Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hashtag Appalachia : Far More Than Just an Appalachian T - Shirt Company!

*Appalroot Farm was not financially compensated for this post.  Hashtag Appalachia provided a sample t-shirt in exchange for this honest review.*

What a time we seem to be in right now!  Our Appalachian people and culture have continually had to squirm under the thumb of stereotypes and negativity for...well, for what some might say feels like an eternity.  But every once in awhile it seems like the entire rest of the nation shines a big old spotlight on the region and Appalachia goes from a 'back of everyone's mind stereotype' to an 'on the forefront of the American conscience "trouble spot"' that everybody and his granny feels the need to dissect.  Problem is, by the time all that dissecting is through...and the nation turns its sights elsewhere, Appalachia is left standing in a muckier pile of stereotypes and negativity than before the nation shone its spotlight.  It happened with The War on Poverty in the 1960's, and it seems to be headed in that same direction now with all the analyzing of Appalachia in light of the recent elections.  Since these elections, social media has been all abuzz with articles pertaining to Appalachia and what makes it tick.  And the majority of the articles I have perused have shed anything but a positive light on the region, or held an accurate view of it.  So the rest of America will look, poke, prod, and remark until they have had their fill. Then they'll go on their merry way with nary a bit more enlightenment, but rather a heap more incorrect and over-exaggerated concept of who and what Appalachia really is. 

City Boy recently changed out some of the lighting in our home.  He put up these lights that are labeled 'high definition' on the packaging...but in reality they are just harsh, bright, and unflattering.  I'll tell you what, these lights would make a supermodel look bad!

High def lights!
That spotlight the rest of the country is shining on Appalachia right now is kind of like these lights.  It washes out the color and beauty from the region and culture and all folks see is the ugly.  And then they parade that 'ugly' through the media until everyone feels sorry for, disgusted by, and in shock over poor Appalachia (and secretly a lot less awful about their own 'dirty laundry')!

The whole thing kind of makes me think of John 1:45-46 in the Bible..."Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see."

Now I'm not suggesting Appalachia has anything as grand as the Messiah...but it sure has some similarities to Nazareth in that there are many good things in it and coming out of it, that the rest of the world is either unaware of or overlooking. There is amazing tourism that is continuing to grow, a vibrant and living folk culture, a renewed interest in entrepreneurship, delicious and unique cuisine that is catching positive national attention, a powerful and inspiring history, artistic talent, and an agricultural renaissance replete with an enviable array of farmer's markets, etc.  And Appalachia has far more diverse, hard working, law and moral abiding, friendly and hospitable, creative, and well educated individuals than its critics or the media would have you believe.  Appalachia and dysfunction are not synonymous.  Appalachia is far from issue free, but Appalachia is NOT just issues!

I'm a firm believer that the best thing for Appalachia, as a culture and as a people, is to build on what is already good within Appalachia...rather than the age old approach of trying to spotlight what is wrong. Why?  Constantly tell someone what is wrong with them, and they will start to believe it and live in such a way.  Tell someone what is good within them, and they will rise to the occasion and even surpass most expectations others have of them. This focus on the positive has the potential to create a confidence and attitude that could inspire future generations of Appalachian youth to lead, flourish, and break negative molds within their communities. Negativity can be crippling.  And if analyzing the negative truly solved things, of all places, Appalachia would be a virtual utopia by now!

So what can we do?  What can the region as a whole do, what can we who consider ourselves Appalachians, either by birth or by roots and culture, do?  How can we counter all this negativity with things we know to be positive about Appalachia? I believe a good place to start is to be Philips in a world of Nathanaels.

Those of us who identify as Appalachians have got to speak up. We've got to share what we believe to be good about Appalachia with the rest of the world.  We've got to write the definition of Appalachia instead of allowing the ill informed to define who we are!

And that is why I am so excited in this post to tell you about an Appalachian based company that is currently doing just that...speaking up and defining Appalachia in a more positive way! The company is Hashtag Appalachia and it is located in the beautiful mountain town of Pikeville, Kentucky. Pikeville just happens to hold a lot of history for my own family as my mother and three of her siblings went to Pikeville College (now known as the University of Pikeville).  My parents even got married in Pikeville and made their first home in Belfry, around just 20 miles outside of the city of Pikeville.  So I just love that Pikeville is where Hashtag Appalachia is based.

My mother graduating from Pikeville College in Pikeville, Kentucky
The little Pikeville, Kentucky church where my parents were married
While Hashtag Appalachia is primarily known as a t-shirt company, I'm about to share with you why this business is so much more than that...

