10 September 2015

Eating Appalachia

In an era when we talk extensively about "American" food, it is funny that much of what in on the plate is not American at all. Where is that food that is indigenous to our country. Darrin Nordahl set out to find some of that food in his book Eating Appalachia.

As you know, I live in Appalachia, so I don't find these ingredients to be quite as mysterious as Nordahl does. It is funny, when someone makes a big fuss over something you have eaten all your life.

Look at ramps, for instance.  A favorite anecdote during ramp season in West Virginia says that children were sent home from school because they reeked of ramps. Nordahl states that the Smithsonian (Full Disclosure--an organization I often work for) blames Martha Stewart on the proliferation of ramps into mainstream culture.  When she included a ramp recipe in a 1996 Martha Stewart Living, ramps became a thing. Now those poor kids in Appalachia could barely afford ramps as most of them are shipped off to New York City! Damn you, Martha.

While the ramp might be the golden goose of Appalachian produce, there are many others that Nordahl features. There are paw paws, persimmons, and various nuts.  The butternut is the bane of my tire's existence. When one says, "it is a tough nut to crack," they have no doubt tried to crack the butternut. Why don't we see more of these American beauties? As Nordahl will tell you, "Because they are a bitch to crack..." Yes, they are. Everyone in West Virginia has a sure fire way to crack them that they learned from their granddaddy. These are family secrets. Trust me, you will never go into any one's home and find a big bowl of butternuts sitting on the table.

If you can find a way to extract the sweetmeats inside, this is a good way to use them.

American Indian Cream of Butternut Soup

3/4 cup finely ground butternuts
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the ground butternuts and chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat another pan over medium heat, add the butter, and saute the onion and celery for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the sauteed vegetables and milk, salt, and pepper to the simmering butternut stock and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve. 

With no television, iPads, nor video games, American Indians of yore had lots of time to crack those devilish butternuts for soup. If you keep up with food trends, you know that Appalachian cuisine is going to be the next "BIG" thing. Eating Appalachia is a good primer.

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