After a week of repetitive holiday get-togethers, gastronomic overload and glaring light sensitivity to the little twinkling lights, the Mister and I decided to high-tail it to the mountains of West Virginia for a little rest and relaxation a few days after Christmas.
Although there’s little to do in the college town of Morgantown, WV, especially when the students are gone, we found solice in doing absolutely nothing – just relaxing by our little fake electric fireplace, watching some playoff games, and putzing around our little investment condo in an area we consider God’s best kept little secret. There were no telephone calls to be made, no bills to be paid, and no work to be done. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. I was in almost heaven.
I was going bezerk trying to find something to read and, in my desperation, was actually going to read a few cookbooks, when I remembered tucked in between them was a little gem of a book I purchased off of E-Bay once, which is a collection of early West Virginia Food and Philosophy. I love to collect cookbooks, although I think I’ve only referenced one maybe twice in my entire life to actually cook something. Manuals and I don’t get along…
I started wading through this bible, and was mesmerized by the concoctions and recipes passed down through the generations of Appalachian homemakers who had nothing but a kettle and fire with which to cook. Even more amazing, the book is a rag-tag compilation typed on a manual typewriter with hand drawn illustrations, lovingly printed and bound in a little town way out in Iowa.
Besides the strange, albeit basic recipes I came across – with their names obviously resurrected from family names or treasured “hollers” in and around Appalachia, it was apparent these heritage foods and philosphies rose from these simple people who retained a pure and basic concept, one that “accepted things as they are” in their use of fruits, vegetables, domestic animals and game – no aspertame, preservatives (except salt), chemicals, plastics, etc.
Besides names that bring to mind fields of tiny wildflowers and mountain streams, like Permilia Trail’s Yellow Cake, Green Valley Pudding, Preston County Buckwheat Cakes, Leather Britches Beans, and West Virginia Corn Pone, there are basic recipes drenched in soul and simplicity: Fire Roasted Onions, Pickled Corn, Stone Jar Sauerkraut, Corn Cob Syrup and Candied Orange Peel, apparently favored by Martha Washington.
And tucked in between the recipes are little noted wisdoms, “Every story has three sides – yers, mine and the facts,” or “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of man than the discovery of a star.”
And in case I can’t find those tips from Heloise I cut out three years ago, there are many from the 1860 section of “Household Treasures.” I may not find them useful for keeping spots off my dishes from my high-tech dishwasher, but next time I complain about having to change a light bulb, I’m going to remember these little ditties from the folks from ages gone by:
“If you stir your hot custard with a small branch from a peach tree, it will flavor it nicely.”
“Oat straw is the best to fill beds with.”
“A lump of hard soap is good to stop up them mouse holes with.”
“A piece of bread put into a kettle of rendering lard will prevent it from boiling over.”
Survival of the fittest….I wouldn’t mess with Ma or Pa, that’s fer sure.