Savoring Kentucky

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Savoring Kentucky showcases the wonders of Kentucky's food, farms, farmers, restaurants, chefs, distillers, brewers, orchards and markets. We applaud local food, its producers and champions. We delight in news of improvements in food and food systems. We take pleasure in fine food. We thank our wondrous sponsors for supporting our work and local goodness all around.

Pot Lucky

I wasn't there, so I can't be sure, but I'm guessing humans have been gathering to eat together since the very beginning of human-kind. At our house, we host a weekly Monday night community pot luck, Cornbread Suppers, because it's fun. No agenda. Nothing to do but eat, drink and enjoy each other. You are always invited. 

In the 2017 edition of its always interesting annual dining trends predictions, the Sterling-Rice Group included new ways people are finding others so they can share meals.

At the other end of the potluck-and-conversation spectrum, wonderful Kentucky voice for Appalachia and food/farm/foodways goodness Lora Smith recently co-wrote this beautiful NPR story about a potluck in Egypt, Kentucky with Nigerian-born Tunde Wey. Of many available stories about Tunde Wey, this one is particularly rich: Discomfort food: Using dinners to talk about race, violence and America

Invite some people over for comfort or discomfort in the food and conversation. It's good for all the souls. 

Note: this is a corrected post. An earlier version omitted Tunde Wey as co-author of the NPR story. I am sorry (and embarrassed).

Epiphany Wonders, Including Feasts, In Kentucky and Beyond

I knew, from earliest childhood, that old folks somewhere in Kentucky loved Old Christmas, January 6. I knew they loved thinking of animals kneeling at midnight, and speaking. I knew the sweet carol, "The Friendly Beasts." And not much else. On Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio this week (listen here), chef Ouita Michel brought all manner of history of this celebration through time and around the world. Plus recipes! Amazing recipes for an entire feast, offered tonight in Midway (sold out for this year) as a fund-raiser for Midway Christian Church. 

By Post of Moldova - http://www.posta.md/en/filatelia.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5530451

By Post of Moldova - http://www.posta.md/en/filatelia.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5530451

I did not know about the ways Epiphany celebrations worldwide include both feasting and riotousness (a bit like the mountain traditions of moonshine-drinking and firearms-shooting), nor the connection to the beautiful gift-giving story of The Three Wise Men. 

By Ivan Ivanov - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5752127

By Ivan Ivanov - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5752127

Around the world, celebrations are underway today, as they have been on this day for centuries.

By Unknown - Старо Скопје, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24023330

By Unknown - Старо Скопје, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24023330

Gratitude to Wikipedia for the splendid photos. 

By Balkanregion - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5551337

By Balkanregion - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5551337

Soup's Goodness

Soup's appeal goes up as temperatures go down. We're headed into soup season in central Kentucky this week. Once I began making homemade bone broths from Elmwood Stock Farm's perfect, grass-fed, certified organic stock-making packs and bone-y leftovers, I also began practicing French onion soup. 

Let the onions take their own sweet time getting golden brown. The slow cooking releases their sweet nature, adding a delectable counterpoint to the savory-salty broth. 

Let the onions take their own sweet time getting golden brown. The slow cooking releases their sweet nature, adding a delectable counterpoint to the savory-salty broth. 

French onion soup depends on deeply caramelized, thinly sliced onions plus good broth. In our gluten-avoiding kitchen, we don't even make the iconic crouton+cheese topping, and find we like it a great deal even so. I used three large onions browned slowly in a mixture of olive oil and butter for more than an hour. Then up to 8 cups broth (I used both beef and chicken), a little wine, some thyme, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, a sprinkle of rice flour for thickening, and another 90 minutes simmering. It could have gone longer. Start earlier than you think. If you want a more precise recipe, here's a straightforward one, and here's an indulgently long, descriptive one, both good.

What if you don't like onions? Or you don't have three hours until dinner but you do have some celery mouldering away in a fridge drawer. Jane Grigson's Celery Soup is another great comfort in winter, so simple to make with ingredients you likely have on hand, provided you keep stocked up on good broth or stock. 

While your soup simmers, you may need some reading material. How about these:

  • Understand more about the challenges makers of sheep cheeses face in the US, here.
  • Plan a whole year of delicious Kentucky farm-to-table outings here.
  • Read noted chef and food policy thinker Dan Barber's review of the new Gary Taubes book on just how problematic sugar probably is for human bodies here.

Sponsors included in this post: Elmwood Stock Farm.

Cultivate What's Good

It's 60 degrees on January 2 in Kentucky, and we all know that's not right. And yet we know, too, that plants will grow in this new year, and animals, and people. We will all grow; good gardening sense suggests we tend what's already planted, fill bare spaces with promising species, and reduce invasive species when we can. Metaphor, maybe, for life, but also for cultivating a community that nurtures self-reliance and good food for all. 

Sprouts in the London Ferrill Community Garden, Lexington, Kentucky. 

Sprouts in the London Ferrill Community Garden, Lexington, Kentucky. 

In Lexington we can continue and expand our support for two proven, promising, potent forces that work to boost our self-reliance and make good food a matter of course for everyone. Seedleaf and FoodChain each succeed already in what they do, and are poised to grow in healthy ways. Seedleaf needs a permanent urban farm near a bus line. You may know just the spot. See some of what can happen in such a spot, in this marvelous story about Alice's Garden in Milwaukee.

FoodChain intends to add a teaching and prep kitchen to its successful urban fish-and-greens farm this year. Money and volunteer work will help. Here's an interesting historical scan of incubators, which are initiatives aimed at changing food systems, and share a few similarities with FoodChain's mission.

Enjoy these splendid photos from London Ferrill Community Garden, these by gifted photographer Geoff Maddock. And take a look at all those seed catalogues that came in the last couple of weeks. It's a good time to dream, envision, hope, and get ready.

