I thought I was fairly familiar with the styles of cuisine from different regions in the United States. I’ve read about Low Country and Southern foods and their differences and similarities. But, it wasn’t until I read my review copy of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes by Ronni Lundy that I was introduced to the foods of the Appalachian Mountain South. There was something familiar about the family recipes here. The use of home-grown vegetables, the mentions of the distinct flavors of fresh beans and just-dug potatoes, and the simplicity of the preparations reminded me of my grandparents’ cooking. I should mention, this is more than a cookbook. Ronnie Lundy grew up in eastern Kentucky and weaves the stories of this region with true understanding. The picturesque writing details the landscape along with the history of the towns and the people who have lived there. She writes: “I try to imagine what this journey was like on foot, as native people made it, and as many of the early settlers did, possessions stripped to not much more than tools for survival and seeds for planting. Switchbacks flanked by walls of rock and furiously rushing creeks are gorgeous, but equally perilous… I realize that while this was a passage of risk and hardship, it was also one of great possibility.” The book encourages travel as much as eating. She also writes of how things have changed over time and about some of the newly established restaurants in the area. The recipes represent traditional family fare as well as a few of the more recent restaurant dishes. There’s Shelley Cooper’s Speckled Butter Bean Cassoulet with Rabbit Confit from Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee alongside all the recipes for “the absolute best summer supper” including Mountain Green Beans and Taters, Skillet Corn, sliced tomatoes, and Buttermilk Cucumber Salad. You’ll also find Skillet Fried Chicken and Milk Gravy, Fried Apples, Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie, and Colin Perry’s Sorghum and Apple Sticky Pudding. All the recipes come with a story and a place in time in this pocket of the country.
Now that our weather has cooled off, I was ready for a good, comfort food kind of dish that makes use of fresh greens. I brought home a pretty bunch of kale from Boggy Creek Farm to make the Kale Potato Cakes. Yukon Golds were peeled, quartered, and boiled until tender. Meanwhile, the kale was washed, stemmed, and chopped. The kale was sauted in olive oil until wilted. The drained potatoes were mashed a bit before the cooked kale was added. Chopped green onions were added as was shredded Asiago cheese. Four beaten eggs were then mixed into the mashed potatoes. The mixture was formed into three-inch patties that were crisped on both sides in hot olive oil in a skillet. The potato cakes were served with Old-School Tomato Gravy made with sauteed onion, flour for thickening, and canned diced tomatoes.
The crispy potato cake edges give way to tender, fluffy interiors, and the Asiago cheese flavors them well. The tomato gravy was delicious with them, but they were also perfectly lovely with no sauce at all. I’m inspired to find my way to this area of the country and drive along the mountain roads described in the book. I want to find the artisanal salts being made from newly revived salt mines and taste some of the many varieties of apples that grow there. Then, I want to bring home some sorghum syrup and make that Sticky Pudding.
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