Monday, December 08, 2008

Slowing Down

Traditional Appalachian cooking is the epitome of slow food. A cast iron skillet was only properly seasoned after years of use. Moonshine took months to make, starting with the planting of corn in the spring. Cooking down apple butter, rendering lard and canning produce took all day long. Even the daily fare of homemade bread, simmering soup beans and cooked greens took hours. Where has the time gone?

Now we eat fast food in the car driving 60 miles an hour. We stand and mentally hurry along the microwave as it heats our frozen dinners. We consume instant mashed potatoes, instant rice and instant coffee. I mean really, what’s the rush?

A return to slowing down again and truly savoring food may seem pretty unglamorous but it is a trend quietly sweeping the world. In 1986 the Slow Food movement was founded in direct response to the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rome’s famous Piazza di Spagna. This organization is dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. Their manifesto declares that “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.” The American branch of Slow Food was launched in 1998 and the movement continues to gain interest worldwide by people who care about preserving the traditional foodways in their communities.

We can embrace Appalachian slow food by choosing locally grown, seasonal food. Perhaps we could commit to a day a month or even a day each week to slow down, to carefully choose the food and consciously prepare it. Why not involve the whole family in the process or share this delicious food with friends? We might discover that the food tastes better and that we feel nourished and satisfied on many different levels. And that is something that no fast food meal or microwave dinner could ever offer. Who knows? This might just turn into a revolution, one bite at a time.

To learn more about Slow Food, click on
To learn more about Slow Food USA, click on

Blue Ribbon Dinner Rolls

Both my grandmother and my mother won notoriety at the county fair with this superior bread recipe (I’ve modified it slightly). After winning a blue ribbon, my grandmother was featured in a yeast ad and around a decade later, my mother was named best cook in the county. It’s slow food at it’s best.

1 cup warm water
4 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tablespoons cane sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon sea salt
Unbleached flour

1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Set aside to activate, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Add yeast mixture.

3. Add flour until just stiff – trust your judgement and intuition but it will take around 4 cups. Knead until springy and elastic, about 5 minutes.

4. Lightly grease a large bowl, turn dough into it, cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm, dry place until double in bulk, about 2 hours.

5. Punch down, knead, and let rise again, about 1 hour.

6. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.

7. Knead and form into rounded, sandwich-size rolls. Lay out on prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise final time, about 30 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

9. Bake in hot oven for about 20 minutes or until golden.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


How many biscuits can you eat this morning?
How many biscuits can you eat this evening?
How many biscuits can you eat?
Forty-nine more and a ham of meat.
This morning, this evening, right now!

Make my coffee good and strong this morning,
Make my coffee good and strong this evening,
Make my coffee good and strong,
Keep on bringing those biscuits on,
This morning, this evening, right now!

-- Two verses from the traditional mountain tune “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?”

In June 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England at the White House. A command performance had been arranged to feature the best American talent. Among the opera singers and classical musicians were the Coon Creek Girls, a string band from the Ohio Valley. The four women were scheduled to play old-time music and accompany Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s dance group from Western North Carolina.

The Coon Creek Girls opened with the traditional mountain tune “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” and stole the show. Proof positive that Appalachians take both their music and their food seriously!

Like many old-time songs, “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” mentions delicious mountain foods and pays particular homage to one of the foods most revered in Appalachian culture: biscuits. Whether eaten at breakfast, lunch (dinner to you old-timers) or supper, biscuits fit the bill. They can be paired with butter, honey or jam just as they can accompany ham or gravy. Any way they are served, biscuits have been a delicious part of mountain meals for generations.

Widely regarded as unhealthy, biscuits have earned a bad reputation. There is something deeply satisfying and inherently nourishing about foods created from scratch. The “biscuits” popped out of store-bought tubes can never compare to hot, homemade biscuits. Treat yourself to some “this morning, this evening, right now!”


My husband says, “yours are the best damn biscuits I’ve ever eaten.” He might be a little biased, but I did spend months perfecting this recipe, which is based on a more traditional version. These biscuits have that great old-fashion taste but incorporate new, more healthful ingredients.

2 cups unbleached flour
3 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons organic butter or Spectrum Spread
¾ cup soymilk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease baking sheet and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together soymilk and vinegar. Set aside to clabber.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
4. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
5. Add soymilk mixture and stir just until firm dough forms.
6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Dust lightly with flour and knead 20-30 times.
7. Pat out dough ½-inch thick.
8. Cut with a 3-inch biscuit cutter. Place on prepared baking sheet.
9. Repeat with remaining dough.
10. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until slightly golden on tops.
11. Serve immediately.