Monday, November 27, 2017

Celebrating 60 years for These Appalachian Sweethearts!

Hope every one of you had a blessed Thanksgiving! We're still "recovering" from all the extra portions around here!

Just wanted to drop a brief line to let you know that Appalroot Farm will be taking a temporary break from the blog and social media, because in addition to prepping for Christmas, next month there is another big event to be preparing for! These two Appalachian sweethearts pictured here will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary! 

That's right, my daddy & mother married 60 years ago next month in a little brick church that still stands today in downtown Pikeville, Kentucky. During their courtship, Dad would catch the Greyhound bus from their little hometown to Pikeville College where my mother was attending to become a school teacher. He'd wait at the bottom of the hill as Mom would descend the famous multitude of Pikeville College steps to greet him. 

Before long Dad proposed and they settled down in their first home in Belfry, Kentucky...before circumstances eventually pulled them away from their life in the mountains, but fortunately never away from the mountain way of life. 

So much to celebrate! So we'll see you all back here in the new year...with all kinds of inspiration on keeping our Appalachian culture alive! 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Day Papaw's Rooster Crowed: A Mountain Superstition Come to Life

Happy Halloween!  One thing this day makes me think of is old timey mountain superstitions.  There were so many I heard growing up.  A couple of the most memorable were, "Don't tell about your dreams before breakfast or they'll come true," and "Whenever you leave a place, look back at it as you go, and you'll return there again."

Having heard the latter, made me turn around and steal a glance at my mamaw and papaw's farm whenever we headed back north after many a visit as a little girl.  Visits there were always special, and I most definitely wanted to guarantee that I would return.

"Glancing back"
I'm all grown up now and certainly put no stock at all in superstitions anymore.  But despite that, there is one Appalachian superstition that will haunt my memories for the rest of my days.

Now, I truly believe that this was merely a coincidence...but when I was a little girl, I witnessed an old  and ominous mountain superstition play out.  And it just might raise a few hairs on your head!

We were down to visit my mamaw and papaw on their Eastern Kentucky farm.  It was like many a visit before...  My mom and dad were helping my grandparents out in the garden and around the farm, and a couple of my sisters and I were loitering around the old chicken lot.

Papaw's chicken house
My papaw kept and raised chickens for years and he'd always turn them out during the day.  They'd go to roost on their own every evening, and then he'd shut the chicken house door for the night.

My papaw, an Eastern Kentucky farmer
So, like any other day, the chickens were all roaming about hither and thither as they pleased.

Where Papaw's chickens would roam
Then at some point, Mamaw came by from her work in the nearby garden and began chatting with us girls.

Mamaw with one of my sisters
And, right there, mid happened. There was an old pile of logs near where we were standing, and suddenly Papaw's rooster hopped right up on those logs and began crowing loudly.

Mamaw looked at us, and the words she spoke to us will remain with me 'til my dying days.  She said, "The old folks used to say that when a rooster gets up on something and crows right next to you like that during the middle of the day, somebody's about to die."

The old chicken house in the mountain mist
At that point, we all went on about the rest of our day...not thinking another thought about the words Mamaw had spoke.

But it wasn't long before evening started to settle over the hills.  We all headed to the house as suppertime neared.  And then the old black rotary phone that hung on the wall began to ring.  It was news and it wasn't good.  One of my great uncles had been taken to the hospital...and it was serious.

Before morning, he was dead.

Honestly, in all the chaos of a death in the family, Mamaw never even realized that her earlier remarks had materialized right before our eyes.  And I think us girls were aware that with death so recent, commenting on the strange occurrence was just not yet appropriate.

A few years later, we mentioned it to Mamaw.  But at that point her aging mind had long forgotten that she had ever even spoke of the old superstition with us.

Papaw & Mamaw
It was an eery thing that we watched play out in those mountains that day Papaw's rooster crowed.  And it's a thing I hope to never witness again.

Yet don't worry, it was just a coincidence.  But if this story gives you a nightmare tonight, you might not want to tell anyone about your bad dream until after breakfast!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pawpaw Snack Cake

I want to just take a moment to send prayers and warm thoughts to all those impacted by the recent hurricanes throughout the south. It has been truly heartbreaking to see the devastation and upheaval so many are having to endure. The flooding aftermath is going to take those folks some time to recover from, so they certainly can use all the help that anyone is able to give.