 

Lauren Gawthrop of Good Foods Coop on Local Gifts, Cooperative Roots, and Santa Lucia Rolls

To Savoring Kentucky's email subscribers: Sorry Sorry! Soggy wads of used gift wrap paper to us for sending this post to you so late. The good news is that all news in this post is useful today and going forward, just as much as it was last week. Good Foods Coop and its new Marketing Manager, Lauren Gawthrop, are on time all the time!
At Savoring Kentucky we are having growing pains disguised as technical difficulties, of the kind you'd rather not hear about in detail. We are still working out the mechanics of what comes through in your email inboxes, especially when we are including an audio recording ("podcast") with a supposedly useful SoundCloud radio player built right in, as we are today. I apologize for the problems and hope we are on the way to solutions.

I'm headed to Good Foods Coop today, two days before a certain big gift-giving event. Our family chose gifts to each others' favorite causes this year (with books for the children—we're like Literary Iceland in that way). So I don't need gifts, but I'm happy to tell you that Good Foods overflows with beautiful gift options every single day.

At age 44—which is probably like age 150 in natural grocery years—our priceless Coop now enjoys more contemporary media smarts thanks to new Marketing Manager Lauren Gawthrop. Lauren got up at 3 AM every weekday for five years to make news, literally: she organized and anchored new shows at Lexington's ABC36 from early morning through noon. Four hours of news a day, people! So imagine applying all those skills and all that good energy to continuing the long process of bringing all the goodness of Good Foods to our whole region. 

Lauren Gawthrop, Marketing Manager at Good Foods Coop

Lauren Gawthrop, Marketing Manager at Good Foods Coop

Ouita and Chris Michel and I enjoyed getting to know more about Lauren when she joined us on our weekly radio show, Hot Water Cornbread, this week. (Learn more at http://www.savoringkentucky.com/hotwatercornbread/.) Ouita and Lauren described the wonders of giving luxury foods as gifts: a seemingly expensive, elegant bottle of olive oil, for example, costs much less than most people feel compelled to spend for a credible present, and delights its recipient.

And there's the other wonder of giving useful gifts, food instead of future yard sale items. Sorghum! Coffee! Craft beers! Exotic sauces! These and another 1200 items make fine gifts while supporting our neighbors who grow and produce excellent foods for us.

Or be like Lauren and make your own beautiful gifts. She brought homemade Santa Lucia rolls with her to the show: exemplary guest!

Click the red arrow on the player below and enjoy listening. [Email subscribers, we're still learning how to make the embedded players work for you. If you do not see a place to click and listen below, two options: go to https://soundcloud.com/user-623797398/lauren-gawthrop, or click at the top of your email and access this post online.]

Long-time faithful readers of Savoring Kentucky know that each year I re-post a piece about the joy of not giving. This year I took a look and decided it needed a rest. Just before Thanksgiving, I re-read a favorite, challenging Wendell Berry essay on the necessity of limitations: Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits. It doesn't sound like light holiday reading, and it is not. Wendell Berry speaks to our deeper interests, to the choices we can each make to live richly and with contentment within natural limits:

. . . our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure — in addition to its difficulties — that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.

Gifts, both giving and receiving, are trickier than they seem at first. All the gift-giving holidays give us the gift of opportunity to think and act in ways that contribute to "a fund of beauty, solace and pleasure." May all these be yours during these sweet days.

Sponsors included in this post: Good Foods Coop.

Sarah Gleason of Savory Global Talks Bison and De-Desertification on HWC-2016-12-13

Sarah Gleason (scroll down after you click), Director of Marketing and Communications for the Savory Institute, moved to Lexington a few months ago—just weeks before she started her own bison herd with a South Dakota partner. Yes, she lives a big life! Ouita and Chris Michel and I invited Sarah to be our guest on Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio, and she generously joined us this week. This post has a lot of links in it, to the recording of the radio show first of all, and then to more information about Savory Global, a large scale effort to use carefully managed herds and flocks of livestock to regenerate grasslands, reduce deserts, feed more people, support more farms, and sequester enough carbon to rescue our planet. Yes, Savory Global's mission is huge, controversial, and mesmerizing. Enjoy discovering along with us. [Dearly beloved email subscribers: you may want to click the link at the top of your email page and go to the website version of this blog post so it will be easier to get the benefits of this post.]

Here's a short video introduction to a worldwide event held recently in Colorado. Some of the main Savory Global themes come through here, including how each of us can, literally, save the world with each bite and each buy.

For more depth, here are five suggestions.

Watch Allan Savory's 22-minute 2013 TED Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change. You will see that you are joining nearly 4 million others who have watched so far.

Watch these four themed videos (which all share the same opening 3 minutes):

The Story of Meat

The Story of Dairy

The Story of Wool

The Story of Leather

For one thing, I was amazed, and perhaps you will be as well, at the assertions about the importance of fashion in the global economy, coupled with optimism about fashion's potential for positive world change. I am used to thinking in quite different terms about fashion.

Finally, learn more about a current Savory Institute crowd-funding initiative aimed at making it easier for buyers to identify and support producers who practice earth-regenerating agriculture. This is a crowdfunding campaign, and the page contains lots of information.

Our Thanksgiving Challenge: (And It's Not Piecrust)

Last week Elmwood Stock Farmer Mac Stone issued this Thanksgiving Challenge: How can you make this week's big meal as organic, local, farmer-supportive, seasonal, nutrient-rich and communal as possible? Those weren't quite his words, but those are some of the ways to gain points in the challenge. At the same time, our Thanksgiving hosts issued their own challenge: how can we make as much of our shared meal as possible from nearby, decreasing the environmental costs of transportation?

