The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery

Yesterday my mom gave me an early present, a copy of The Foxfire Book of Appalachian CookeryI gleefully added yet another cookbook to my ever growing collection, which now totals the grand sum of 52.

This cookbook is actually fascinating and reads more like a historical account than your standard cookbook.  The old black and white photos of folks deep down south cooking on their antiqued cast iron stoves and women wearing their dress-like aprons, lends an emotional, human aspect that is absent in most cookbooks.

This cookbook shows how to cook over a fireplace, over a wood stove, and even includes diagrams of how the old stoves functioned and worked.  The book has an addictive nature.  It describes various remedies, how to make your own teas, ciders, including instructions on making home brewed beers and wines – including a rhubarb wine which I’m definitely going to be making.  It describes churning butter in detail and how southern folks made their own cheese.

To me the most interesting part, what is likely considered politically incorrect in most cookbooks these days, is that they actually have black and white photos of a chicken being butchered – wringing the neck, slitting the throat for bleeding, skinning the chicken,  etc.  Since the pictures are old, a little out of focus, and in black and white, they aren’t graphic, but they are still interesting.  As a farm girl, I think it’s important that people understand how their food is prepared, from the aspect of an animal being raised, the slaughter process, and how it ultimately ends up in a grocery store.  I remember I once had a roommate that panicked one day because she couldn’t find any bagged lettuce at the small, local grocer.  I actually had to purchase a head of lettuce and show her how to chop it.  She had never thought about lettuce being a living vegetable at one point, just something pre-chopped in a sealed bag.  I also read a story once about how a young man in New York was greatly disturbed when he realized that milk came from a living, breathing cow.  He just thought it miraculously ended up in the grocery store.  So I think it’s important that cookbooks describe valuing the life of an animal and butchering it humanely.

There is even a smokehouse section in this cookbook which describes the meat salting process.  It discusses meats that were part of the normal everyday dinners down south – including rabbit, raccoon, possum, squirrel, deer, and turtle.  I’ve had my share of humanely raised, local rabbits growing up.  No, they’re not the cute lopped-eared or Peter Cottontail rabbits you’re thinking about.  Most people eat meat rabbits, which are generally mentally denser than a box of rocks.  So please don’t confuse the two, as rabbits are actually quite lean and delicious.

This cookbook has the cutest southern quotes such as, “Mighty good for sopping biscuits in,” in reference to a cornmeal gravy.  “They will melt in your mouth if you’re a hillbilly,” discussing the topic of beans.  “The best sweet potato pie you ever put your tooth on.”  And of course the ever judgmental, “He’s married a woman that can’t even cook corn bread.”

Growing up in Arkansas as a child, my mom’s supper staples consisted of red eye gravy, biscuits with fresh butter, turnip greens, okra, cracklin’s, grits, dumplings, and chowchow.  So many of these recipes in the cookbook are staples in most southern homes.  I can see similarities in my family’s recipes for dumplings, stew, gravy, stuffing, biscuits, and sauces.  My family’s have some minor variations, but you can tell what recipes originally hailed from deep down south.

The measuring units consist of “pecks” at times … which I had to look up the exact amount.  I learned it equals 2 gallons, 8 dry quarts, or 16 dry pints.  Measurements now nearly obsolete in modern cooking, rage generously throughout this historical account of southern cooking.

Foods that we often throw away in modern society are liberally used, and nothing goes to waste.  For example, “The snout is often cleaned and roasted.  Mann Norton said: ‘Lot of people throwed away that they called the rooter.  Oh, I forbid that.  I’d rather have that as any part of the hog.  Oh, that’s good eating.’”  Saving the lard, making cracklins, roasting and pickling the feet, and partaking in chitlins (intestines), was a common routine amongst people that knew hard times, experienced the Great Depression, and didn’t take material items for granted.

Reading this book is a truly humbling experience.  It gives me a great appreciation for my southern heritage and how easy it is for us to whip up a modern meal in 30 minutes, instead of starting the fire and spending literally all day cooking.  To my relatives that came before me, thank you for helping to create such an amazing, family-oriented culture that revolves so freely around food.  You have forever inspired and ignited a passion deep within my soul.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on July 29, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I didn’t grow up in the South. I grew up in Northern Minnesota. But the life styles were much similar to what you describe.

    I taught anatomy & physiology to a bunch of pre-nursing students recently. One young lady, who was born and raised on a small island near Okinawa, was disturbed because she had to dissect a preserved animal. I asked her how she prepared chicken at her home. She replied, “Same as everyone. I bought it cut, wrapped, and frozen at the supermarket!”

    I was probably just as amazed as your room mate was, but for entirely different reasons. I’m surprised she didn’t say that she drove to the market.

    Reply

  2. I didn’t grow up in the South. I grew up in Northern Minnesota. But the life styles were much similar to what you describe.

    I taught anatomy & physiology to a bunch of pre-nursing students recently. One young lady, who was born and raised on a small island near Okinawa, was disturbed because she had to dissect a preserved animal. I asked her how she prepared chicken at her home. She replied, “Same as everyone. I bought it cut, wrapped, and frozen at the supermarket!”

    I was probably just as amazed as your room mate was, but for entirely different reasons. I’m surprised she didn’t say that she drove to the market.

    Reply

    • Is it not amazing how some people take such basic things for granted without considering what goes into making it? It never ceases to amaze me. The cookbook was an excellent read, if not just for the cultural lessons behind it.

      Reply

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