Appalachian Food Expert Ronni Lundy’s Essential Reading List
The cookbooks and cultural ephemera you need to really understand the Mountain South, straight from the woman who's dedicated her life to documenting its foodways
Reading Ronni Lundy’s newly released Appalachian cookbook, Victuals, has us hungering for more. All too often, the story told about the Mountain South is one of “Our Contemporary Ancestors,” (as William G. Frost called the people of Appalachia in 1899). In these tellings, Lundy says, the people of the Southern mountains “are somehow uniformly people who only survive when preserved in an amber crystal of old ways, and were in danger of dying out altogether.”
But Lundy points us to some writers who get it right. Here’s her recommended Appalachian reading list:
Joe Dabney’s Smokehouse Ham, Spoonbread and Scuppernong Wine is a delightfully written solidly fundamental text on Appalachian foodways; Joe has other titles that are out of print, but worth looking for that address specifics. I referred to and both enjoyed and learned from his Mountain Spirits.
Fred Sauceman has a canon of books with delightful names beginning with The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level that chronicle the people who grow, make and eat as well as the food itself. Fred has also made several wonderful videos that you may be able to get your hands on.
Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South from the Southern Foodways Alliance’s anthology series is largely, though not exclusively about Appalachia, but it concentrates on the concept of the connections food creates among people and place.
The United States of Appalachia; How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America by Jeff Biggers is a grand book to start changing preconceptions and also learn a great deal about the diversity and value of this place to the country and world at large, beyond coal.
The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman is a beautifully written, researched and experienced novel that weaves a great deal of information on the agricultural and culinary roles of its protagonist and women in general in the mountains at the time of the Civil War, and in many ways continuing to the present.
Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel by Robert Gipe limns the power of place and culture in the contemporary, deeply fractured post-coal world with great tenderness and humor. It’s doubly powerful because the perspective is that of a barely teenaged girl searching for a place to belong; and because of Gipe’s drawings—seemingly rough but incisive. It’s the opening to a coming trilogy.
Roger May’s Looking at Appalachia crowd-sourced photography project is really about seeing Appalachia through fresh and clear lenses.
The Whitesburg, Kentucky based arts collective, Appalashop, has been empowering the people of the region to tell their own stories in their own voices through multiple media for almost 50 years now. Their work has consistent depth, breadth and integrity.
In terms of magazines, newspapers, and online writing, there are some bylines I’m always delighted to see when the subject is Appalachia—Sheri Castle, Courtney Balestier, Catherine Venable Moore, Jane Black—Keith Pandolfi on the Cincinnati-based diaspora. While in the past I’d say that it’s been rough going to get any magazine or news source that is not regional to move beyond “drive-by” journalism rehashing old tropes, that’s been changing on a piece by piece basis lately. Jane’s work in the Washington Post on Appalachian food and foodways has been exceptionally good. Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s New York Times article headlined Beyond Coal: Imagining Appalachia’s Future did a great job of just that. The online newspaper The Daily Yonder covers political and social issues from a rural perspective and has strong Appalachian voices.
The former managing editor of Serious Eats, Maggie Hoffman is a freelance food and beverage writer based in San Francisco.