Enjoy the tastes of Appalachia with these easy-to-make Southern recipes.
By Janet Groene, F47166
Campgrounds were partially filled, even in frosty January, when I attended Tennessee Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a wonderful time to visit the park, not just because it’s less crowded, but because of the nonstop events that take place during Wilderness Wildlife Week. Visitors can take a narrated bus tour of enchanted Cades Cove; hike wintry trails with knowledgeable nature experts; attend indoor photo workshops, gem seminars, storytelling, and lectures on the state of the park; and network with others who love the Smokies.
Amazingly, it’s all free. Dozens of presenters come to this event from all points of the compass to share their knowledge, shows, specimens, and samples. All programs are G-rated; some are presented specifically for children. Next year, the 20th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week will be held January 9 through 16, 2010. For information about camping, dining, and activities in this area any time of the year, go to www.mypigeonforge.com, or call (800) 251-9100 or (865) 453-8574.
The recipes that follow are beloved in the Smoky Mountains and are easy enough to cook in your motorhome.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Fluffy biscuits are a morning must in the mountains, where lighting the oven is a folksy way to take off the nighttime chill. Rustle up a buttery batch of biscuits to serve with preserves or, more traditionally, with sausage gravy.
1 15-ounce can sweet potatoes, drained
2 ½ cups biscuit mix
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Approximately 4 tablespoons milk
Set the oven for 425 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes in a bowl to mash thoroughly or just leave them in the can and mash coarsely with a fork. Mix the sweet potatoes, biscuit mix, butter, and enough milk to make dough that is manageable. Turn out the dough on floured paper towels and knead gently, just enough to mix thoroughly. Flatten or roll the dough to a thickness of 3/4-inch. Cut it into rounds, squares, or wedges and place one inch apart on a pan or cookie sheet coated with nonstick spray. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Old Mill Garlic Cheese Grits
Since the early 1800s, a water-powered gristmill on the banks of the Little Pigeon River has been where people gathered to trade news of the day while their harvests were ground into meal, grits, and flour. Today one of the most scenic spots in Pigeon Forge is The Old Mill, which includes a pair of restaurants that serve sumptuous meals. Don’t leave without a pecan pie to take back to the motorhome.
The cheese grits at The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille are outstanding. Make them just before serving, or prepare ahead of time to bake later for brunch or dinner. There is no substitute for real, stone-ground grits. They are found in health food stores, country stores, some supermarkets, and at The Old Mill (www.oldmillsquare.com).
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone-ground grits, white or yellow
1 stick butter
1 6- to 8-ounce package garlic cheese spread
1 cup milk
Cook the grits according to package directions, using the water and salt. Melt the butter and cheese spread together (I melted them in the microwave oven on medium) and stir into the grits. Stir in the milk. Pour into a buttered, 1 1/2-quart casserole and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. If the casserole has been refrigerated, increase the baking time to 50 minutes.
Old-Fashioned Stack Cake
I first heard about stack cakes while traveling in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where they are traditionally served at weddings. I found almost a dozen different stack cake recipes in the Pigeon Forge area. Some are made from batters, some from rolled dough. Some are baked in iron skillets, some in cake pans. The basic idea is to make the cake layers very thin, then stack them (usually seven layers high) with a filling between each layer. In the old days, dried fruit was stewed to make the filling. Today’s cooks use applesauce or preserves.
It takes time to bake multiple layers of these thin cakes in the motorhome, but it’s a good rainy day project. To serve, stack two to seven layers as needed. Here is my adaptation of one stack cake recipe.
1 ½ cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
Approximately 3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, and buttermilk. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and vanilla to make a thick batter. Divide the batter among seven greased 8-inch pans and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, just until it is springy to the touch and pulling away from the sides of the pans. Cool thoroughly and stack, or wrap for future use.
Buttermilk is a staple in Smoky Mountains cooking. It adds tang to this sugary sauce that can be served over any plain cake, cupcakes, or biscuits.
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring everything to a boil, stirring constantly. Cool slightly and pour over warm cake, coffee cake, or biscuits.
Cornbread was the staff of life on hardscrabble mountain farms. Wheat flour was a luxury and didn’t always last out the winter. This modern recipe is popular at Appalachian church potluck suppers.
1 8-inch-square pan of cornbread, crumbled
2 15-ounce or 16-ounce cans pinto beans, drained
3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 or 4 scallions, white and light green only, sliced
1 6-ounce package grated cheddar cheese
1 package precooked bacon, chopped
1 16-ounce bottle ranch dressing
Layer the ingredients in a bowl starting with half the cornbread, half the beans, half the raw vegetables, and so on, ending with the second half of the crumbled cornbread. Drizzle with dressing, cover tightly, and chill for two to six hours.