Bluegrass Maple Syrup from Woodford County, one of many Kentucky-grown foods on our Thanksgiving table.

Bluegrass Maple Syrup from Woodford County, one of many Kentucky-grown foods on our Thanksgiving table.

It's easy to rise to the challenge for parts of the meal.

The crucial ingredients we cannot source from nearby have surprised us, too. Some could be produced in Kentucky and are not: salt, cooking oils and vinegar in particular.

Some ingredients must come from far away. We welcome that bringing of the world to our Kentucky table, in a tradition that has timeless origins, as one of our members noted. Flavors and spices are exotic and traded across great distances. Vietnamese cinnamon on the butternut squash from 150 steps away: abundance, and cause for gratitude.

Sponsors included in this post: Elmwood Stock Farm, Good Foods Coop. Thank you.

 

 

Cornbread Carries The (Election) Day(And Night)

Some people may assume I love cornbread. I co-host a weekly community potluck called Cornbread Supper (you're invited.)

Part of the Cornbread Supper community, November 7, 2016.

I co-host a weekly community radio radio show called Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio.  (You can listen any time to past shows here, or join us live—touch the "Listen Now" button—on Tuesdays at noon on Lexington Community Radio 93.9 WLXU LP FM.)

Co-hosts and guests at Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio, October 2015. From left, co-hosts Chris and Ouita Michel with their daughter (seated), Willa, and show guests Ashley Smith and Lacreesha Berry, co-host Rona Roberts.

Co-hosts and guests at Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio, October 2015. From left, co-hosts Chris and Ouita Michel with their daughter (seated), Willa, and show guests Ashley Smith and Lacreesha Berry, co-host Rona Roberts.

The truth is that I don't so much love cornbread as respect it. I'll share some of my reasons, and encourage you to make cornbread tonight. It will shore you up through the important, unpredictable election dramas ahead of us.

  • Cornbread is nonpartisan.
  • Cornbread stays within budget.
  • Cornbread sustains health and strength.
  • Cornbread flexes when necessary and stays crisp when it matters. (We're talking about the Big Tent of cornbread here, one that allows all regional and cultural variations at the table. Find just a few versions, in all their variety and glory, here.
  • Cornbread comes from around here. This can be true almost wherever you live, but is especially true in Kentucky when made with Weisenberger meal, JD Country Buttermilk, and your own backyard eggs.
  • Cornbread thinks long-term. Leftovers are just as good later if split and toasted, or—so I'm told, and so I have certainly observed countless times without ever being tempted—crumbled into a glass of sweet milk or buttermilk and eaten with a spoon for a classic simple supper.
  • Cornbread doesn't lollygag. Assemble it in less than 10 minutes, and be patient while it gets to maximum gold-brown crunch. Count on it coming to the table in less than one hour, start to finish, including washing the prep dishes.
  • Cornbread gracefully accepts new ideas. Add-ins from bacon to browned onions, or toppings from sweet sorghum syrup to serrano-laced salsa: yes.

Because I usually bake cornbread for the weekly Cornbread Suppers, I have had a chance to try different approaches to cornbread. In a trail of online recipes, the record shows my best thoughts at a given moment and then . . . my position evolves. The main plank in my cornbread platform is that Black Skillet Hot Water Cornbread (the kind with neither flour nor sugar) should marry an attention-getting crunchy crust with a tender, moist interior. I've worked out several ways to get more of what I want without compromising my principles.

The extra steps keep making the recipe longer, but the shortest version, with no extras, still works well: get your oven and skillet really hot, add a bit of oil or fat or bacon grease, stir all the ingredients together however you wish, pour into the skillet and bake until brown.

Here's the version that gets my votes right now. This recipe is also available at One Wonderful Hot Water Cornbread Recipe.

Yield: Serves 8–10 from one standard 9-inch black skillet

Ingredients
·       2 ½ cups unbolted white cornmeal; Weisenberger Mill meal is widely available
·       1 Tablespoon baking powder
·       Scant 1/2 teaspoon soda (a little less than the full 1/2 teaspoon measure)
·       1 teaspoon salt
·       2 cups whole milk buttermilk; JD Country Milk sells a fine Kentucky buttermilk
·       1 egg; from your backyard?
·       1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon browned butter, coconut oil or bacon fat (the extra tablespoon greases your skillet)
·       1/3 - 1/2 cup boiling water, or more

Optional Add-Ins
Coarsely ground black pepper, up to 1 Tablespoon, or other forms of peppery flavor (ground or crushed cayenne, of sliced jalapeños, for example) according to taste. Parmesan cheese. Cheddar cheese. Finely chopped or grated onion, shallots, scallions or chives.  Finely chopped browned bacon. 1 cup corn kernels. 1/2 cup cottage cheese. Some combination of the above. Experiment.

