LONG before there was a beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway meandering through the Southern countryside, the people of Appalachia ate the simple, natural foods that many long for today. Although tourism has come to some of these regions, mountain people still cling to the same heartwarming foods of their mothers and grandmothers.
Lyn Kellner tells about these recipes in her book ``The Taste of Appalachia, A Collection of Traditional Recipes Still in Use Today'' (Simmer Pot Press, Route 3, Box 973 A, Boone, NC 28607).
For Mrs. Kellner, a New Yorker, finding the country recipes was not easy. After moving to Boone, N.C., with her husband, she began to search for local cookbooks but couldn't find a single recipe for Southern fried chicken.
``I thought it was some kind of secret,'' she said. ``People eat old-fashioned dishes at home, like fried okra, apple butter, and corn bread. But when I'd look for recipe books, the only ones I found were those making fun of `hillbillies' or collections of recipes that didn't tell anything about the traditions behind them.
``I couldn't believe there was no local cookbook, so I told my husband I was going to write one.''
She started with visits to country kitchens, going back into the woods and mountains to talk to the people about family cooking. She spoke to folks in stores, went to local libraries, asked questions, and listened to family anecdotes.
One of her most exciting visits was at the home of a woman who showed her root cellar, where the winter food was stored. ``I was really thrilled when I was invited to see this root cellar. It was made with two garage doors set into a mound of earth,'' Kellner said. The door opened and sunlight rushed in across the earthen floor and sparkled on hundreds of twinkling glass jars filled with beets, peaches, pears, and relishes.
``There were homemade jams and jellies, all kinds of wonderful pickles, and this lady even makes her own cherry juice from fresh-picked cherries.''
This little paperback book will make your mouth water with its recipes for Country Ham, Old-Timey Potato Soup, Cheese Grits Souffl'e, Mixed Greens With Ham Hocks, Nana Jim's Rice Pudding, and Gingerbread. ``There's still lots of cooking-from-scratch around these hills,'' Kellner said.
Fried apples aren't actually fried, but steamed in a covered skillet. ``Apples are used in dozens of side dishes. They are such a constant part of the daily diet that they even appear on the table at restaurants whether they're requested or not,'' she said.
The cookbook of 37 carefully selected recipes is divided into five sections: From the Oven, Appalachian Main Meals, Vegetables and Side Dishes, Eggs and Cheese, Homecoming Desserts. Unlike those in many cookbooks, Kellner's recipes do not call for canned soups, gelatins, mixes, or frozen dessert toppings.
In talking with the author about the recipe for Appalachian Meat Loaf, I commented that many meat loaf recipes combine pork and beef, as this one does. ``Oh no,'' she said quickly. ``They don't use pork in their meat loaf. It's pork breakfast sausage - that's quite a different thing.''
``You see, beef wasn't popular in the mountains until after World War II when supermarkets came to Appalachia. ``Even though meat loaf became popular at that time, it was still flavored with the traditional taste of pork sausage.''
Kellner's book is available at selected stores, craft shops, and by mail from the publisher at $6.95 postage paid (foreign add $1; North Carolinians add 24 cents tax). Here are some of the recipes:
Appalachian Meat Loaf 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck 1 pound ground pork breakfast sausage 1 1/2 cups cooked rice 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix ingredients together and lightly press into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Top of loaf should be flat and even.
Sweet and Sour Topping: 1/2 cup ketchup 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
Combine and pour over meat loaf. Bake 1 hour, 15 minutes. Serves 6.
Grandma's Sweet Potatoes 2-3 pounds sweet potatoes, fresh cooked or canned 6 tablespoons butter, melted 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/3 cup honey or pancake syrup 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drain potatoes well. Slice 1 inch thick and place in 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Mix rest of ingredients and pour over potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes, turning once or twice. If a thicker syrup is desired, bake longer. Serves 6 to 8.
Fried Apples 4-5 firm apples, cored, quartered, unpeeled 1 cup water 1/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup orange juice 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Put water, sugar, orange juice, and cinnamon in wide skillet and bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then add apples and cover. Turning apples once or twice, cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
Country Pumpkin Bread 3/4 cup shortening 2 1/2 cups sugar 4 eggs, beaten 2 cups cooked pumpkin 2/3 cup water 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 2 teaspoons soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon allspice 1 cup black walnuts 2/3 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs. Stir in pumpkin and water.
Mix together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Fold in nuts and raisins. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 9-by-5-inch loaf pans and bake about 1 hour.