The people of Appalachia are also no strangers to the horrors of flooding, so we definitely know that the hurricane victims are in need of a tremendous amount of assistance right now. One year, long ago, my mamaw and papaw's Eastern Kentucky home flooded...and I've heard my whole life how the rising water started to float off a pot of beans my mamaw had cooking on the stove. Thankfully, all got out in time, and no one was hurt.  But it took a long time to recover from the damage, and they lost quite a few possessions. Neighbors, fortunately, rallied around them to is so common when tragedy strikes in the mountains.

Rising creek waters (which usually amount to not much more than a trickle) years ago on my grandparents' farm.

Let's all try to be good neighbors to Texas, Florida, and other affected areas right now. If you are able to give, please do.  And even if you can't give, those people sure could use all our prayers right now!

Well, we've been all about pawpaws around here lately.  I guess I should reword that...I've been all about pawpaws!  I'm the only one in the house who likes them.  City Boy just can't seem to grow accustomed to their unique flavor.  I jokingly tell him they are an acquired taste for refined palates!

For a few years now, my parents have been successfully growing pawpaws in their yard from young tree sprouts they transplanted from Eastern Kentucky. (Just another way for them to keep a little bit of "home" with them while living in Ohio.)  So I have been blessed enough to have a yearly sampling of these delicious fruits that have a long history of popularity in Appalachia and beyond.

If you are not familiar with pawpaws, you can read more about this truly American fruit here from the University of Kentucky's Department of Horticulture, or here from Berea College's Grow Appalachia program.

A pawpaw tree on my mamaw & papaw's old farm in Eastern Kentucky

This year seems to be a pretty prolific year for pawpaws, as the number my parents passed on to me was higher than usual.  I found myself with an abundance of pawpaws that needed to be used up before they went bad.  The fruit does not keep well, so when one ripens, there is just the least little bit of a window in which you need use it before it begins to spoil.  Since City Boy wasn't about to help me eat them, I decided I better come up with a pawpaw recipe pretty quick like!

You can find a few pawpaw recipes online, but not an overabundance, so I opted to just create a recipe of my own. I really had no idea what to expect, as I had never cooked with pawpaw before.  My whole life, I've really only ever eaten the fruit raw.  But after baking up my first pawpaw dessert ever...I am truly hooked! I LOVE how the recipe turned out...and can hardly wait until next pawpaw season to make it again!

Before I share my pawpaw recipe with you, I've got to tell you something that happened right after I made this first ever pawpaw dish of mine...

 Appalachian food, such as pawpaws, has seen a surge in popularity outside of the region over the last couple of years. Pawpaws are certainly not exclusive to Appalachia but they have been far more associated with the southern mountains than most other regions. (Rest of the world must have just needed a little time to wake up and realize what's good to eat! Teehee!)  And I got to experience first hand just how popular it really is becoming.  You know it's getting popular when food trucks outside of the mountains start serving pawpaw dishes!!   And this is exactly what I experienced. I had the pleasure of running across (and ordering from) a Central Ohio based food truck that happened to have a Pawpaw Trifle on its menu!

The business is known as Sweet T's Southern Style Food Truck & Caterer...and I was tickled to death to see that they were serving up pawpaw anything! You can't get more southern Appalachian than that!

Of course I HAD to order one of those Pawpaw Trifles...and no, I was not disappointed! It was such a unique treat...gingerbread, pawpaw, whipped cream...and I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

Pawpaw Trifle from Sweet T's Southern Style Food Truck

So, if you are ever in Ohio, and you have a chance to track down Sweet T's Food Truck, I highly recommend it.  Their website can be found here.  And don't forget to thank Sweet T's for doing their part in giving a traditional Appalachian foodway a "rebirth" in popularity!

Now, back to my first ever venture into cooking with pawpaws!  I decided to create a simple snack cake that would really allow the flavor of the pawpaw to shine without inhibition! 'Cause if you're going to the trouble to cook with ought to taste like pawpaw! Afterall, getting the pulp from a pawpaw has its challenges, so you don't want all that work to be for nothing.  The custard textured fruit is really riddled with seeds throughout and separating the fruit from the seed takes a little bit of labor.  But it's a labor of love well worth it if you are a fan of pawpaws!

Pawpaw seeds

So, without further ado, here is my recipe for Pawpaw Snack Cake!

You will need somewhere in the ballpark of 12-15 pawpaws for this recipe, depending on their size.  The ones I used were quite small, so you may need fewer if you are using rather large pawpaws.

Cut open the pawpaws and remove the inner fruit, making sure to get out all the seeds.

A spoon works well to scoop out the fruit.

Yes, it can get messy.  Here's the aftermath of my endeavors...

I know it ain't pretty, but I didn't want to be accused of lack of  full disclosure! Grin!

Once you have one cup's worth of the pawpaw, set this aside.

