Timelines to Appalachia


At the beginning of each new year, I choose a theme for my cooking blog posts. Some years I blog a lot. Other years, like 2023, I hit the keyboard much less! This year, I think I’ve found a theme that will keep me writing.

I live in Southern Illinois and my ancestors are Scottish, Irish and German. My cooking style is all about using local products and following family recipes and cooking styles common in this region. I know that the German on my mother’s side of the family entered the United States at the Port of New Orleans in the early 1800s and followed the Mississippi River to the St. Louis region. I know that my father’s Scottish ancestors originally settled in the Carolinas and Virginia, then came through the Blue Ridge Mountains, into Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1815, they settled in Southern Illinois, but they were in America before the Revolutionary War.

My cooking styles are very similar to what food historians have identified as Appalachian Foodways. This year, I plan to follow the food timeline until it lands in Appalachia. I expect to learn a lot as I take you along on this journey!

According to Wikipedia, 90% of Appalachia’s earliest European settlers were Anglo-Scottish. This ethnic grouping is often called Scotch-Irish. Many of these settlers emigrated to the mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. Those folks are my people.

Over time, I’m sure the food culture of ‘my people’ was influenced by other ethnic groups in the Appalachian region. The earliest pioneers in the region were German. African Americans have been present in the region since the mid 1500s. They arrived as slaves with early explorers. They came back to the region in the 18th century.

There were also Swedish and Finnish setters. Welsh immigrants arrived in the 19th century because of their mining expertise. The early 20th century brought Italian immigrants to the region. Native Americans were there before anybody else.

Combine all these ethnic groups and we have one diverse melting pot. There is no wonder that recipes and cooking methods that began in the earliest eras of worldwide history found their way to the Appalachian food culture.

Enjoy 2024!

Heritage Soups

January was my month for experimenting with some of my soup recipes.
  I’ve been working to decrease the amount of soup that I make at a time because I am an empty nester who isn’t crazy about leftovers.  I’ve also been trying to identify the probable origins of some of my recipes that have come through the family.  My recipes are mine.  While they started with someone else, I have adjusted them over the years and made them more original to my family’s tastes. 

I’m a food historian by hobby.  I’ve spent years researching the foodways of many cultures.  As I detailed in my introduction to my 2024 food project “Timelines”, I’m focusing on recipes and techniques that come to me through the Appalachians.

We’ll begin my 2024 journey by talking about soup.  From the time that cave dwellers who had just discovered fire cooked broth in an animal hide bag by dropping stones heated in the fire into the broth … to this time of the instant pot … soup has been a part of every food culture.  Soup certainly evolved as cooking vessels improved, but it has also evolved as agriculture has progressed. 
Early soups may have only held broth and natural herbs for flavor.  Today, I couldn’t begin to make a list of the things available to me to create delicious soups.  Just think of the packaged flavorings, noodles and pastas, fresh, dried and frozen vegetables, dried herbs and so much more. 

The Bible speaks of soup, called pottage.  The recipe books written in medieval times listed soops. The first cookbook printed in America in 1742 included recipes for soup.  By the mid-1800s, scores of soup recipes were included in cookbooks, even though many of them were copied from one book to another.

As I studied the history of soups and the agriculture in my ancestral homes of Scotland, Ireland and Germany … I found many similarities.  All three food cultures started with broth, then came bread dunkers.  This is likely where the word ‘sop’ comes from!  You’ll find creamy potato soups and mixed vegetable soups in the earliest of recipes. 

My favorite similarity is kale.  In 1984, I owned a restaurant, and we bought cases of kale to use to line the salad bar.  Today, 40 years later I buy kale to eat on a regular basis.  I add it to soup, just like my ancestors did.  History tells us that when they only had broth, they often added kale to the soup pot to add nutrients, texture and to make it more filling.

Winter squash makes a wonderful creamy soup.  We learned as children that the Native Americans who greeted our colonial settlers taught them how to grow squash, beans and corn.  I suppose they taught them how to cook them, too.  I’ve always thought that our colonists should have known how to prepare those foods because they weren’t just grown in America!  Squash dates to the first century in the historic Mesopotamia region.  It was carried all over the world by explorers.

