Spine to Spoon – Victuals: Ronni Lundy’s Appalachian Cookbook

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“Spine to Spoon” is a series that digs into our Library’s rich stock of cookbooks and culinary collections. Each month, I’ll pick a book, try it out and write about it. I can’t share my dishes with you, but I’d love to share our books! Follow the “Spine to Spoon” tag to keep up with my kitchen.

I didn’t think I could feel nostalgia for food I’ve never had before, but that’s exactly what happened to me earlier this month. Ronni Lundy’s Victuals is exactly the kind of book I needed to settle into the first few chilly days of fall.

Half cookbook and half travel journal, Victuals makes for a hefty collection of both stories and recipes. Just like Lundy herself, this book is Appalachian through and through. From a detailed description of a North Carolina farm festival to four different versions of apple butter, she includes another taste of the region at every turn. Lundy leads the reader/eater on a journey that spans seven states and countless restaurants, kitchens and grills. It’s heavy with classic dishes like brown sugar pie, fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, and even the dairy-free recipes are somehow creamy. But there’s still plenty of room left for salads and pies starring seasonal fruits and veggies. In a section dedicated to greens, she notes:

“It’s not that winter doesn’t have its pleasures in the mountains—it’s just that it sticks around too long. That may be why mountain dwellers seem to have an absolute passion for wild spring greens—the more pungent, the better. While there are plenty of methods for cooking these greens, they can largely be grouped into three families: lettuce for killing, sallet and pot likker.”

I had every intention of trying out at least one of these virtually foreign (to me) recipes for greens, as I have an abundance of wild ones springing up in the yard and the kitchen. I didn’t make any this time around, however, because the morning I spent with this book was a particularly brisk one. And that’s the reason I cooked what I did: Buttermilk Cabbage Soup with Black Walnut Pesto and the aforementioned Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie.

Image of cabbage soup from Victuals cookbook

Toast and cabbage soup from Victuals cookbook.

Clearly, I’m a sucker for buttermilk. But even if I weren’t, I would make this soup again and again. It settles in perfectly between salty and sour, and has a perfectly buttery texture. With a big slice of crusty bread, I had two bowls. I almost (almost) didn’t save enough room for my brown sugar pie that cooled down just in time for an after-dinner slice.

Brown Sugar Pie from Victuals cookbook.
I followed Lundy’s suggestion to use Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust recipe, from a later section of the book. That crispy crust, combined with the sweet custard of the filling, sealed the pie’s fate. Just an hour after I took it out of the oven, only half of it remained. Every time I turned around, someone else was sneaking a slice. Suffice to say, it’s a good thing I have enough dough left to make another one!

From cover to cover, this book was a joy to read and an even bigger joy to use in the kitchen. It’s far more than a cookbook, as Lundy herself notes in her introduction:

“This is a book about present-day people and places across the southern Appalachian Mountains and the ways their stories link to the past. It’s about the foods they make and eat, the gardens they grow, the lives they create. It’s a book full of recipes and a book full of voices.”

Bring a little bit of Appalachia to your kitchen!

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Tess Wilson works in Civic Information Services at Main, and occasionally assists Teen Mentors during programming at The Labs@CLP. She is a collector of anything from big dictionaries to small rocks.