In a small mixing bowl, measure out one and a quarter cup of flour.

To the flour mixture, add a half teaspoon baking powder, half teaspoon baking soda, and half teaspoon salt.

Stir all these dry ingredients together and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, cream together a stick of softened butter with a half cup granulated sugar and a half cup packed light brown sugar until fluffy.

Add in one egg and mix well.

Next, add in a half teaspoon vanilla extract and the cup of pawpaw.  Mix well again.

Finally, fold in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Pour batter into a greased 9x9 baking dish or pan. (An 8x8 pan would work as well, just keep in mind that you may need to watch and slightly adjust the baking time a bit.)

Bake the snack cake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This snack cake turned out very moist and the flavor was bright with pawpaw. (The full recipe is at the bottom of this post, and you can click here for a printable version.)

I left my snack cake simple and rustic with no icing, because I really wanted that pawpaw flavor to shine through. But the cake would likely pair well with a simple vanilla buttercream or a light glaze.  Alternatively, you could choose to serve it with whipped cream or a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar.

Anyway you choose to serve it up, I hope you find this snack cake a delicious reminder of what a unique treasure we have in traditional Appalachian Mountain foodways!  In layman's's good eatin'!

Blessings 'til next time!

Pawpaw Snack Cake
(serves 9)

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pawpaw fruit pulp

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a medium sized mixing bowl, cream butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add in vanilla and pawpaw and mix again.  Now add the flour mixture to the pawpaw mixture and fold in until just combined. Pour mixture into a greased 9x9 pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes clean.  Allow to cool before slicing.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn

Well, I hope all you readers didn't give up on me!  Seems forever since I've published a new post. Warm weather sure has been keeping me as busy as all get out, so I've gotten a bit behind on blogging. Don't forget that in between posts you can keep up with Appalroot Farm on social media. I post positive news from Appalachia, counter stereotypes, share beautiful mountain photos, and do my best to inspire a celebration of our people and culture.  Follow along with the links below to keep up on all the latest!

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Speaking of celebrating...summertime gatherings and celebrations are some of the best! And great food helps make the celebrating all the more memorable. And, oh goodness, have I got a yummy summertime dish just perfect for all your events this season!  This dish works great for barbecues, potlucks, family reunions, and you name it.  But what's more, you can make this dish ahead of time, and that even makes it a handy but special addition to a busy weeknight meal.

So there are a gazillion great things about this dish....but what I love about it more than anything is that it's based on a dish that my dear, sweet mamaw used to make.  And as you've heard me mention before, my mamaw was sure no slouch in the kitchen!

Mamaw washing dishes in her kitchen

Mamaw and Papaw always raised a big old garden on their farm in Eastern Kentucky, and corn was one of their yearly crops.  My mamaw became an absolute expert at making a delicious and old fashioned style creamed corn.  Growing up, I almost always heard it shortened to "cream" corn, so that is what I've titled it here...Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn!

Corn growing in Eastern Kentucky

Now if all you know about cream corn is based on your experience of what comes from the can in the grocery store, you might be ready to tuck tail and run at this point. But believe you me--this cream corn is no more like that tasteless goop you find in the canned goods aisle than the man in the moon!  I would even go so far as to say that if you're buying store bought canned cream corn, you might as well throw your money down a crawdad hole!  (There's a good old mountain saying for you!)

Now, to be fair, there are a lot of recipes out there for homemade cream style corn, but from what I can tell...a lot of them call for adding milk or cream to the corn to achieve the "cream" portion of the recipe.  Here's where my Mamaw's cream corn differed...and was truly old timey.  The "cream" in her cream corn was always achieved by a method rather than an added ingredient.  And this left her recipe with the purest taste you can imagine...full of rich, fresh, undisguised, and undiluted corn flavor.  It tastes like pure summer downhome mountain magic on a plate!

Mamaw out working on the farm....maybe she was getting ready to go gather some corn in that old tub!

If I close my eyes when I eat a bite of this cream corn, I can almost hear the old green dishes rattling as the supper table was being set at my mamaw's house so many times during my childhood visits.

One of the old green dishes we used to eat off of at my Mamaw and Papaw's place

I can clearly see, through the white draped dining room window, the early evening fog settling over the hills after a hot, humid summertime day.

The white draped dining room window in my Mamaw and Papaw's Eastern Kentucky farmhouse.

I can see Mamaw and Papaw and Aunt Oh So Sweet...and all of us around the table, sharing yet another meal made up of the bountiful goodness from their mountain garden.

Mamaw, Papaw, and Aunt Oh So Sweet gathered round the table.