Steps

  1. Optional:  This is not necessary, but it's also not hard. "Sprout" or soak the 2.5 cups cornmeal in the 2 cups buttermilk for up to 24 hours before you begin. This means that at any point from the night before up to a few minutes before you make your batter, your cornbread benefits if you stir together just the cornmeal and the buttermilk and let the mixture stand before you add all the other ingredients. No literal sprouting occurs, but some biochemistry happens that makes your cornbread's interior more moist, particularly if you are using a coarse grind or "unbolted," which is highly recommended for crunch.
  2. Turn oven to 425.
  3. As oven begins to preheat, put fat (bacon fat, butter or coconut oil) in a 9" or 10" black cast iron skillet. Put the skilled in the oven to get hot-hot-hot. Special note about butter: if you encourage the milk solids in the butter to brown to the point of gold or even nut brown, your cornbread will have more flavor. Don't worry about having gone too far unless the butter positively stinks, in which case you must begin again. This cornbread is also delicious with simple melted (unbrowned) butter, and bacon fat is amazing.
  4. Set the water to boil.
  5. In a large, heat-proof bowl, mix all ingredients except water, which means getting the hot melted fat from the oven and adding it to the bowl, too. Put up to a tablespoon fat back in the skillet to help prevent sticking and add to the crunch of the crust. [At this point I borrow from sister Paula and do a small thing that is not necessary but can boost crunchiness: add up to a tablespoon of fat back into the skillet, and then sprinkle about 1 Tablespoon cornmeal across the bottom of the skillet. Set the skillet back into the oven to keep it blazing hot, or set it on a medium hot burner for a minute.]
  6. Stir or whisk the ingredients until nearly smooth, maybe 15 strokes. Cornbread batter does not require much beyond a thorough stir.
  7. Pour boiling water over the top of the batter, a little at a time, and stir, stir, stir. Stop adding water when the batter is like very thick paint or melty soft-serve ice cream. It can be thinner than you think.
  8. Remove the skillet from the oven and pour in batter, carefully.
  9. Bake until nicely brown and crusty. Times and ovens vary. It will take at least 15 minutes and up to 30. Err toward browner (longer cooking) for best texture and taste.
  10. Carefully, with thick potholders, remove pans from the oven and either upend the cornbread onto a platter or a rack.
  11. Eat immediately with butter or flavored butters. Use Kentucky sorghum too. Or Kentucky maple syrup or honey.

Notes:

Cornsticks or Muffins: You can use cast iron cornstick or muffin pans instead of the single skillet. You may find it easier to melt the fat in a separate small pan instead of using the depressions in these pans, but do put some fat in each depression to help with crunch and release. For crispy cornsticks, the batter works better if it is a bit thinner (from hot water) and fatter (from bacon grease or other fat) than these proportions. But nothing matters as much as having the pans or skillets blazing hot and amply greased before you add the batter. Note that cast iron corn muffin pans bear little resemblance to the deep, cupcake-shaped muffin pans you may already own.

From Savvy to Sublime: The Shaker Village Sorghum Dinner

Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, our cherished fount of beauty, hospitality and abundant agriculture, hosted a marvelous, outdoor, sorghum-themed meal a couple of weeks ago. Near the end, without forewarning, I had the chance to stand and announce "last call" for the (very kindly handled) sales of my books. I had the presence of mind to thank the guests for coming, but here's what I wish I had said as well:

I am grateful for Kentucky's agricultural bounty and heritage—including sorghum.
I am grateful for this rare and special place, Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, which has offered me and hundreds of thousands of others a haven of tranquility and quiet order, restoring me to well-being countless times since my first visit in 1969.
At Shaker Village, the Shakers themselves and the present day stewards of their land and legacy inspire deeper commitment to sustainable agriculture as the perfect expression of the great natural gifts of central Kentucky land, water, and climate. I am grateful for the legacy of the Shakers and for the good work of today's Shaker Village staff members. Thank you for making us all kindly welcome.
Sustainable agriculture tastes wonderful! Savor each bite and sip tonight.

The opening appetizer, a splendid stuffed squash, made many of us sigh with satisfaction and say, "That was enough, right there."

The night balanced perfectly between warm and cool. No mosquitoes joined the party. The long tables filled with congenial people and the sounds said, "Conviviality!"

One happy introduction, for me: the owners of Wilderness Trail Distillery, and their beautiful Harvest Rum, made from Danny Townsend's national champion Kentucky sorghum. That, and their commitment to sourcing the grains and ingredients for all their products from Kentucky farmers. Yes!

The nearly full moon graced us as the meal ended, topping even the extraordinary dessert.

The nearly full moon graced us as the meal ended, topping even the extraordinary dessert.

Ronni Lundy's "Victuals" Sharpens and Sweetens Our Understanding of Appalachia and Its Foodways

For weeks I avoided the rhapsodic reviews for Corbin native Ronni Lundy's category-defining new book, Victuals (public library) because I wanted to get the book from Ronni herself. I also wanted to read it fresh, without other readers framing my experience. Morris Book Shop hosted Ronni a few weeks ago and my restraint paid off: I received Victuals from Ronni's own authoritative hands. This post is an appreciation, not a review; I'll link to a few of those reviews at the end.

Ronni Lundy signing Victuals at Morris Book Shop, Lexington, Kentucky

Ronni Lundy signing Victuals at Morris Book Shop, Lexington, Kentucky

I had my first long, sweet, satisfying face-to-face conversation with Ronni Lundy three years ago. We talked about sorghum; she was doing the research for Sorghum's Savor, published in 2015. Yes, Victuals came out just 17 months later, on August 30, 2016.

This woman works. She produces, and not just books, although she has written and edited crucial books and periodicals for more than 20 years. By co-founding both the Southern Foodways Alliance in 1999 and the Appalachian Food Summit in 2013, and by continuing to work within both entities, Ronni invests in the long-term future. These bodies amount to powerful cultural tools dedicated to helping us understand our own history and food habits and choices, while also sustaining the recently emerging wider interest in Appalachian and southern contributions to our national table and identity.

Victuals amounts to a respectful, loving ethnography, explaining context and culture through stories of intriguing people as well as evocative photos by Johnny Autry. The recipes punctuate the narrative and illuminate key points relating to cuisine, as Vocabulary.com defines it:

A type of food that is cooked in a specific way based on a culture's ingredients, region, and traditions.

That said, I read Victuals as a personal book, one that both raised and answered questions. First, the book helps make sense of a few foods my Appalachian-born mother cooked that seemed exotic in not-Appalachian Wayne County*, less than 100 miles from Ronni's birthplace in Corbin, Kentucky. Mother's habit of making her exquisite biscuits very small? That's explained in the head note to "Bigger Isn't Better Buttermilk Biscuits." (Small biscuits cook faster and get into hungry hands more quickly.)

