Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Mountain Education

By this time, school is likely back in session in most, if not all, parts of the country.  And even if you don't have children, those big yellow buses rumbling over the roads are probably a reminder that the doors of education have once again been swung wide open for another year of learning. The field of education is near and dear to my heart. I have a teaching degree, several of my siblings either do or have worked in the field of education in some capacity, my mother was a teacher, and so were several of her siblings. And my mom and dad first met when they attended a one room school house together as children in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. My mother later ended up even teaching at that same one room school!

My painting of the little one room school where my mom and dad first met in the hills of Kentucky
Now you might think from the title of this post that I plan on focusing on the education that children receive, or did receive, in the mountains of Appalachia. But that's not where I'm really headed with this.  Rather, when I say "A Mountain Education," I am speaking of the education you can give children about the mountains...more specifically, about their mountain roots. I am always looking for ways I can teach my children about their Appalachian heritage. I'm a huge fan of the saying "You'll know better where you're going if you know where you've been."   Keeping the mountain culture and way of life tangible and understandable to the youngest descendants of migrants can certainly be a challenge.  However, when life gets hectic, and actual trips "back home" may become infrequent, there are still ways to pass along a knowledge and love of our mountain culture to those little ones.

In this post I'm going to tell you about two children's books that I just adore.  They both can be used to teach kids about their Appalachian roots...and they both happen to be by the same author.

Have you ever heard of Cynthia Rylant?  Rylant grew up in West Virginia in the 1960's, so she knows Appalachia well.  She is an award winning author, with multiple publications...and several of her works are set in the southern hills.

The first book of Rylant's that I ever read was Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds.  I immediately fell in love with it, for she speaks of some of the most subtle Appalachian ways...that an outsider to the culture might completely overlook as utterly insignificant...yet they resonate as golden memories and emotions when read by someone with childhood mountain experiences.  I find myself smiling and pining at her mention of mountain people's given names, the Appalachian migrant's experience, the arrangement of bed coverings, where dogs should be kept, abundant food and what's done with the leftovers, and the special scent of the outdoors in the mountains.  These and more are all things that I can truly relate to from Rylant's book...and her words take me back to childhood trips to my Mamaw and Papaw's Appalachian farm.

Now for all my love of this book (because I really do think it is a great piece of writing with a tremendous teaching value), I have to put a disclaimer on the book as well.  Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds is meant to be enjoyed by older children...or adults like me!  It is likely too lengthy and wordy for preschoolers and younger elementary students.  So it is best for upper elementary grades or higher.

And one more disclaimer for this book...if you give this book to your children, grandchildren, etc. to read, PLEASE read it for yourself first, AND discuss it with them afterwards.  Rylant's writing style in this book paints broad, all-encompassing brush strokes about the Appalachian people.  It makes for a great read, but you definitely want to make sure any youth reading it realizes that the things she says about people in Appalachia are generalizations that don't accurately describe everyone in the region.  ...but despite this little hiccup, I still gotta say that this book speaks to my heart.  If you read it and something about it speaks to yours too, share it with the youth in your family. And talk to them about what you can relate to in the will do them and you good, trust me!

You can purchase Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds here.  Or if you would like to support an Appalachian based bookstore, you can purchase it here, at the Jesse Stuart Foundation.  LOVE that place and what they do to promote Appalachian literature!

Rylant's other book that I recommend is When I Was Young in the Mountains. You can probably read this one to a bit younger audience than the previous book.  This work is set in the past in Appalachia, so you want to make sure that children who read it understand that it is not about modern day Appalachia.  This book shows the loving care given by the narrator's mountain grandparents and the sweet warmth of their Appalachian home.  I love her mention of pinto beans, smell of sweet milk, and baptisms in a swimming hole.  But perhaps my favorite part of the book, is when she talks of how her grandmother goes after a black snake with a hoe.  Now can't you all relate to that!?  I can't tell you the number of times I've heard a story about one of my Appalachian grannies getting a snake with a hoe!

Garden hoe, minus the snake…'cause there's a limit to the lengths I will go to for a good visual aid! 
And the last page of the book really makes me smile for all the sweet things it says about the region.  It truly is a beautiful tribute to our culture.  You can purchase When I Was Young in the Mountains here.  Or, the Jesse Stuart Foundation also carries it here.

Now I also want to share with you a fun way you can hear When I Was Young in the Mountains being read.  One of my all-time favorite websites is Christy Jordan's Southern Plate.  Christy is from the Appalachian Mountains of Northern Alabama and in addition to being a blogger, cookbook author, and an editor for Southern Living Magazine, etc., she reads children's books on a section of her website called Story Time.  One of the books she reads is When I Was Young in the Mountains, and I just love to watch her video of it!  You can give it a listen here. While you are there, make sure to check out all her other Story Time videos and share them with the little ones you know...she's got a lot of fun ones!  And I promise not to tell if you sneak over to her list of southern recipes while you're there.  Believe me, they are drool-worthy!  As a little sidenote, I happen to know (from first hand experience) that Christy's recipe for chocolate cobbler is to die for! It's become a go-to recipe when I want a quick but REALLY delicious weeknight family dessert.'re welcome!  