Here are a few of my small batch soups.  I’ve used some shortcuts and I encourage you to do the same.  Use my recipes but make them your own.  Switch ingredients and experiment with flavors.  Approach your cooking not as a science, but as an artform.  Create a masterpiece!

Winter Vegetable Soup

Soup preparation depends upon the seasonal produce available.  In the depth of cold weather, we are blessed with winter root vegetables. I can buy them at the indoor farmers market, and at my house, turnips top the list.  Root vegetables are shelf stable.  Store them in a cool, dry place.

Chop 2 large turnips, 1 carrot, 1 medium potato, ½ an onion and 1 stalk of celery. 
You can peel the turnips, carrot and potato, but you don’t have to.

In a Tablespoon of garlic infused olive oil, sauté the onion and celery
 until they begin to soften.

Add the other root vegetables, 1 cup of corn kernels and any leftover vegetable you have on hand ... and 4 cups of vegetable stock.

Bring the soup to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer.

Add a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary.

Cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are done.

Stir in 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste, several grinds of whole 
peppercorns and a dash of salt (more if you prefer).

This recipe makes about 8 cups of soup. It is good served with warm bread and butter.


Cream of Broccoli and Potato Soup

The ingredients in this soup can be adjusted, but you’ll need 4 cups of vegetables in total.  I like more potatoes than broccoli, but this recipe calls for equal parts!  I cream the soup with Half and Half, but whole milk, cream or evaporated milk can certainly be used.


To begin the foundation of flavor for this soup, add ½ cup of shredded carrot, onion and celery to a couple tablespoons of olive oil and sauté until the vegetables begin softening.

Add 2 cups of cubed potato and 2 cups of broccoli flowerets and cook them for a few minutes, stirring often. This gives these vegetables a head start on cooking.

Add 3 cups of chicken broth to the soup and simmer it until all the vegetables are done.

Add 1 to 2 cups of Half and Half and let the soup continue to simmer. The starch from the potatoes should thicken the soup, but if it isn’t thick enough, add instant potato flakes a 

Tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you like.

When the soup is finished, stir in a cup of crumbled cheese. Use cheddar if you like it best, but any cheese works.

Prepared chicken broth usually has enough salt and pepper in it for my taste but add more if you like or just finish the soup with grinds of whole peppercorns.


Acorn Squash and Tomato Soup

I have winter squash sitting on the counter most of the winter.  I use them in lots of ways, but I first made a version of this soup years ago when I hosted an autumn luncheon for my girlfriends.  Tt was warm enough to have the event on the back deck.  That time I made all the ingredients from scratch.  Now I use a short cut.

There are lots of ways to prepare winter squash.  I prefer acorn for this recipe, but it is equally good using a butternut.  The fastest way to prepare the squash is to simply poke a few holes through the skin and microwave it.  Cook time depends upon the size of the squash, but ten minutes usually works.  Cut the squash in half and let it cool.  Remove the seeds and any stringy membrane.  Scoop out the flesh and mash it to use in the soup.

The shortcut for this soup is to simply begin with a can of Campbells Tomato Bisque.  Prepare it per the instructions on the can.  Add the mashed squash and ½ teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of onion powder. Stir in a handful of chopped kale and bring to a simmer. Add 1 cup of Half and Half.


Leek and Potato Soup


I found the most beautiful small leeks at the grocery store the other day, so I bought several.  The first thing I made was this delicious soup.

Use two medium to large leeks (or three small ones).

Wash them well and slice them. Reserve the green tops and use the white part for this soup.

· Begin to sauté the leeks in 4 Tablespoons of butter.

· Peel and chop 2 large white potatoes. Add them to the leeks. Sauté gently until the potatoes get a head start on softening.

· Add ½ teaspoon of salt and another ½ teaspoon of black pepper.