Mother made "Wilted Salad" each spring, marrying tender leaf lettuces, green onions, hot bacon grease and vinegar for a symbolic green-sour-salty salute to the new growing season. in Victuals, Ronni says this salad's Appalachian name is "Killed Lettuce," and then provides a recipe. Literally as I have been writing this post, the popular online cooking site Food52 promoted an adaptation of Ronni's "Killed Lettuce." That post first seemed oddly timed to me, given the salad's association with spring greens and gardens. Victuals came out at the end of August and it's fall right now, although certainly many groceries and markets carry all the ingredients for Killed Lettuce all year long at this point.

On second thought, though, the Food52 post and its mess of comments point to what I most respect about Ronni Lundy's work in Victuals: she brilliantly, carefully excavates the roots of Appalachian cuisine and corrects a few myths as she goes; at the same time she brings an inventive cook's sensibility to renewing workable core recipes. Wiggle room is allowed; variations on themes are welcomed. In fact, making delicious food that varies a bit according to what's on hand? That's crucial for mealtime happiness in any place where terrain, soils, climate and seasons define available foods. Theme and variation, improvisations—not strict adherence to a fixed liturgy of recipes as prescribed forms and formularies—make for good eating as well as good reading,

My mother revered her own Appalachian mother's ability to make delicious food out of what was available by using savvy flavor-boosting methods and smart preparations.  Similarly, the cooks and chefs behind the recipes in Victuals treat food as a noble opportunity to tweak what's at hand to delight the senses of people gathered around the table. 

The first recipe in the book offers a reinvention of chicken and dumplings ("Karl Worley's Roasted Chicken & Dumplings") that includes fresh herbs, a fresh lemon, and noteworthy amounts of heavy cream. Lemon, cream and fresh herbs in chicken-and-dumplings assured me this book avoids the doctrinaire.

Until the moment I looked at that recipe for not-my-grandmother's chicken and dumplings, I had actually been a bit scared of "Victuals." I feared it might present definitive recipes for foods that matter deeply but on which reasonable people can differ. Except few reasonable people can be found when Mama's recipe for jam cake or Uncle Joe's way of frying chicken have to be the ONLY way to heaven on earth. Something as ordinary as pan gravy can vary slightly and cause fussing from one family, valley, county or community to the next. Instead of drawing hard lines in soft earth, most of the recipes in Victuals forthrightly reflect variation based on personal and family preferences and make room for inventive cooks and chefs, including Ronni herself, to riff on Appalachian themes in the service of flavor. I applaud this approach as a reflection of how real cooking with regional ingredients actually works: people cook with what comes from nearby, and vary it based on what's at hand that might taste good.

I valued Victuals' help in getting to know more about familiar foods. On some pages I took refuge in feeling the comfort that comes from agreeing with a whole lot of people about a certain style of biscuits or a specific set of cornbread ingredients. Even more, though, I enjoyed all the new ingredients, dishes and stories in Victuals. Take sonker, for example: a luscious-sounding, juicier version of cobbler, and a word I first read in this book. Some foods with names I have heard, like tomato gravy, sallet and chow-chow, are new and exotic because I have never tasted them. And certainly Kentucky Kimchi and Icebox Green Strawberry Pickles stretch Appalachians' deep commitment to pickling and preserving far enough to approach new taste frontiers.

Some of the "new" flavors in the book have roots dating back centuries, if not millennia. It is exciting that the Victuals take on Appalachian food includes Kentucky native plants that helped sustain the people who lived on this land long before Europeans arrived. Kudos to Ronni Lundy for featuring foods like sochan (a spring green), sumac oil and redbud blossoms along with the remarkably popular ramps and the soup beans, greens, and shuck beans we expected.

I have made public confessions about how recently I began eating some splendid foraged foods, including mulberries and redbud blossoms. I did grow up treasuring foraged persimmons and mushrooms, especially morels. On the other hand, I first learned about ramps when I began noticing them in New York Times recipes, most likely in this present century.

ACE Magazine's cover story on Ronni Lundy: "Ronni Lundy's Victuals among the year's best food books."

ACE Magazine's cover story on Ronni Lundy: "Ronni Lundy's Victuals among the year's best food books."

I appreciate the context, history, clarification, debunking and setting the record straight that fill the narrative portions making up most of Victuals. The second chapter, "Salt of the Earth," outs salt as both the historical object of the region's initial "mining" industry and the tasty key to regional favorite flavors like cured pork and pickles. Ronni notes that West Virginia's Kanawha River Valley featured 52 salt furnaces in 1815, and two rival family-owned salt mines operated in Clay County, Kentucky until the 20th century.

The story of salt in Appalachia took a human and environmental toll that leaves a bitter taste, but Ronni also includes a sweet coda. In 2013, seventh generation descendants of the founders of J. Q. Dickinson Salt-Works began producing salt again in the Kanawha River Valley, using solar-powered evaporation and guided by a commitment to sustainability. This "new," ageless salt is beautiful and a joy to use.

The warm reception for Ronni Lundy's Victuals is one of several signs that Appalachia and its people are attracting strong interest in the larger world. At the same time, Victuals plays an important role by presenting ancient Appalachia afresh. Here are good stories of strong, resilient people caring for the earth and each other and sustaining themselves through the strengths and assets that constitute the region's heritage.

