Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes, by Ronni Lundy. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
As soon as you open Victuals, your grip loosens and your mood instantly becomes nostalgic. Nostalgic in a way that makes you hungry for your youth where you played alongside siblings and relatives gathered on weekends or holidays because that's what you did in those days. And you ate. You ate real food that came from your garden, or the corner market or butcher. Food that was prepared with a nod toward your roots but still had a sense of evolving through whatever generation was cooking. Ronni Lundy, who has for decades lived and cooked and written about cooking in the southern Appalachia region, connects the diverse cultures that resonate with this region, and seamlessly weaves them into a universal southern-mountain-way-of-cooking in Victuals. She tells the stories and shares the recipes, of a region - modern and diverse - that honors the seasonality and sustainability of food, while connecting the earth with the table and the people around it.
What you need to know:
See it: 320 pages with 8 Chapters richly photographed (but not all the finished recipes are photographed) divided by ingredients (corn, beans, apples), themes (preserving, roots, and seeds), and topics (salt of the earth, husbandry). A storied introduction worth the read, and side bars and call-outs about the people, places, and things that make up southern Appalachia. A robust index closes the book.
Make it: 87 recipes plus component recipes to complete the recipe.
For as much as Victuals is a cookbook, it's also a collection of stories. Stories of people (Travis Milton and Shelley Cooper), places (Saltville, Virginia, Clay County, Kentucky, and Kanawha River Valley, West Virginia) and things (Dellinger Grist Mill, Sorghum Syrup, and Ossabaws) that you want to read. These essays are the by-product of some 4,000 miles of travels and the people - from home cooks and chefs, farmers and shop owners, curers and savers and preservers of both food and traditions - that looked back through history for cookbook author Ronni Lundy and then, helped her imagine its future. In the end, though, it's not the recipes that endear you to the southern Appalachia people and culture or make you want to cook. It's Lundy's story-telling magic weaving these people and their lives into a cookbook that land you in the kitchen. You are made to feel as if you are cooking by their side, forging your own way through the southern Appalachian culture - and leaving your own mark.
While Victuals is worth the price of admission just for the read, it's the recipes that nudge you out of the chair and into the kitchen. You may feel a bit hesitant to try an easy (or odd) sound riff on something familiar, but you are there and without too much effort - there are very few odd or difficult-to-find ingredients - you are cooking. Lundy's collection of recipes is as common and comforting as they are edgy and engaging.
Victuals pulls you back from the edge of reluctance with an astounding chapter on corn, including recipes for cornbread and soup, and cookies and pie, just after she delights you with her ode to the chili bun chili (the chili hot dog) and the slaw dog slaw. Skip a bunch of pages ahead and you're looking at tattoos and contemplating Kentucky Kimchi and Pickled Baloney with Peppers. You're thinking about Sorghum Sea Foam (a brown sugar version of Divinity - a nougat-like confection) and Sweet Potato Sonker with Milk Dip (think, biscuit-crusty-cakey dumplings floating on a sauce of hot sweetened fruit, with a sweetened milk "dip" that is poured on top and baked to a glaze).
Lundy insures Victuals is complete with recipes for bread and seafood, and of course apples. There's a chapter on Husbandry that makes you long to find and know a local farmer and butcher but comes with recipes that you can make even if you don't. Food that screams comfort like Shredded Beef Shank & Buttermilk Dumplings, Slow Cooker Roasted Pork Shoulder, and Skillet Fried Chicken & Milk Gravy.
It's hard to believe that anyone who picks up Victuals will want to put it down. It's hard to believe that you won't find yourself cooking through most of what Lundy offers here. But, it's hardest to believe that, until now, this remarkable book has escaped your attention.
The Recipes (Reprinted with permission from Victuals. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.):
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