Appalachian Thursday – Old Timey Recipes

recipe bookMy friend Valerie recently gave me a treasure. It’s a copy of the 8th edition of Old Timey Recipes from 1975 as collected by Phyllis Connor. Inside the front cover someone wrote, “West Virginia, August 1976.” Since I would have been five years old then, I think I can safely say this is the food of my childhood!

Books like this one are priceless when I’m writing a novel and want to describe a meal or a way of preparing food. In addition to recipes “current” in 1975, Phyllis added this note, “We have put in a sprinkling of old timey recipes which are really out of date (such as sassafras jelly or hog jowl with turnip greens) but these are added because of their special interest.

Well, thank goodness–those are just what I need! There are also recipes for hickory nut cake, molasses candy, corncob jelly, vinegar pie, lime pickles, leather britches beans, clover tea, and moonshine. Talk about Appalachian cooking!

Since hickory nuts are in season right now, I thought I’d share the cake recipe with you. Of course, the REAL first step in making it is gathering and cracking all those hickory nuts. Warning, if you hit one wrong it will go flying!

HICKORY NUT CAKE

1/2 cup butter and shortening, about half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chopped hickory nuts
4 egg whites beaten stiff

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with the milk to creamed mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in nuts and egg whites. Pour into 2 greased 8x8x2 pans. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool. Before serving put layers together and frost with sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with chopped hickory nuts. -Mrs. H. T. Matthews

Appalachian Thursday – Hurricanes

flood1

Our coastal home following Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Talk about wanting to head for the hills!

Having lived on the coast of South Carolina I’ve had more experience with hurricanes than I like. We actually moved to the mountains of western North Carolina in large part because of flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

But the mountains are not immune from the ravages of hurricane weather!

In The Sound of Rain, I centered the story around Hurricane Hazel, which struck the coast near the NC/SC state line in 1954. Thus far, it’s been the ONLY category 4 hurricane to hit North Carolina. But that’s far from the only thing that made Hazel exceptional.

She hit at high tide during the full moon causing an 18-foot storm surge. There are harrowing stories of people stuck in trees, in attics, and swept away never to be seen again. But that wasn’t the worst of Hazel.

Most storms lose their steam after they make landfall. Hazel made her way north, hugging the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Wind gusts near 100 mph were felt as far north as New York. It was also an incredibly fast-moving storm, making landfall in the Carolinas the morning of October 15 and reaching Canada the following day.

The storm wrapped up the worst of her rampage in Toronto where she still had the strength of a category 1 hurricane and caused catastrophic flooding and destruction.

In The Sound of Rain, Judd Markley helps survivors in Myrtle Beach, SC, before heading home to West Virginia to help his family with damage there. While a purely fictional account, it was accurate. My home state was dramatically impacted by the storm–especially in the southeastern part of the state.

I hope, wherever you are, you’re safe from the storm. And I pray Florence isn’t one of those storms we’re still talking about decades later!

Appalachian Thursday – Roots of the Mountain

roots contract

Even as I’m looking forward to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, I’m excited to be working on my next full-length novel tentatively titled Roots of the Mountain. I signed a contract with Bethany House for two more Appalachian stories with the first releasing in the fall of 2019.

And for the first time, I’m writing about ACTUAL places in West Virginia. My story is set in the southeastern part of the state, specifically Thurmond, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur Springs–all rail towns.

White Sulphur Springs is best known as the home of The Greenbrier Resort. The resort opened in 1778 when guests came to “take the waters.” The year of my story–1930–is when the current hotel was substantially rebuilt and refurbished. But this part of WV really only gets a cameo. The bulk of the story is in Thurmond and Ronceverte.

And here’s the cool thing about Thurmond–in the 1920s it was a thriving coal town with a bustling population and lots of ritzy visitors. Today, it’s a ghost town with a population of FIVE. For years, it was accessed primarily by rail and even today getting there involves a harrowing drive down into the New River Gorge. But the town IS STILL THERE. The National Park Service owns it and it’s something of an out-of-the-way tourist destination.

Ronceverte was a thriving coal and lumber town, also on the rail line. There’s a particularly lovely depot built in 1915. The name of the town, incidentally, is French for greenbrier–the name of the county and a prickly plant common to the area.

I’m about to finish the first draft of this story and I’ll be sharing more as I go along, but for now I’m just calling it Jonah meets the Hatfields & McCoys! Looking forward to sharing the whole story with you in about a year . . .

 

French Creek Pioneers

I had the pleasure of attending the French Creek Pioneers gathering this past weekend with my dad and brother. This is a meeting of folks descended from the original settlers of French Creek, Va., back in the early 1800s (before West Virginia became a state). There were Goulds, Youngs, Smallridges, Sextons, and Phillips among others.

I’m descended from the Phillips line. The first ancestor to come to America was Nicholas who came to Dedham, Mass., in 1630. Six generations later, in 1815, David Phillips moved his family to French Creek. Seven generations later, in 1971, I came along.

These are the Phillips for whom I named the characters in my Appalachian Blessings series. They aren’t based on any specific ancestors, but are rather a collection of bits and pieces I’ve read or seen or heard along the way. And it was SO special to set up a book table and share those stories with folks who are . . . well . . . my family!

I love sharing my Appalachian stories with just about anyone, but it’s extra special to share them with family members who share the same heritage. Here are some photos from the weekend–click on the images for captions.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Clay Co. Wild Man

wild man

Photo courtesy of Norton Arborgast, findagrave.com

I’m always looking for inspiration for my characters and in WV I don’t have to look far. Take, for example, the Wild Man of Clay County.

First, his name was Orval Elijah Brown–a most excellent name for any character. Second, he spun his penchant for growing a beard and wearing little more than a loin cloth into ready money during the Depression.

Born in 1908, Orval, grew up on a farm, was educated through the eighth grade (pretty good in the early twentieth century), and was an avid reader. While something of a free spirit, he was also dedicated to healthy living. He claimed to eschew sex, drugs, and alcohol and kept in excellent physical shape. As is obvious in the photos he posed for.

When word got out that there was a Tarzan-like man living in a cave in WV, visitors began to come. Folks paid a quarter to have their picture taken with him.

His posing career was cut short, though, when he was called up for service in 1930. He served in the US Army for three years and then did a stint in the Navy from 1941-1943. I assume he wore the requisite uniforms.

Pretty good story, right?

But it gets more interesting! In 1950, Orval killed his first cousin. He claimed self-defense, pled insanity, and spent 18 years in a state mental hospital. After his release he lived with his sister in Nicholas County for nearly 30 years. He spent his last ten years in a retirement home, finally passing away at the age of 97 in 2005.

Man, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Appalachian Thursday – Reclaiming “Hillbilly”

view 7-4-18There’s been some talk lately about how hillbilly is a derogatory word that shouldn’t see the light of day. So I’m going on the record to say I not only don’t mind the word, but that I think we should reclaim it.

Consider the word’s origin (or etymology if you prefer): hill + Billy. So basically, taking a really common name for a person and linking it to hilly terrain. I know–I was hoping for something more highfalutin.

Here are two of the earliest known uses of the word in print:

“I would hate to see some old railroad man come here and take my job, and then, I don’t think it is right to hire some Hill Billy and give him the same right as I just because he was hired the same time I was.” – The Railroad Trainmen’s Journal, July 1892

“In short, Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires of his revolver as the fancy takes him.” -New York Journal, April 23, 1900

That second one actually makes hillbilly-ness sound pretty appealing–or at least free-wheeling. But derogatory? Well, I guess that depends on who you are and how you mean it.

Pretty much any word can become derogatory–I’ve certainly heard folks use the word “Yankee” in a way that didn’t convey admiration. But if you visit Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV, I think they’d tell you that word–and it’s stereotypical connotations–have worked out just fine for them.

I don’t mind it a bit if someone suggests that being from a farm in West Virginia makes me a hillbilly (maybe I’m a hillbetty). I’m proud of the place I grew up and the people who shaped me. Sure, there are problems–just like everywhere else. But there are also plenty of amazing stories of people overcoming, sticking it out, and staying true to their heritage.

So I say let’s ignore those folks who think hillbilly is a dirty word and reclaim it. In my book a hillbilly is someone who loves the hills and hollers of Appalachia; someone who has some knowledge of living off the land; who holds family close; who will step up to help a neighbor in need; is a creative problem-solver (do a search for hillbilly air conditioner); who knows how to laugh and makes a habit of doing so often; who plays hard, eats hearty, and loves deeply.

In short–some of my very favorite people in this whole world.

#hillbillylife

 

Appalachian Thursday – Anvil Shooting

watermelonJust like everywhere else in the country, folks in Appalachia spent yesterday enjoying cookouts, eating watermelon, warning the kids not to burn themselves with sparklers, and maybe enjoying some patriotic music.

We grilled hot dogs and chilled our watermelon in the creek out back. (It takes up too much room in the refrigerator.)

But back in the day there was another way mountain folks celebrated Independence Day–back before they could buy fireworks at a stand in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s called anvil shooting.

The idea is to place one anvil upside down on the ground and fill the concave space in the bottom with black powder. Then, place a second anvil right-side-up on top of the powder-filled first. A fuse is stuck into the powder, lit, and the resulting explosion can send the 100+ pound top anvil up to 20 feet in the air.

This was done in place of fireworks for rural people who wanted something more spectacular than just firing off a hunting rifle. It allegedly sounds like cannon fire.

There are actually anvil shooting competitions now and an anvil shooting world champion from Missouri named Gay Wilkinson. He’s launched anvils as high as 200 feet. The good news is anvils generally fall close to the launching point. Even on a windy day.

I generally love all things Appalachian, but I think I’ll stick to sparklers for my celebrations!