

Kentucky Stack Cake

stack cake
Flickr:thebittenword

Apples are a staple in Appalachian food. Apple stack cake is made with dried apples and apple butter. This traditional Appalachian recipe is a little time consuming, but so worth it.

Get the recipe here.

Killed Lettuce

The first vegetables to show up after a long winter in Appalachia are wild greens like lettuces. And one of the traditional ways to serve the greens are in a wilted, or "killed," salad. Cook some bacon, pour the warm bacon grease over the lettuce, top with the bacon and maybe an egg for comfort food that celebrates the return of warmer weather.

Get the recipe here.

Chili Buns

Leite's Culinaria

If you want to understand Appalachian food and Appalachia itself, listen to Ronni Lundy. A must-read is her cookbook Victuals, and that's just as much because it's a stunningly gorgeous book as for the recipes. This Appalachian recipe tells the story of a pool hall snack and a West Virginia tradition, and shows that food doesn't have to be grandma's recipe to be classic.

Victuals by Ronni Lundy

Amazon

Get the recipe here.

Brown Sugar Black Walnut Cake

Simply Appalachian

The best way to crack black walnuts is by letting them dry in the sun and then driving over them with a car (says my mother, who has done her share of black walnut shelling). They're way more expensive to buy at the grocery store already shelled, but also so much easier to work with. And you want to bake with black walnuts. Or put them in ice cream. Or make both and top this cake with the ice cream.

Get the recipe here.

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and dumplings are true comfort food. It's a dish that's not confined to Appalachia, but the Appalachian version of this recipe has dumplings that are often called "slicks" which are more like thick noodles than balls of dough.

Get the recipe here.

Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy

appalachian recipes
Taste of Southern

Red-eye gravy is a classic Appalachian breakfast side. You need two things to make red-eye gravy: fried country ham and black coffee (the stronger, the better). It's typically a thinner, as jus-style sauce instead of a thicker, cream-based gravy. Fry the ham, leave the drippings in your cast iron skillet, deglaze the skillet with the coffee, let it reduce for a few minutes and serve with the ham, eggs and grits.

Get the recipe here.

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