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Celebrating Appalachia

The Appalachian Outreach Department of Sinclair Community College is hosting a mini-Appalachian festival we’re calling ‘Celebrate Appalachia.’

I’m in the midst of planning the entertainment, demonstrations and displays of traditional artisanship, and the menu of foods that will be sampled by our students. My vision is to present the beauty and richness of the Appalachian heritage to the urban Appalachian students here, as well as students from various cultures represented in our college population.

It’s been easy to plan most parts of the celebration. We have a band who will play bluegrass and traditional folk music. Country dancers will demonstrate and teach folk dances from England and Scotland. A friend, Omope Carter-Daboiku, originally from Ironton, and an internationally renowned storyteller, has graciously agreed to share her talent with our audience.

We have artisans who will demonstrate and display woodturning, weaving, quilting and pottery. We will even have a photo display, focusing on coal mining and the people whose lives are touched by this industry.

Ironically, the most difficult area for me to plan has been the foods that represent our heritage. When I remember the foods from my childhood, I can’t help but re-envision the moments and the people intertwined there.

Every Saturday morning, Granny made yeast bread. I would wake up to the smell of the bread baking and my mouth would water, even before my eyes could open.

She would take a portion of the dough and make cinnamon rolls. It was a delight to bite into the soft warmth of the rolls she had covered with a sweet icing. I cannot find bread or rolls near as wonderful as Granny’s Saturday morning creations.

For special treats, Granny would make chocolate gravy to pour over our fresh biscuits. We called it ‘chocolate stuff.’ I remember opening the steaming biscuits and melting butter deep into the bread, then covering it all with the delicious concoction. We were truly rich when Granny made chocolate stuff.

Foods of my childhood carry feelings that can’t always be expressed. I remember white cornbread right out of the oven and the many uses Granny had for it. She would fry the leftover cornbread crumbs in butter and water or she’d cover cold cornbread with milk and we’d eat it up like it was ice cream. I remember loving my corn bread doused in buttermilk.

Our meat at Granny’s house was usually a chicken she had raised, killed and cleaned herself. She made her dumplings flat and dense, not fluffy and airy like city dumplings. When spring floods came someone would give us a huge catfish they’d caught in their flooded field. Granny would clean it and give us the air sacks in the fish to play with. Then, she’d fry the fish in cornmeal and lay out the bounty for us to feast upon.

In the spring, we’d help Granny pick fresh dandelion greens from the fields. She’d cook them down with fat-back and salt to feed our hungry bellies. At the time, I thought this was poor people food. Now I see dandelion greens in bunches at the grocery store.

Probably my most vivid memory around food was when Granny and Grandpa would have a groundhog to clean. Granny would hold one leg while Grandpa held the other as he skinned the animal. This may sound gruesome to people today, but to us it meant a special meal of mouthwatering meat. We would watch with anticipation and admiration as these old mountain people prepared food that we couldn’t get anywhere else.

Unfortunately, the college food service I must work with to prepare food for 200 people did not like the idea of serving groundhog. I had to limit my choices. So we’ve decided on chicken-n-dumplins (made Granny’s way), soup beans (which city people call bean soup), collard greens, corn bread, cooked apples, and hot biscuits with chocolate stuff. It will surely be a feast!

 

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.

 

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