Saturday, January 30, 2010

Family: Appalachian Roots

Have you ever read a book, heard a song or watched a movie and immediately you were taken to another place, another time?  If you can't tell, I love to bake and cook for my family.  And while some people may read a Sci-Fi book (enter Hubby's name here), or other fiction novels, I read cookbooks.  I know it sounds so crazy but I love them.  I have tons of them.  I'll have to show you some time.  I've actually given some away (listed them on and given them away on Freecycle).  Sometimes I regret giving them away.  I always feel a connection with a cookbook.  I think about who made the recipe, why they made it, how did they come up with the flavor combinations, did they really like it or were they just trying to please a publisher.  

I really love old cookbooks.  Food was simple.  The flavors were good.  The steps were easy.  My mother-in-law was decluttering a few months ago and told me I could go through her books to see if I wanted any.  Oh my goodness, you should have heard the groans uttering from my husband.  "What do you need another cookbook for?"  That's what he said.  I just ignored him and went about sorting through the books.  That's where I got my Joy of Cooking cookbook.  If you know nothing about cooking and are interested in learning how to cook, you need to get this book.  Borrow it from the library and see for yourself if you think you'd like it.  I loved it the minute I opened the pages.  It was like going to culinary school without the humongous tuition!  Kevin and I have been talking about purchasing grass-fed beef this year with some of our tax return money.  It will be a huge cost but we think in the end, it will be a very healthy choice for our family.  In the Joy of Cooking cookbook, there are pages showing a side of beef, the cuts you can expect, the amount of each cut and the weight.  It's the most helpful cookbook I have ever come across.

But the reason I wrote this post tonight was to share a little about my Granny.  The other day I requested a book from the library called Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture and Recipes by Mark Sohn.  I read page after page.  Smiling and crying.  You see, I was born in Virginia as were both of my parents.  We lived in many places but always visited my Granny in a little town called Mineral.  Growing up, my Granny spoiled me terrible.  That's what Granny's do.  She made me feel like the only granddaughter, even though she had 27 grandchildren when she died.  She shared special stories of good times and hard times.

When we would visit my Granny she would make "Gravies and Biscuits".  It didn't matter what time of day it was, whether it was later or not, she'd have some biscuits on the stove waiting on us.  One time I tried to get the recipe for the biscuits and she just tossed her head back and laughed saying "I don't have a recipe, I've been making these biscuits since I was about 8 years old."  Later on, she told me how when she was a little girl about 8 years old, she was making gravy and biscuits for her Daddy for breakfast.  She took care of her two brothers and her Daddy when her Mother couldn't take the Coal Mining Life and moved back down the Mountain and took the youngest daughter with her.  I think she was a little bitter about her Mother taking her sister and leaving her behind.  She didn't have much of a childhood and it was a hard life for her.  But hard life lessons teach you great things and you receive countless blessings, sometimes you just don't even realize it.  Granny married my Poppy at a very early age and had her first child at 16.  In all, she gave birth to 7 sons.  She really wanted a little girl but she gave up trying when her seventh son was born breach.  Granny loved her family and was so proud of each of her sons and each of their families.  This cookbook taught me about this pride the Appalachian people have.  I can totally understand my Granny now.