Hashtag Appalachia was originally started by two gentlemen: one a former Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president, and the other an employee of Bit Source, a company in Pikeville that has hired and trained former coal workers to code and develop software. (If you have never heard of Bit Source, do yourself a favor and head over to their "media" page where you can read articles and see videos that convey Bit Source's inspiring story.) Here is the Hashtag Appalachia story in one of their own words...

"One of the owners at Bit Source, Rusty Justice gives a talk about our identity as hillbillies.  He talks about the things that are projected upon us, and how often times we accept those stereotypes.  In response to this, my friend...and I decided to start Hashtag Appalachia.  When we searched Appalachia on YouTube and Google, a lot of the top searches were really negative--with things like white ghetto, poverty, third world, etc.  We both knew there were a lot of positive things happening in Appalachia as well. So we started an effort to use the hashtag for Appalachia and make new content for the web that portrayed a people proud of their identity. The shirts were our first step--so we can wear something that even in a small way reflects our culture and who we are.  The idea is that if all the people in our region hashtag new content with positive portrayals of Appalachia--maybe we can change those stereotypes, and also reclaim our identity and be proud of who we are."  -Hashtag Appalachia

It was at a chamber of commerce event where together the two original owners first heard Rusty Justice's inspiring talk about this 'hillbilly identity' and were, in turn, inspired to launch Hashtag Appalachia.

Now don't you just love that? That is a cause worthy of getting on board with, folks!

Hashtag Appalachia also does creative marketing videos...and if you want a couple minutes of pure genius entertainment, check out their creative marketing piece video for McGuire's Brickhouse Restaurant located in Prestonsburg, Kentucky here. I enjoyed it more than most Super Bowl commercials!  And if watching it gets you craving one of those burgers from McGuire's Brickhouse, the restaurant's website is here.

Hashtag Appalachia's owner has even worked with educating high school students in design, and so has a passion for helping the youth of Appalachia as well.

Now back to those t-shirts...if you'd like to check out Hashtag Appalachia's selection of Appalachian t-shirts you can order online, head over to their website here. Their shirt selections range from simple ones that state  "#appalachia" to ones that contain witty Appalachian words and sayings including "Nary," "Over Yonder," "Pidlin," "Purdy," and "Rurnt."

You can order any of their shirts in a wide variety of colors. Hashtag Appalachia sent me one of their "Rurnt" saying shirts in an awesome shade of teal and I'm loving it!

If you like a soft and comfortable t-shirt, Hashtag Appalachia's selection will be right up your alley!  Nothing worse than a scratchy and uncomfortable t-shirt, and this shirt is far from that!

But I have to admit that I really just love it the most for the saying.  'Cause I guess I am kind of "rurnt!"

When you purchase a t-shirt from Hashtag Appalachia, you are purchasing more than just clothing.  You are helping support a grassroots mountain movement to dissipate stereotypes, fight distortions with truth, and inspire Appalachian youth to thrive and succeed while remaining true to their cultural identity. Once more, here is the link to Hashtag Appalachia's site: https://hashtagappalachia.com/.

I hope this post has inspired you to have pride in your own Appalachian roots, and has encouraged you to be "vocal" in some way about the positives that many of you know exist in the Appalachian culture and region.  Go buy a t-shirt from Hashtag Appalachia and wear it proudly, post something positive about Appalachia on social media, speak up for Appalachia when you hear someone stereotyping the culture, etc.  Whatever you choose to do, just remember that the 'Nathanaels' of the world are in need of a 'Philip' to tell them to "come and see" all the good that Appalachia has to offer.  They'll never know unless someone lets them know.  And in the end they may even thank you for it!

Blessings to you and yours!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mamaw's Tales of Lye in Old Timey Appalachia & A Recipe for Fried Hominy

Happy 2017!  Hope everybody had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Around here we were battling all kinds of sicknesses.  Seems like this fall and winter have been extra bad for catching every manner of illness and just feeling poorly in general!

Now that's a phrase you don't hear a whole lot anymore....feeling poorly.

It's definitely one I've heard my mamaw and papaw say before.  What I wouldn't give to go back in time and capture all the old timey phrases and words they used.  I remember many, but I'm sure my memory has lost just as many as I recall.

One thing I'm so glad I did was interview both my mamaw and papaw not long before they passed away.  I recorded their responses to my questions, and created an oral history heirloom to pass on to the next generations.  Since they are now gone, those stories I documented from them have become something I truly treasure.  I highly encourage you to interview the older members of your own family if you have the opportunity to do so.  It's time well spent, and we have so much we can learn from that older generation of mountain folk.