The sweetest expression of this commitment to Appalachian place, people and culture comes from fine jam maker Walter Harrill, whose family has lived in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, for seven generations:

". . . the truth of it is, we look 'out there,' at the rest of the world, and then we kind of shake our heads and say, 'Well, I just hate it for them.'"

~~~~~~~~~~

Here are excerpts from a few Victuals reviews:

The Washington Post: ‘Victuals,’ reviewed: A love letter to Appalachia, with recipes, by Jane Black.

Lundy has written a love letter to the foods, culture and fortitude of Appalachian people. In it, we learn to make dishes such as a pot of “mountain green beans and taters,” but we also get a deeper understanding of the role those dishes continue to play in some of America’s oldest communities.

Publisher's Weekly:

. . . an elegantly photographed and lovingly narrated appreciation of Appalachian cuisine and the people who grow and prepare it.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Kentucky native documents food and stories of Appalachia in new cookbook, by Wendell Brock

She sings of real corn bread and leather britches, chili buns and pickled bologna. She essays on apple butter, killed lettuce, chicken and dumplings, and sorghum syrup. She tells the tale of the people and places of the Southern Appalachians, her homefolk, how they lived off the land, put up food, played fiddles and banjos, and, despite being told that they were poor and backward, were too smart and proud to buy into the lie.

With “Victuals,” Ronni Lundy — salt-of-the-earth Kentucky native, former newspaper reporter, pop-music critic, Southern Foodways Alliance founder and longtime chronicler of the “hillbilly diaspora” — has produced one of the most important and authentic books on Southern culture of her generation.

Asheville Citizen-Times: Asheville author looks to preserve Appalachia with 'Victuals,' by Mackensy Lunsford

Four thousand miles Lundy drove for her new book, gathering tales, recipes and anecdotes. It's a journey that comes alive in color far more vivid than those images you'll often see, the kind that paint Appalachia as a backwater monoculture.

You know the type. You've seen it in "Deliverance." Or in artsy black-and-white expose photos of Appalachia as primarily populated with Scotch-Irish isolationists and their descendants, eking out a living in the coal mines, fields or what-have-you.

Recipes and photos reprinted from Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Copyright ©2016 by Ronni Lundy. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. (Photo: Photo by Johnny Autry.)

"That ignores the histories of black and ethnic communities, the Native American influence and the fact that there's a large amount of European influence in the region," Lundy said. "We're not all Scotch-Irish and those of us who are, are not all angry and isolated."

Some are German like Rosa, a woman Lundy describes meeting in "Victuals." Rosa grew up eating Getrocknete Bohnen, literally "dried beans," which Lundy postulates could have been the forebear of the shuck bean. Shuck beans are also known as leather britches, or beans dried in their pods and then slowly rehydrated during the cooking process.

You can find a recipe for the dish in "Victuals." It has only three ingredients: shuck beans, seasoning meat and salt. But the method for making them is lyrically written, like Lundy herself is perched on a stool in your kitchen, peering over your shoulder as you cook.

* Footnote from waaaay back in paragraph 5: See prolific anthropologist-folklorist Lynwood Montell's Upper Cumberland Country and other sources that place Wayne County in the Upper Cumberland region, which has its own ways of doing things.

Sunrise Bakery Saturdays, Reed Valley Orchard Autumns

I join many in cherishing Saturday mornings at Sunrise Bakery on Lexington's Main Street. I enjoy the coffee, but I go for the convivial spirit of the place. Co-owner Kristy Matherly makes a constant stream of customers feel welcome, raising hospitality to a fine art.

Sunrise Bakery Americano (two shots of espresso plus hot water and a bit of cream) and Reed Valley Orchard Stayman Winesap apple

Sunrise Bakery Americano (two shots of espresso plus hot water and a bit of cream) and Reed Valley Orchard Stayman Winesap apple

It's easy to stop at Sunrise Bakery on Saturday mornings either before or after shopping at the Lexington Farmers Market one block away. Although the Sunrise breads and pastries dazzle, as a gluten avoider I concentrate on the coffee, unless I have spotted something delicious in the Market, as I did this week.

Wonderful Reed Valley Orchard had the apple I dream about, wait for (and dangle other propositions because of) -- the Stayman Winesap. I brought one to Sunrise to enjoy with my coffee. The "faces" of the coffee and the apple showed a subtle natural beauty - even, perhaps, a kinship. Or that may have been the Matherly magic, which makes all of us notice our connections to each other and to life's own goodness.

Chef Vivian Howard Gets Toasted at Loretto, Kentucky

I'm four years late to the excellent PBS series, A Chef's Life, a REAL reality show that follows farm-to-table chef Vivian Howard at her work. I've started by watching the most recent episode, "Onions and Avetts," and—uh-oh—I'll be watching all three previous seasons: 15 hours of rich, fun viewing. There goes the planned deep clean of the living room.

Both the small bulbs and greens on these early season onions offer a world of flavor opportunities. Most likely these beauties grew at Stonehedge Farm Produce in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Chef Vivian won me with the very first ingredient she praised in this new season of the show: green onions, or, for New England and the mid-Atlantic coast, scallions. (Same allium.) The Campsie Gardener makes sure at least a few green onion stems can be picked just outside our kitchen door all through the growing season. Just days ago, one of our three tall, handsome sons and I agreed that even small amounts of green onions and chives can transform a dish. Chef Vivian plans much of a late spring North Carolina meal around these easy to grow, overlooked vegetables. She gives me Ideas. . . or, more accurately More Ideas.

Seed heads on "multiplying onions" in the Campsie garden.

Seed heads on "multiplying onions" in the Campsie garden.

  • Chef Vivian and her husband Ben Knight launched their "progressive eatery," Chef & the Farmer, in Kinston, North Carolina in 2006.
  • The PBS show featuring Chef Vivian, A Chef's Life, premiered in 2013.
  • Vivian Howard's book of stories and recipes, Deep Run Roots, will be released on October 4.
