I read somewhere that to be healthier and to live longer, we should eat like our ancestors. The article said, “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as something she ate, then don’t eat it.” Truth is that today we eat so much processed food that our grandmothers or great grandmothers wouldn’t recognize half of what we eat. Where our mountain mothers had a fried chicken breast usually raised on their farm, we have a rounded chicken patty made of various pieces of non organic fed, caged chickens. Our Appalachian mothers cooked and ate very differently than what we are used to today.
Our Appalachian mothers needed a meat house, a root cellar and a good hot cook stove to survive the harsh winters. They needed a green thumb to grow big gardens and harvest all the vegetables they grew. The needed a survival spirit and a strong reserve to do all the work that needed to be done to feed their families.
No one ever cooks like our mothers, unless it’s our grandmothers. In fact, many women from our region cooked wonderfully delicious meals with only the food they grew or the animals they butchered. They had fresh sausage and tenderloin from the hogs they butchered. They used to render the fat of butchered hogs for lard. They frequently cooked with fatback, seasoning the beans with a piece of ham or some fatback.
Some foods are staples in Appalachia. Rabbit and squirrel were commonly eaten and still eaten today to some degree. Branch lettuce and mustard greens along with wilted lettuce and onions were presented to the table with garden tomatoes, cucumbers and hot cornbread. Potatoes, fried or mashed, and shelled beans were on the table too. Home made molasses and biscuits with butter were eaten with sweet milk from the cow. Beans were strung up and dried into leather britches. Dried apples made pies and stack cakes. Applesauce, which was always called “fruit” was at every meal. Blackberries or raspberries were turned into a delightful sugary dessert with dumplings called zonkers.
Several months after my mom passed away, I decided to try my hand at making a favorite food that she used to make; hanover dumplings. Hanover dumplings are exactly what they sound like. Hanovers or rutabagas, are peeled, sliced and put in boiling water with salt and butter. When the rutabagas are done, dip out most of them, then simply drop biscuit dough into the juice the rutabaga was cooked. Hanover dumplings aren’t very well known. I have only found one person outside my family who has ate them before. But let me tell you, they are so good that I couldn’t begin to describe it. I must admit I did a pretty good job making my hanover dumplings. The dumplings were fluffy and the hanovers were cooked to perfection. The ‘gravy’ was flavorful. The only thing it really lacked was the fatback my mom would have put in the hanovers. They were still pretty good and I was proud of myself.
Sometimes amid my meals of pizza, hotdogs, peanutbutter sandwiches and microwaveable chicken pot pies, I think of my mother and how hard she worked to simply have fresh milk and fatback for the beans. I’m so grateful she taught me how to make homemade cakes and biscuits, wilted lettuce and zonkers, even though I don’t make them very much.
This article has made me hungry. I think I’ll fix some fried taters and pinto beans with cornbread.