· Add 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth and simmer until the vegetables are soft.

· Use an immersion blender and cream the soup. I like to leave a few chunks in mine,

· Add 1 cup of Half and Half and continue to heat through.

Tomato Soup Cake


I recently shared a picture of my Tomato Soup Spice Cake on Facebook and some of my followers asked for the recipe, so I’m happy to post it here.

First, here’s a little history of this delicious cake. Campbells canned their first tomato soup in 1897. It cost 10 cents a can. In 1922, it cost 8 cents and in 1944, it cost 9 cents a can. The recipe for this cake first appeared on the label of the soup can. It was printed in an undated cookbook, thought to have been published in the 1920s. We can assume Campbells developed the recipe in an effort to sell more soup! What does the can of soup do for a cake? It makes it moist and a little denser than the recipe would be without it. It also adds a flavorful tang that we can’t really detect as tomato. However, unlike apple sauce, it does not replace eggs in the recipe.

The first recipe calls for butter and sugar, both of which were rationed during wartime, so I am a little bit confused by the cake’s popularity during WWII. Shortening was also rationed during this time, but the cake’s popularity continued to rise through the decades. Finally, in the 1950s with the advent of cake mixes, Campbells published a recipe adding a can of tomato soup to a spice cake mix.

I found my recipe in my Mother-in-law’s recipe box. Most of her written recipes were actually her mother’s, so I’m dating my version to the 1930s. It is delicious, versatile and gets better day by day as you store it! My recipe was baked in bread loaf pans and dusted with powdered sugar. Today’s versions, which are all over the internet, suggest cream cheese frosting or buttercream frosting.

Tomato Soup Spice Cake

½ cup softened butter or shortening
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups of flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons of ground allspice
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 can condensed tomato soup plus ¼ cup water to clean out the can
½ cup raisins
½ cup ground nuts

Combine the butter, sugar and eggs and whip until fluffy. Combine all the dry ingredients (including the spices) and beat it into the butter mixture a portion at a time. This will be thick. Add the can of soup and use the water to clean out the can. Pour the water into the batter. Mix until the batter is creamy. Gently fold in the raisins and nuts. Any nuts will work, and I added dried cherries to my recipe this time. Dates and dried cranberries would be wonderful, too.

This recipe fills a bund pan, but you can bake it in a 13x9 inch pan, or two round layer cake pans. Bake it at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Let the cake cool 15 minutes, before turning it out of the bundt pan. There are lots of ways to top this cake. I like it with no topping other than a little whipped cream. Add a drizzle of caramel sauce and it is even better.

Chicken and Dumplings

I don’t make chicken and dumplings very often.  My husband loved them, but he’s gone.  My daughter and her husband aren’t crazy about them, and my granddaughter just decided she might like them again just a few months ago.   I say might like them ‘again’ because she ate so many one time when she was little that she got a stomachache!  Was that more information than you wanted?

This past week, I was suddenly craving chicken and dumplings, so I bought a whole chicken and planned my dumpling making day!   For me, the broth and the boiled chicken are as important as the dumpling flavor.  I have to figure out a way to use all that chicken, and I love keeping a couple cups of the broth to start a pot of soup later on.  It is so good.

To make a good stock for dumplings, plan on gently boiling your chicken for 15 minutes for every pound of chicken.  Make sure you wash the chicken inside and out.  If you are lucky enough to get giblets with your whole chicken, wash those in cold water.  You certainly want to add them to the stock pot.  Add enough cold water to the stock pot to cover the chicken.  Add an onion cut in quarters, 2 carrots cut in chunks and 2 stalks of celery cut in chunks.   Add 1 teaspoon of salt and another teaspoon of ground black pepper.   A clove of garlic and a bay leaf will add incredible flavor.   When I have fresh sage, I add a stem of the leaves.  My chicken simmered for 3 hours then I removed all the meat and bones from the stock and set it aside to cool.   I removed 3 cups of the stock from the pot … 2 cups to freeze for later and 1 cup to cool for the dumpling dough.  I added a pinch of saffron to the stock and brought it back to a simmer while I prepared the dumpling dough.  After the chicken cools enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones.

