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Cast-iron cooking: Book chronicles history of mountain meals

Bookcover
 
MOUNTAIN MENU:

Butter bean: Brownish-gray cousin of the lima bean
Corn pone: Egg-shaped corn bread that should be crusty on the outside and soft on the inside
Moonshine: Whiskey made from corn
Pot likker: Flavorful liquid left after cooking greens
Scuppernong: Wild grape similar to a muscadine
Sorghum syrup: Light amber sweetener made from sorghum cane
Spoon bread: Similar to a cornmeal souffle
Stack cake: Layered dessert of thin cakes and dried apples
Sumac: Bush that produces berries with a tangy, lemon flavor
Ramps: Wild leeks with a strong, garlicky flavor
Redeye gravy: Sauce made with fried ham drippings and coffee
RECIPES:
  • Corn Pudding
  • Great Smoky Honey Muffins
  • May 14, 1999
    Web posted at: 4:08 p.m. EDT (2008 GMT)

    By Wendy Wolfenbarger
    CNN Interactive Food Editor

    ATLANTA (CNN) -- Author Joseph Dabney is quick to admit he's not a cook, but that didn't stop his book of Southern Appalachian fare and folklore from taking top cookbook honors at the James Beard Foundation Awards last week.

    "Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine" (Cumberland House) may give directions on how to broil a bear chop, pick a dandelion salad, or deep fat-fry a rattlesnake, but the book is more a history of hardy and resourceful people and generations of mountain living and beloved meals.

    Dabney traces the migration of European immigrants down into the Southern Appalachians in the 1700s and documents the dishes derived from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Germany and the Cherokee Nation.

    Interviews with a "100 odd" people capture the making and sharing of meals -- from boiling down sweet sorghum syrup in kettles to sampling it at church camp meetings and cookouts. Survival and self-reliance are found in the arts of planting, hunting, canning and curing, often dependent on the moon and stars and cast-iron common sense.

    Not a typical cookbook author

    Dabney, a suburban Atlanta resident and former public relations executive with Lockheed, said the book grew out of an idea to write about centenarians. "I began thinking about my own roots -- my father is Scotch-Irish, my mother is French-English."

    The result is four years of research and a tome just shy of 500 pages.

    Dabney, whose first book was a definitive history of the C-130 Hercules transport plane, says he is more of a gardener than a chef. "The book doesn't get you into the finer points of cooking."

    However, its collection of recipes, pulled from individuals and old books, is substantial. Beyond the methods for baked squirrel pie and elderberry wine are more classic country standards -- buttermilk biscuits, Brunswick stew, apple cobbler and a warming selection of mountain gravies.

    Holding on to history

    Dabney does not shy away from stereotypical Appalachian food or drink; he paints the history of corn pone and pot likker in full. He says his cookbook may be the only with a chapter on moonshine (recipes included).


    graphic
    The Roberts family holds a reunion in Gwinnett County, Georgia, in the 1940s.  

    Interest is high-country cooking remains strong, Dabney says, but old standbys are in danger of disappearing by way of interstate highways and modern conveniences -- stack cakes, sorghum syrup, mountain ramps may be just a few.

    "Smokehouse Ham" was originally nominated in the American cookbook category for the James Beard awards, the U.S. culinary community's top honors. It stood against books with multiple authors and pages of color. "I didn't think one little ol' Georgia redneck could win," he said. When it was announced that he took cookbook of the year, "I really went into shock. I started to walk, but went into a gallop."



    RELATED STORIES:
    Culinary world celebrates excellence at James Beard Awards
    May 4, 1999
    Dessert book tops Julia Child Cookbook Awards
    April 15, 1999
    Color, style, history: An appreciation of the label
    January 15, 1999

    RELATED SITES:
    James Beard Foundation
    Cumberland House
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    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

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