I know I may be carrying on a bit about corn, but believe me, this corn is something special... You really need to just try it for yourself!

To make this Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn, you will need a dozen ears of fresh sweet corn. (Feel free to halve the recipe if you like...but you may regret that after you take a taste!)

Shuck and de-silk the corn. I used a bi-color corn here, but any good, fresh sweet corn should do.

In a very large mixing bowl or dishpan, hold each ear of corn on it's end and cut a very shallow amount of corn off all around each cob with a sharp knife.

You really want to make sure you take a very shallow "shave" off the corn. Just enough to take off no more than maybe the top third or so of the corn kernels.

This is what was left on my corncobs after the initial cut.

Next, turn the knife and lay the sharp part of the blade perpendicular against the corn cob and carefully scrape the blade down the length of the cob. Be careful not to cut yourself during this process...the corncob can easily slip!

Do this until the cob is scraped fairly clean.  It may take several scrapes with the knife to complete the job. It is this action that "creams" the corn, and releases the natural "milk" found in the kernels.

See the "milk" starting to form in the bowl as the first cob is scraped? Jackpot!

Be prepared for a bit of extra kitchen cleanup from this, as the scraping can get a little messy, but oh how worth it in the end!

This is what your cobs will look like when you have finished scraping.

Once each cob has been cut and scraped clean, in a very large skillet, over medium heat, begin to melt a stick of butter.

Add the scraped corn to the skillet.

Completed bowl full of uncooked corn

Next add about a 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar and one tsp. of salt and stir. I know that this is sweet corn, but adding sugar just helps pump up the flavor. I wouldn't skip this step, and my mamaw usually didn't either.

Finally, if desired, (and, trust me, it will be very desireable) add around a tablespoonful of bacon grease to the corn. Now this step is totally optional, but I find that it just takes this recipe over the top!

I "happened" to have some fresh bacon grease for the recipe...but saved bacon grease will do just as well!

Continue to stir and cook the corn in the skillet until tender and done...this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes or so depending on your stove and taste.  I usually like to let it cook until the cream portion takes on a slight thickness.

Best way to check for doneness though is to take a small taste.  (Now remember I said a "small" taste...because you may need some willpower not to devour the whole skillet right then and there...not that I'm speaking from experience or anything!)  Reduce the heat as needed to keep the corn from burning as it cooks.

The corn here is thickened and just about can see it start to slightly coat the spatula.

Once the corn is done, serve right away, or allow to cool down to just warm and freeze in a sealed container or freezer bag.

Finished Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn

My mamaw always froze several containers of cream corn every year...and whenever I make a batch, I always make it ahead of time and freeze it as well.  That way I have a wonderful side dish that can easily just be reheated on the stove top or in the microwave.

If you make it now while the sweet corn is fresh you can even freeze it for Thanksgiving!  You can microwave the corn until completely so easy.  Or if you don't want to deal with reheating it at the last minute on Turkey Day, defrost it early in the microwave and then pop it in a slow cooker until time to serve.  Delicious!  Believe me, it will wow your guests!

The taste just shouts summertime on Mamaw's farm in the hills of Appalachia! Hurry...go get yourself some corn and head to the kitchen!

If you, like me, were blessed enough to have some great childhood memories of spending time on your mamaw and papaw's farm somewhere in the beautiful southern Appalachian mountains...I hope this recipe stirs up fond thoughts from your past.  And I hope you take the time to find ways to celebrate the blessings you gained from your mountain roots and experiences.

Mamaw and Papaw holding me as a baby. I gained so many blessings from these two!

And don't forget to share those experiences and blessings with others who may have never heard positive things about Appalachia.  Appalachia deserves to have the world hear a more complete and accurate version of its story.

The actual recipe for Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn is below.  Click here for a printable version.  I hope you enjoy it!  See you next time.


Traditional Kentucky Mountain Cream Corn
(serves 10-12)

1 dozen ears of sweet corn, shucked and de-silked
1 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 tbsp granulated sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tbsp bacon grease (optional, but recommended)

In a large mixing bowl or dishpan, cut off a very shallow amount of corn from all around each cob. Next, holding the sharp blade of the knife perpendicular to the cob, scrape down each cob with the knife, releasing the liquid and remaining portion of the kernels, until the cobs are all scraped clean. 
In a large skillet, over medium heat, begin melting butter. Add scraped corn, sugar, salt, and bacon grease.  Cook, stirring often, and reducing heat as needed, until slightly thickened and done, approximately 10-20 minutes.  
Serve immediately or allow to cool enough to freeze. From frozen, corn may be re-heated via microwave or stovetop.