SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON BREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE …The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking…by Joseph E. Dabny, is a monumental work, presenting Appalachian cuisine from pioneer days to the present.
Author Joseph Dabny is a retired newspaperman and public relationships executive who has studied Appalachian and hill-country food traditions for many years.
A beautifully written foreword is provided by noted food historian and cookbook author, John Egerton. He states, in part, “In place of the denigrating mythologies of Appalachia—the buffoonish Snuffy Smith-Lil’ Abner-Beverly Hllbillies stereotypes—we see these salt-of-the-earth citizens for what they truly area: smart, industrious, creative, frugal, good-humored, and highly skilled, especially when it comes to putting great meals on the table.
Because he grew up at tables such as these in the southern arc of the Appalachian highlands—and remains close by even now—Joe Dabney knows how to recreate the atmosphere and the characters and the food…Dabney is unquestionably the right person to pull together a patchwork quilt of a book such as this…”
The author was born in South Carolina in 1929; when his father, a merchant, went bankrupt by a wave of customer credit caused by the Great Depression, the family—which included six other children—left their home in the Piedmont for a rented farm in Greneville County, a hundred miles to the northwest. “There,” writes Egerton, “just below the eastern shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains, the Dabneys rode out the Depression with unwavering faith, hope and charity—in God, Franklin Roosevelt, and a support group of relatives and friends…”
“Back in Kershaw at the age of seven” says Egerton, “Joe had already learned the code of the hills and it would serve him well from then on…and it is those people, the ancients and his own more recent kin and neighbors, whose voices echo through Dabny’s smooth-flowing narrative. To be sure, this is a cookbook and most of the talk is about food—or over it, at the table, –but it is much more than that. It’s about characters like whiskey-maker Theodore (Thee) King of Gum Log, Georgia, and Simmie Free of Tiger, Georgia and ninety year old Nina Garrett of Near Cartecay, another Georgia hill-country community…Dabney’s book is also about hog-killing and smokehouses, about making lye hominy and gathering greens, about ramps and cushaws and leather britches [dried green beans], about cracklin’ bread and corncob jelly*, whistle pig and poke sallet, apple butter and stack cakes…” (I made corncob jelly last year when my youngest son had a beautiful crop of corn on the cob. I removed most of the corn from the cobs, to blanch and freeze it – and not wanting to waste all those cobs, I made corncob jelly. It’s delicious!).
Mr. Dabney acknowledges that many people helped with the creation of SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON BREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE,” which includes a bibliography of more than two hundred books.
I feel as though I should know Mr. Dabney; many familiar names jump off the pages of SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON BREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE. My dearly-loved Georgian columnist Celestine Sibley, who died not long before I wrote my first review of SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON BREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE in 1999 for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and had the delight of being featured in one of her newspaper articles…author Nathalie Dupree, another favorite cookbook author, and author Janice Holt Giles—whose books I have dearly loved my entire adult life, featuring pioneer history often centered around her home deep in a Kentucky ‘holler’ and made me love American pioneer history forever after—these are just a few of the American authors whose work I admire and relish and wish I had the ability to write like they do…they all recreate and make us familiar with the foodways and people of places such as Appalachia. Here, I noticed also, comments about Mark Sohn, whose great cookbook MOUNTAIN COUNTRY COOKING that I reviewed for CCE members some time ago.
SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON CREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE is not a cookbook you will breeze through…it should be savored, page by page, like a fine…scuppernong wine. Here is a history of a people and their food; a celebration of foodlore handed down from Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany and the Cherokee Nation. As Celestine Sibley would have said, “This one’s a keeper”.
SMOKEHOUSE HAM, SPOON CREAD AND SCUPPERNONG WINE was published by Cumberland House in Nashville in 1998. It is widely available on Amazon.com and other sites, starting at $3.33 for a pre-owned copy with a wide range of prices for new copies.
Mr. Dabney is also the author of THE FOOD, FOLKLORE AND ART OF LOWCOUNTRY COOKING, A CELEBRATION OF THE FOODS, HISTORY AND ROMANCE…
Another favorite of mine is BISCUITS, SPOONBREAD, AND SWEET POTATO PIE, by Bill Neal and if your interest is piqued to continue on a quest along these lines, you may want to also read John Egerton’s SOUTHERN FOOD, AT HOME, ON THE ROAD, IN HISTORY, originally published by Alfred Knopf in 1987. Visit Amazon.com and Alibris.com for an extended list of titles by the author, not all are cookbooks.
For a more-in depth look at some of my favorite southern cookbooks, please refer to THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH, PARTS 1 AND II, posted on this blog in 2011.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith