‘Victuals’ Explores Appalachian Cooking, Culture

Photo by Linda Comins Ronni Lundy, author of an award-winning new cookbook, “Victuals,” speaks at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday. Her presentation was part of the Upper Ohio Valley Festival of Books.

WHEELING — Award-winning author Ronni Lundy’s new book, “Victuals,” explores how the past of Appalachian home cooking and the present trend of sustainable farming and traditional food come together for a modern view of the region.

Lundy, winner of this year’s James Beard Cookbook Award for the best cookbook in America, spoke at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday. She also talked after a special dinner, featuring recipes from “Victuals,” at Sandscrest Conference and Retreat Center Wednesday. Both events were part of the Upper Ohio Valley Festival of Books.

“Victuals” is an Elizabethan English word that folks today know as “vittles.” In addition to examining Appalachian culture, the book features “really good recipes and wonderful stories,” its author said.

Lundy, a founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, was born in Corbin, Ky., and moved at age 2 to Louisville, Ky. “I spent an enormous time in my childhood and early teens going back up into the mountains,” she said. “It was this really magical world to me.”

Now, she lives in the mountains of North Carolina. With four to six generations of her family from Appalachia, she said, “My roots are very, very deep and my connections are deep.”

Her family’s home was “like a station on the Underground Railroad on the hillbilly diaspora” as relatives traveled between Kentucky and new lives in Dayton and Detroit. “My mother never had a house that didn’t have more beds than the number of people living there — even in an efficiency apartment and assisted-living suite,” she related.

Lundy said her parents were “loaves-and-fishes Christians” who “had not only enough for us, but enough for sharing.” Her recipes include Doorbell Pork Chops and Hominy, an homage to times when the doorbell rang just as the family sat down to dinner. While her father answered the door, her mother grabbed a platter of four pork chops, which she cut up and threw in a pot with other ingredients. When the unexpected guests were seated, she brought out a reconfigured entree “with nothing numbered,” Lundy recalled.

Working as a journalist and cookbook author, Lundy wrote a cookbook, “Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken,” with recipes and memories shared by country music performers. It was recognized by Gourmet magazine as one of six essential books on Southern cooking.

In 2008, she wrote the first proposal for the book that became “Victuals.” She received the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2009.

Lundy thinks her new book counters other writers’ negative views of Appalachia. “We don’t have a dying culture at all,” she commented, adding that aspects of the culture have survived and continued to evolve.

Observing that “history is only one group of voices,” she said, “We give voice to the people who were voiceless.”

With current food trends, the timing was perfect for publication of “Victuals,” which Lundy calls “my magic book.” She said many of the traditional recipes are adaptable for preparation in a slow cooker.