Chocolate cobbler I just baked using Christy Jordan's recipe from Southern Plate…SO GOOD!
I hope this post has given you a few ideas for sharing our mountain heritage with the little ones in your family.  Passing that heritage down to the next generation is a great way to celebrate all that is wonderful about our Appalachian culture!  Hope to see you back here soon!  God bless!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Papaw's Eastern Kentucky Mountain Style Apple Dumplings

We're heading into apple season!  Makes me think of all the fall trips we took to the apple orchard when I was a child.  My mom loves apples and always wanted to have several bushels to last throughout the cold months.  She'd store them in big cardboard boxes in our garage, covering them with throw rugs when the winter temperatures dipped low.  The garage smelled more like an orchard outbuilding than it did of gasoline and motor oil.  When the neighborhood children would catch sight of those big boxes overflowing with apples, they'd always comment that they wished they had that much fruit at their houses.  Mom and Dad were just doing what they had been taught during their years of growing up in Depression era Appalachia; gather up and put up so you're prepared for tomorrow.

Now my mother's love of apples probably came naturally, because she descended from a long line of apple lovers.  Her dad (my papaw), her grandpa, and her great grandpa all loved apples.  I interviewed my papaw about his past a couple of years before he passed away, and he had this to say about his grandfather, who was an Eastern Kentucky farmer and apple grower…"Used to have some of the best sweet apples I ever ate.  Sweet apples…that was Grandpa!"

Great Great Grandpa "Sweet Apple," an Eastern Kentucky Farmer and apple grower.
I'll tell you a little apple story about my papaw himself…it's a bit sad, but there will literally be a "sweet ending," so bear with me.  My papaw was a big, strong, hardworking Eastern Kentucky farmer.  He loved life, loved people, and LOVED to eat…and boy, did he have a sweet tooth!  When Papaw got well into his eighties, he began struggling with Parkinson's Disease, which left him highly susceptible to pneumonia as it progressed.  He was in and out of the hospital quite a bit with this in the last few years before he passed.  On one of these occasions, a couple of my sisters and I were down visiting him while he was being treated in the hospital.  Now it just so happened that an annual apple festival was going on in town that very same day…within walking distance of the hospital.  We knew they would be selling all kinds of apple delicacies: apple butter, apple pies, and of course, apple dumplings! So knowing full well that Papaw had that sweet tooth, we asked him if he would like to have some apple dumplings.  And of course he said yes.  Honestly, who wouldn't!?!

An old photo of Papaw, out and about on his farm in the East Kentucky hills!
So one or more of us made the trek out and back to one of the little stands selling apple dumplings at the festival.  Now Papaw's eyesight and coordination were also failing, so I remember my sister slicing and feeding him this apple dumpling.  Upon first bite, Papaw was disappointed!  Let me tell you, the apple dumpling was delicious (I know because I had one myself…don't judge me!), but Papaw informed us right off that it hadn't been what he had expected.  I remember him saying that he thought it was going to be real apple dumplings...

And then we knew immediately what he meant.  Have you ever had Appalachian style berry dumplings?  You know, the kind where the biscuit-like dumpling dough is spoon dropped into this sugary sweet berry liquid of pure heaven!!!  (Yes, I'm a fan!)  Well, poor Papaw had been there in his hospital bed the whole time that apple dumpling was being retrieved, thinking that he was about to get to savor THAT type of dumplings. Perfectly understandable, as those were the type of dumplings Papaw had grown up eating and had known all his life.  ...maybe not made with apples, but he certainly didn't expect a whole apple wrapped in a pie dough-like crust and baked in an oven.  And we could see the disappointment on his face.

Well, let me tell you, I just felt so bad for Papaw!  It doesn't take much to break my heart when it comes to old people…I've got a soft spot a mile wide for the elderly, and Papaw's apple dumpling disappointment made me a little disappointed too.  Over the years, I have thought about this incident from time to time, and wondered why I have never heard of anyone actually making Appalachian style apple dumplings before.  Growing up, we just always had these type of dumplings with berries...and maybe the occasional peach.  I have had raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, black raspberry…even strawberry dumplings done this way.  But for some reason, no one that I knew of had ever done this style of dumplings with apples.

Is it just me?  Is it just my family that never tried it?  What about you all?  Did you ever try apple dumplings done in the same style as Appalachian berry dumplings? Well, in honor of my sweet Papaw, who I miss with all my heart, here is my attempt at "Papaw's Eastern Kentucky Mountain Style Apple Dumplings!" I debated calling them "Apple-achian Dumplings," but then you all might think I'm nuttier than what I really am!

So here is what you'll be needing to make this yumminess…

Apples (I used gala, but just about any firm variety would work.), granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, butter, water, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and vegetable or canola oil.

First, peel, core, and chop your apples. I used 6 smallish apples and they equaled about 4 cups.  If you like more fruit to your dumplings, go ahead and add more.  Now I diced mine into pretty small pieces so they would cook quicker and not get in the way of my dumplings dropping into the saucy goodness, but feel free to cut yours to whatever size suits your fancy.  Just remember that bigger chunks may take longer to soften.

Place your apples in a good sized pot or saucepan (I used a 3 quart size.).

Then cover the apples with about 4 cups of water.

Next, add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar to the apples.

Now don't forget the cinnamon...'cause cooked apples are certainly a bit more mild tasting than berries are, and we want this dish to taste as well-balanced as Appalachian berry dumplings usually do. I used two teaspoonfuls of cinnamon.

Add a couple of pinches of salt to balance out all that sweet!

Well, here I go being bad...I added a tablespoon of butter to the apples as well.  Just to lend a hint of richness, you know?  But, now, if that doesn't float your boat, you feel free to leave it out!

Add vanilla extract and stir.

Then heat on the stovetop on medium high heat until the apples come to a boil.  Continue to boil until apples begin to soften--about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, begin mixing up your dumpling dough.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. (I use unbleached flour, 'cause it gives me the willies to think of somebody bleaching my food...but that's just me.  Maybe it has more to do with my mom and dad telling me stories about the dogs they had when they grew up in Eastern Kentucky taking running fits when they would eat a biscuit made with bleached flour.  Did you all ever hear of such a thing?!!?  But I digress...)

Throw in a pinch or two of salt.

Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and mix.

Now the Appalachian dumplings I grew up eating never had sweetener in the dumpling portion itself.  But again, I'm trying to offset the mildness of the apples compared to the usual berry version.  Or that's at least the story I'm going to tell myself!

Then, into the flour mixture, pour about 1 2/3 cups of milk...I used redeem myself, you know.

Add 3 tablespoonfuls of oil and fold the mixture together, just until blended.

You will end up with a spoonable wet-like "biscuity" dough.  If you have ever made berry dumplings, this dough may seem a little wet in comparison…but trust me, it makes wonderfully soft dumplings when all's said and done!

Now, drop this dough by spoonfuls into your boiling apple mixture.  My spoonfuls were about 2-3 tablespoons in size.  Once dropped, I like to push the spoonfuls down into the liquid to make room for the rest.  They tend to want to float, but it will all come out in the wash so to speak!

Once all the dough has been dropped in, cover the pot with a lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer an additional 10 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through.

Allow to cool until just still warm.

Now comes the best part...spoon this deliciousness out into bowls.

You can enjoy the treat as is (my favorite way), or top it with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, or caramel sauce.

Or if you are feeling extra decadent...even both!  Delicious!!

And I may or may not have enjoyed some leftover and straight out of the fridge for breakfast the next morning too... What a tasty way to start off apple season!

And what a great way to celebrate our Appalachian heritage!

Only thing missing is Papaw...but I hope I would've made him proud with this one.  Wish he could taste it!

The full recipe is below, so go on and give it a try...and let me know what you think! For a printable version click here.

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to pass it along to your friends.  Appalroot Farm is on both Facebook and Pinterest.  So feel free to "Share," "Like," and "Pin" away!  See ya back here soon!

Papaw's Eastern Kentucky Mountain Style 

Apple Dumplings 

Generously Serves 6-8

4 cups apples, peeled and chopped into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (Gala, or other firm variety)
4 cups water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 pinches of salt
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Dumpling Dough Mixture
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2-3 pinches of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 2/3 cups skim milk
3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil

Place chopped apples in a 3 quart or larger cooking pot.  Add water, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, butter and vanilla extract to the apples.  Heat on the stovetop over medium high heat until the apples begin to boil.  Continue to boil about 5 minutes until the apples begin to soften.  

While waiting for the apples to soften, begin working on the dough mixture.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, granulated sugar, and cinnamon.  Pour milk and oil into the flour mixture, and fold together until combined.  

Once apples have started to soften, drop dough by spoonfuls (2-3 tbsp. sized) into the boiling apples.  Cover pot with a lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer an additional 10 minutes or so until dumplings are cooked through. 

Allow dumplings to cool until just still warm.  Enjoy as is, or top with ice cream and/or caramel sauce.  Store leftovers in refrigerator.