  • Maker's Mark will honor Chef Vivian with its 2016 TasteMaker's award at a special event and dinner on October 8 in Loretto, Kentucky. The menu items released so far include Tomato Pie, Blueberry BBQ Chicken, and Viv's Favorite Beet Salad. Tickets are still available here.

Rich In All The Best Ways

Every Hot Water Cornbread weekly radio show begins remarkably. My co-hosts and I dish about the best bite or sip we had the previous week. It's always inspiring and often mouth-watering, hearing what my co-hosts Chefs Ouita and Chris Michel either cooked for each other or encountered out in the great big world.

"LeShae" cheese from Heavenly Homestead, left, plus Harrow Sweet pear from Reed Valley Orchard equals heavenly sweetness (and savor), all from Kentucky's wonderful land and growers.

"LeShae" cheese from Heavenly Homestead, left, plus Harrow Sweet pear from Reed Valley Orchard equals heavenly sweetness (and savor), all from Kentucky's wonderful land and growers.

I knew since Sunday afternoon at 3:42 PM exactly what my own best bite(s) would be this week. That's when I sat down and indulged in two completely Kentucky foods with impeccable pedigrees and provenance. I first took a bite of a ripe Harrow Sweet pear Dana Reed and his family and workers grew near Paris, Kentucky at Reed Valley Orchard. Pear perfection. Then I "peared" it with a balancing bite of a different kind of Kentucky goodness: Heavenly Homestead's "LeShae" cheese, which Terry Huff makes using the milk of his tenderly tended, grass-fed Jersey cows in Windsor, Kentucky. LeShae comes with a beauty mark: a lovely purple edge, courtesy of the Smith-Berry blackberry wine featured in its aging process.

Food from both these growers has filled me with gratitude many times before. Savoring Kentucky includes many references to both, as well as "This is THE Pear," a 29-second video testimonial to a Reed Valley Orchard Magness pear two years ago. I featured Terry and his extraordinary commitment to pasture, his Jersey cows, and his careful cheese-making in my second book, Classic Kentucky Meals.

We can never say "thank you" sufficiently, never widely or deeply enough, for all the goodness Kentucky and its brilliant growers and producers deliver to our plates every day. We did, at least, appreciate the Reeds and Terry Huff out loud on today's edition of Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio.

Note: Savoring Kentucky sponsor Good Foods Coop sells Heavenly Homestead cheeses, including LeShae, along with many Reed Valley Orchard apples. For pears, check the Lexington Farmers Market on Saturdays, or head out to the orchard. It's a favorite trip for central Kentuckians who love fruit. You might call first to see what's available: (859)987-6480.

 

Bringing Persimmons Forward

Kentucky: please embrace your persimmon potential. These lovely fruits fit this climate and soil, and handle all the hard work on their own. City, country, suburbs—give them enough water to get firmly situated, and persimmons thrive anywhere. No spraying, no pruning. We all love figs, which can be iffy to grow in Kentucky, but we neglect persimmons, which are so willing to fill us with sweet, custardy, fruity happiness every fall.

Seven years after Sherry Maddock managed a multi-site neighborhood orchard planting—and after a year of construction all around them—the two neighborhood persimmon trees at the corner of North MLK Boulevard and East Fourth Street, in the northwest corner of the renewed Living Arts and Science Center land, promise persimmon heaven in about a month.

Seven years after Sherry Maddock managed a multi-site neighborhood orchard planting—and after a year of construction all around them—the two neighborhood persimmon trees at the corner of North MLK Boulevard and East Fourth Street, in the northwest corner of the renewed Living Arts and Science Center land, promise persimmon heaven in about a month.

First blush, first hint of the rich, burnt orange color of the fully ripened persimmon fruit for 2016

First blush, first hint of the rich, burnt orange color of the fully ripened persimmon fruit for 2016

When Chef Ouita Michel visited the Kentucky State Fair two weeks ago, she discovered that wild persimmons and pawpaws had to be entered and judged in their unripened, green phase. Phew! Photo credit: Ouita Michel--thank you!

When Chef Ouita Michel visited the Kentucky State Fair two weeks ago, she discovered that wild persimmons and pawpaws had to be entered and judged in their unripened, green phase. Phew! Photo credit: Ouita Michel--thank you!

Listen to chefs Ouita and Chris Michel's tales of Kentucky's 2016 State Fair here.

Ready to plant? Look at the choices Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery offers, and write or call for specific advice about type and number and important things like pollination requirements. Do what NRNTN tells you! Fall delight will follow, for years and years to come.

What's Stirring, Late August, 2016

Really, nothing should be stirring in this superhuman heat. But plants keep growing, even if they are stressed, and their human friends keep on harvesting/weeding/watering/marketing. Farming at this moment might be defined, in part, as "surviving in inhumane conditions." Some observations and events:

1. Mark and Velvet Henkle of Henkle's Herbs & Heirlooms in Nicholasville added an additional hoop house to their collection of season extension facilities this year. Hoop houses, also known as high tunnels, make it possible for Mark and Velvet to keep their extraordinary peppers, tomatoes and herbs producing during more months of each year. I learned about the new hoop house at today's Lexington Farmers Market when my eyes went wide at Velvet and Mark's late summer svelte-ness: both have simply worked so many hours, in enough heat, to use up dozens of pounds of stored energy.

Farmers=my heroes, especially the farmers who think way into the future, building soil and caring for their land, water and air in ways that benefit all of us.

2. Conversations are the second main point of farmers' markets. In an excellent conversation this morning with Dr. Greg Davis, host of the popular, useful Dr. Greg Davis on Medicine on our vital NPR-affiliate, WUKY, I learned about someone who works creatively to engage farmers in caring for their own health and their families' wellbeing. Last week Dr. Davis featured Professor Deborah Reed, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, who has developed a readers' theater that farmers put on for each other at a dinner event devoted to improving farmers' health and safety.  There are many aha moments in the short 5.5 minute podcast and accompanying story, but how about this argument for protection from sun?