Herbs are grown in Appalachian kitchen gardens to liven simple recipes that make use of available ingredients. There are many types of the herb called savory. The easiest to find on supermarket spice shelves is summer savory. It lends unique flavor to this inexpensive soup.
2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small cabbage, cut in chunks
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cups water
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savory (or more to taste)
1 heaping teaspoon dried parsley
½ stick butter
Salt, pepper to taste
Heat the fat and sizzle the vegetables until they are lightly brown, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, tomatoes, savory, and parsley; bring to a boil; cover; reduce heat; and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the butter, adjust the seasonings, and serve. This recipe makes four main-dish servings. If you prefer a thinner soup, add canned broth or tomato juice to taste. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
Old Mill Hot Chicken Salad
A lunchtime favorite at The Old Mill Pottery Café & Grille, this is an ideal recipe to serve at the next campground potluck. Just stick it in the oven, forget it, and bring it out at the last minute. This is my version of The Old Mill recipe, which serves 16.
12 chicken breast halves, cooked and diced (8 cups)
1 quart bottle of mayonnaise
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups celery, diced
4 cups sliced water chestnuts
8 tablespoons lemon juice
4 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cups sliced almonds
4 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
Potato chips, crushed
Grated cheddar cheese
Mix everything together and put it in a greased casserole dish(es). Top with a generous layer of potato chip crumbs and sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Every mountain cook has a personal version of this Southern classic. Slices can be thicker or thinner. They can be dipped in cornmeal, flour, or a mixture of both, and fried in lard, bacon fat, butter, or vegetable oil. Today some restaurants use batter and a deep fryer.
Recipes for fried green tomatoes grew out of a necessity to use unripe tomatoes that had to be gathered before they were ruined by the first frost. They were fried, pickled, and turned into relishes. Here is one way to make fried green tomatoes.
Several large, firm, green tomatoes
1 part flour to 1 part cornmeal
1 part bacon grease to 1 part vegetable oil
Trim the tomatoes and cut into slices not quite ½-inch thick. Salt and pepper both sides, then dip in the flour-cornmeal mixture. Fry in the hot fat or oil until golden and crusty on both sides. Keep warm on paper towels.
Cat Head Biscuits
Big as a cat’s head and mounded in the pan, these traditional Southern biscuits don’t have to be rolled and cut out. You could use any biscuit mix or flour, but the self-rising flour sold in Dixie is made from soft winter wheat. It produces a different result than all-purpose flour made from hard red winter wheat.
2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Mix the self-rising flour and baking soda in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the oil and enough buttermilk to make a thick dough. Turn out onto paper towels dusted with self-rising flour and knead just enough to mix evenly. (Over-kneading can make the biscuits tough.) Using two spoons, mound dough into four piles on a greased 8-inch cake or pie pan. Bake at 400 degrees until the biscuits are puffy and golden brown. Serve with butter and jam or sausage gravy.
Note: If you don’t have self-rising flour, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½-teaspoon salt to each cup of all-purpose flour.
Wild Blackberry Cobbler
Gathering wild berries was the job of Appalachian children, who spent days in the hot sun dreaming of the cobbler that would come out of the stove at dinnertime. The first and best of the harvest went into pies and cobblers, but nothing was wasted. The last of the harvest went into jams and jellies.
1 stick butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of the berries)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
4 cups washed blackberries
Melt the butter in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, vanilla, and milk and pour over the butter. Strew the blackberries evenly on top. Bake the cobbler at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until a golden crust rises around the berries. Serve plain or with cream or whipped topping.
If you want to truly experience some of the foods native to the Smoky Mountains, try the canned poke salat, creecy greens, wild hickory nuts, and other specialties that are available from www.wildpantry.com.
Karen Townsend, F368128, has sunny news for boondockers. When she and her husband, Brad, “anchor out” for long periods, they use a solar cooker. Baked goods turn out moist and flavorful, she’s found, and she had “scrumptious” results with the Cape Ann Anadama Bread recipe from the September 2008 “Cooking On The Go” column. She said baking time took about 10 minutes longer than in a conventional oven. The Townsends bought their solar cooker from www.sunoven.com, but they also recommended that folks who are interested in solar cooking visit www.solarcooking.org/plans, which has instructions for building your own oven.