Granny also made this amazing Applesauce Cake.  It's not a sweet cake by any means.  In fact, it's really good for breakfast.  She made it once while we were visiting and my Momma grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper to write down the recipe.  Again, Granny didn't use a recipe, she just had it in her head.  She tossed a little of this and a little of that and it turned out perfect every time.  How does that happen?  When you find out, let me know.  Anyway, I tried to replicate the cake but it my Dad said it needed something else.  Well, my Granny died four years ago last month and I've only tried to make her Applesauce Cake once since her death.  But then I got this cookbook.  (Sorry, I digressed but had to fill you in on my train of thought.)  Being raised in America, sometimes I felt like I didn't really have a culture.  Sure we have Apple Pie and Pot Roast, but where are my roots?  Well, after I read this book, I realized I had roots.  I was an Appalachian girl raised in the South.  All of the food flavors I love come from the Appalachia Region of the States.  These recipes in this book were beautiful (sorry, I'm actually crying while I type this).  I remember seeing these dried up green beans strung together and hung over my Granny's kitchen window.  She told me they were called "Leather Britches".  I thought that was the funniest thing I ever heard.  And in the book, there they were!  I just cried thinking I should have asked more questions of my Granny (and I'm crying again!)  I turned the pages and found a recipe for Apple Stack Cake.  I could not believe it!  There in black and white was my Granny's Applesauce Cake recipe!!!  I was so ecstatic I called my Momma and told her about it.  Now here's the best part, my Momma was raised in Northern Virginia and my Dad was raised in Southern Virginia.  When they got married, my Momma's Grandmother told her "you're going to have to learn how to make Gravy and Biscuits for him".  Grandmother didn't serve biscuits at their table and only had "light bread" (loaf bread).  Momma read a little in the book and after reading it, we learned a little about my Great-Grandmother's cooking habits.  I can't tell you how amazing it feels to understand the meaning of things you never thought you'd know.  Like why they called sliced loaf bread "light bread" and why eventually children were ridiculed for having biscuits in their lunch boxes.  
If your grandparents are still around, give them a hug and kiss and tell them you love them.  If you don't speak to them for whatever reason, mend that gap.  Life is too short and you never know what tomorrow may bring.  (Ecc 9:11)  

By the way, I'll share the recipe of the Applesauce Cake soon.  

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Cas said...

As I read your post it made me cry too. I lost my granny 5 years ago this year. From the way you described her we could have had matching My grandma never used a recipe, but she raised me and was the one to teach me how to cook. Occasionally a recipe would give me trouble and she would "write" a recipe up. What that really meant was she guessed at her measurements. I have became the keeper of those family recipes and when someone wants some "granny" cooking they call me...and I don't follow a recipe with those..but to this day there are still two recipes that give me torment. Her biscuits...always soft and they never got hard no matter how long they sat on the stove...and her chocolate pie. The other day I was going through some of my recipe boxs and was really missing her. When out of nowhere a piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. As I picked it up my breath was was my granny's handwriting and it was her chocolate pie recipe...your post was beautiful and I have to stop now before I flood my keyboard...thank you.

coreyrn said...

What a beautiful post. I really enjoyed reading about your roots. I have my Grandma Wilson's cast iron skillet (she died at 89 in 2001) and love the memories it brings back every time I use it (fried chicken just cookng away on Sunday afternoon or a pan of cornbread for pinto beans). If only I had Grandma's recipes for her biscuits and her fried chocolate pies. I'm looking forward to the Applesauce Cake recipe!

Christina said...

Beautiful post! It's wonderful that you found that cookbook! I can't wait to try to recipe for Denver! He needs to read this post too!

Tara said...

What a beautiful post, Candi!! Yes, your granny was very special!!! I, too, have so many memories of my grandmother's cooking! I have some of her old recipes and have tried for years to duplicate her homemade macaroni and cheese. Still, have not been successful...I have found some good ones, but nothing like hers! Can't wait for the applesauce cake recipe!

Leah said...

Thank you for sharing this about your granny, my gramma was the same way, could make any one of us million grandchildren feel like we were the only ones. Though, I am pretty sure that I was really her favorite ;)

I love old cookbooks too, and it's funny that you mentioned The Joy of Cooking. I have one that the last copywrite date is 1946. Some of the cooking directions tell you how hot to make the FIRE!

Olivia said...

Great post!

Kitchen Stewardship said...

Isn't it amazing the connection we have with food? It brings back more than memories...

You sound like a kindred spirit with my very first blog friend, Sarah. Check out her blog at

Thank you for linking up with Finer Things Friday! :) Katie


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