"Farmers are missing the tops of their ears because they wear baseball caps instead of wide-brim straw hats like we all used to do."

3. Those of us who live in the Commonwealth can all live in an agricultural paradise called Kentucky—if we support our farms and farmers properly. CSA memberships (purchasing an upfront share of a farm's upcoming season's harvest) may help food-producing farms the most. (Search Local Harvest for CSAs near you.) Other ways to make a difference with our dollars: shop at farmers' markets and roadside stands. Ask your local groceries to do the extra work of bringing locally grown foods into their stores. Pay what farmers ask; they know what it costs to produce their food.

Aaaaaand --- how about going to this delicious upcoming Fayette County Farm Bureau Farm to Table dinner on September 9? It's on a farm—Walnut Lawn Farm on Military Pike in Fayette County. This dinner supports Bluegrass Double Dollars, which makes healthy, locally grown food affordable for people who receive SNAP benefits (food stamps), improving their health and boosting local farm income at the same time.

Lots of details here, from the event page:

We are excited to announce the First Annual Fayette County Farm Bureau Field to Table Dinner on September 9th at Walnut Lawn Farm in Lexington, KY! This four course family style meal will be created and served by the culinary talents of The Sage Rabbit and Sullivan University. Each dish will celebrate the hard work and unique products of Clark Family Farm, Teal Tractor CSA, Rolling Blue Farm, Elmwood Stock Farm, Rosemont Bakehouse and Bellaire Blooms among others. The event will also feature beverages from West Sixth Brewery and Talon Winery. Ticket cost is $75 per person which includes a $35 tax-deductible donation to Bluegrass Double Dollars (www.bgfarmtotable.org/double-dollars/). This program directly benefits Kentucky farmers and improves our community’s health by making local produce more affordable for food-insecure families in Lexington. Come enjoy a delicious meal, live music, and great conversation at the heart of a 6th generation family farm. We are grateful for your support of local farm families and look forward to seeing you at the table!

In the kitchen during these hot days, we all turn to cool dishes to stir up. Two of my all-time favorites, neither requiring turning on a single burner:

Tomato-Feta Salad

Aunt Bea's Immediate Pickly Cucumbers

FoodChain and GleanKY, With Help From Friends, Lead Us into A New Local Food Era

Savoring Kentucky, like any normal being, likes being in on good things from the beginning. FoodChain has dazzled us with its vision and persistence since its beginning as an idea in the brilliant mind and heart of Becca Self.

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For four years Becca has led a skilled staff, a good board, and lots of committed volunteers in discovering how to produce premium greens and premium fish together in a symbiotic, locally engineered aquaponics farm in formerly abandoned industrial space. She has worked with staff and volunteers during many past months to launch the education component of FoodChain with young students and to meet, eat and collaborate with near neighbors. 

The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust noticed. Last week FoodChain and GleanKY announced a substantial investment from the Trust, which helps make it possible for FoodChain to construct a planned teaching and processing kitchen, with GleanKY as a crucial partner. GleanKY has proven it is feasible to harvest and use local food that would otherwise be wasted. The partnership between FoodChain and GleanKY means that less than perfect produce from nearby farms will reach FoodChain's new kitchen, benefiting farms and farm families, eaters, and participants in FoodChain's classes and job development initiatives. 

Read more here: FoodChain adding kitchen to teach food processing, cooking, by Janet Patton

Listen to Becca Self describing the new gift and its impact when she appeared on Hot Water Cornbread: Kentucky Food Radio with chefs Ouita and Chris Michel earlier this week.

Eat Well, Make Friends, Help Others Eat Well

If you like to invest in something wonderful and get some benefits yourself, get yourself and a companion tickets to this beautiful collaborative dinner, hosted by Fayette County Farm Bureau for the benefit of Bluegrass Double Dollars, featuring locally grown goodness, and held at a world-class Fayette County farm. Buy tickets here; more than 50 percent of your ticket goes straight to Bluegrass Double Dollars.

See more details below the poster.

From the Farm Bureau announcement:

We are excited to announce the First Annual Fayette County Farm Bureau Field to Table Dinner on September 9th at Walnut Lawn Farm in Lexington, KY! This four course family style meal will be created and served by the culinary talents of The Sage Rabbit and Sullivan University. Each dish will celebrate the hard work and unique products of Clark Family Farms, Teal Tractor CSA, Rolling Blue Farm, Rosemont Bakehouse and Bellaire Blooms among others. The event will also feature beverages from West Sixth Brewery and Talon Winery. Ticket cost is $75 per person which includes a $35 tax-deductible donation to Bluegrass Double Dollars (www.bgfarmtotable.org/double-dollars/). This program directly benefits Kentucky farmers and improves our community’s health by making local produce more affordable for food-insecure families in Lexington. Come enjoy a delicious meal, live music, and great conversation at the heart of a 6th generation family farm. We are grateful for your support of local farm families and look forward to seeing you at the table!

Grief and Gooseberries

One of my life's best friends will be moving to Australia soon. Since I have known, I have dreaded, mourned, grieved—and tried to talk myself out all those behaviors. My beloved friend, inspiration and guide—important to so many in our place—is in good health! She's going to Australia to keep doing good work! She leaves parts of her very heart with us, a legacy of faith and goodness, rooted and fertile and growing!

Still, Sherry Maddock is a hard person to lose from daily life and neighboring. Yesterday I got a little help as I picked a small portion of the gooseberries on one single plant in the London Ferrill Community Garden and Orchard, a project Sherry envisioned and led to fruition—note the photo below—eight years ago. I realized, as I have with other griefs, that on the other side of grieving rests deep gratitude for the gift of a person's life. Sherry Maddock: these tart gooseberries helped me move toward that peace. You, the Minister of Gardening and your life and witness continue to work through one of your many works.

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