When I interviewed my Eastern Kentucky born and raised mamaw, she spoke quite a bit about the different ways they handled gardening, chores around the house, etc. when she was growing up.  Hearing her talk was like opening up a window into old timey Appalachia.

In that short interview I did with her, she spoke more than once about her memories of how they used lye many years ago. It's those excerpts of the interview I'll share with you in this post.  Here's what she had to say about using lye to make soap...

"Oh, we used to clean chitlins and make soap with...put lye in and we made our soap then.  I guess they's a whole bunch out there in the smokehouse now...."

My grandparents' smokehouse where Mamaw stored her old lye soap.
"But I didn't make it out of that (chitlins). It was just fat scraps. That lye will eat it up.  Just get it down so thick, and you'd take water and put that fat in there and put the lye in and cook it down.  And when it got cold, you could cut it out, and it didn't smell bad."

When asked if they washed the clothes with lye soap she said, "Yeah.  Well, now, we didn't have washing machines then.  We didn't have to have it.  We washed on a board."

An old washboard
"We'd have our soap and we'd rub it on the clothes. We'd get 'em wet and rub it, and get 'em up on the board and rub soap on 'em.  And look for the dirty places and soap them more.  And we'd boil our white clothes.  Yeah, people had some hard times back then, but they had some good times. I mean they had time for one another and wasn't rushed like they are now."

My mamaw...back when people "had time for one another."
Don't you just love that?!  Time and time again, I've heard so many older Appalachians speak of how despite their hardships growing up, there was so much goodness and happiness in their lives that seems to elude most people today.  We truly have a lot to learn from that older generation!

And here is what Mamaw had to say about using lye for a much different purpose...

"Yeah, we used to make big 'kittles' of hominy. Well, we'd have what they call lye, we'd buy canned, and shell our corn and cook it with lye water to get the husk off of it.  Then they'd have to cook it and wash it so many times to get that lye out of it. Course they wasn't no food to it time we got through with it that way. But we'd make big 'kittles' of it. ...we liked it. You could salt it. And we'd put it in a skillet of grease and it was good that way. And, well, we'd start eatin' on it without puttin' it in anything when they'd get the lye out of it."

Can't you just picture a bunch of little kids sitting there waiting for that hominy to get done, hardly able to contain themselves?  Now that's a sweet picture!

My mamaw's description of frying hominy, got me craving some so bad that I just had to go and make it myself!

I used canned hominy.  I know that's not very authentic, but making hominy from scratch would be biting off more than this girl can chew, so you'll have to pardon the error of my ways!

My mamaw would often fry her hominy in lard...but I don't keep lard on hand.  At this point you may be shaking your head at my lack of conformity to Mamaw's original dish...but maybe I will get you back on board with the word bacon!  You can't go wrong with bacon!

So I fried my canned hominy in bacon grease...trust me, Mamaw would approve!

I began by frying up 6 strips of bacon in a cast iron skillet until crisp. (Do make sure you use a cast iron skillet for this recipe.  A non-stick skillet just doesn't cut it.)

Then I removed the strips of bacon but left the resulting bacon grease in the skillet.

I added three well-drained cans of hominy to the hot skillet, salted to taste (be careful not to oversalt as most canned hominy already contains salt), and cooked uncovered over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.

And just a note of caution...that hominy may pop, sizzle, and spatter when you add it to the hot bacon grease, so make sure your skillet isn't overly hot and your hominy is very well drained!  Turn down the heat and have a lid handy if spattering gets out of hand.  

When the hominy has started to get flecks of golden brown scattered throughout, serve piping hot as a side dish.

And if you really want to treat yourself, crumble some of those bacon strips over your hominy as well! Oh my!  Delicious!

The hominy is dense, and somewhat potato-like in texture...and the taste is mildly reminiscent of cornbread kissed with bacon. I mean...run to the kitchen and try it!

This recipe is easy-peasy, but the full instructions are below.  If you need a printable version, click here.

Hope you enjoy this fried hominy dish, and hope you've enjoyed my mamaw's old timey tales about lye. Blessings, and see you back here again soon!


Fried Hominy
(serves 4-6)

6 strips of bacon
3  (15.5 oz.) cans of hominy, well drained
salt to taste

Fry strips of bacon in a cast iron skillet over medium to medium-low heat until crisp, turning often to prevent burning.  Remove bacon and set aside.  Carefully add hominy to remaining bacon grease in the hot skillet. Use caution as grease can splatter.  Cook uncovered over medium to medium-low heat, adding salt to taste, for about 10 minutes or until light golden brown flecks begin to form.  Serve hot and, if desired, topped with the crumbled bacon bits.