To make the dumplings …

Gently beat together 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 egg and 1 cup of warm chicken stock.  Don't add boiling hot stock to this because it will scramble your egg.  Let the stock cool a bit before you add it.

On a  floured board, gently knead in a little extra flour until you can handle the dough. It will be warm and pliable. Carefully roll the dough to a thickness of about ¼ inch and cut into 2 inch squares.

I actually use a clean flour sack dish towel to roll my dumplings on!  You can take it outside and shake out the flour when you are done and throw it in the washing machine.

Drop the dumplings into the simmering broth, cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the chicken meat back in after the dumplings are done.

I don’t add all the chicken back to the pot because one person can’t eat all that!   I freeze it for use in chicken sandwich salad and a couple casseroles.   If you are cooking for a crowd, you might want to double the dumpling recipe and add back all the meat. 


Roasted Grapes on Brie Cheese


Grapes on Brie Cheese

I recently saw a recipe online for a topping for baked brie cheese and decided to make my own version.

This is such an easy process.  It takes just a few minutes once you’ve roasted the grapes.

Place a cup of whole seedless grapes on a roasting pan.  Drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil and a dash of salt.  Roast on 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Set the grapes aside.

Place a round of brie cheese in an oven proof dish.  Score the top of it.  Add the roasted grapes to the top.  Sprinkle on a few dried cherries and pecan halves. Drizzle balsamic glaze over the topping.  Put in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or in the microwave for 5 minutes.  The topping should be sizzling, and the cheese should be gooey!

Serve with crackers, pita bread or apple slices.

Bologna Salad - Delicious!


When Joe and I were first married, I delighted in fixing his favorite meals.  I’d mention things that I knew how to cook, and he’d say “Yes, make that” so I would.   He  and I both had grown up with mothers and grandmothers who were good cooks … and frugal cooks.  He used to talk about having to take bologna sandwiches every day for his school lunch.  I walked two blocks home for lunch, so we didn’t have that in common, but we did have bologna in common.  We also had bologna salad in common.  The first time I made it, he was thrilled.  The second time I made it, he pulled a prank on his least favorite aunt.

His Aunt Billie and her husband came to visit on a Sunday.  They just dropped by to see where we lived.  In reality, they were hoping for a free lunch.  Billie was an arrogant woman, and she didn’t hesitate to let her presumed superiority be known.   She went all through the house, even opened the bedroom closet, and Joe was not happy.  Realizing they weren’t going to leave until we fed them, he suggested that I make them a sandwich for lunch.  I was happy to plate bologna salad sandwiches with chips and a dill pickle spear for each of them.  Billie proclaimed that her sandwich was the best ham salad she had ever had.  Joe smiled ear to ear as he told her, “That’s because it’s bologna salad.”

Growing up, my mother had certain menu items that she repeated every week.  During high school football season, Friday nights included supper of hamburgers, chips and soda.  That was a treat because of the soda and chips, but I’m not sure it was the best meal for my football playing brothers. 

Lunch meat sandwiches weren’t on the menu much because Daddy wanted cooked food.  However, in the heat of the summer months especially when Mother was in the midst of canning, bologna salad was a favorite Saturday lunch menu item.  Think of those primary color Pyrex mixing bowls.  The biggest yellow one was filled with potato salad.  The green one was filled with bologna salad for sandwiches.  The red one was filled with creamy slaw and the blue one remained empty to hold any leftovers!  In those days, we didn’t have food processors, so we chopped everything for the bologna salad with an old fashioned food grinder.  At our house, the only place we could fasten the grinder was on a basement step!  Our kitchen counters and kitchen table did not have an edge where it would work.  It was a project!

Mother came from a big German family, and I suspect her recipe for bologna salad came from one of her many relatives.  Wurst Salat is identified as a recipe that came to America with German immigrants.  Families in many regions, heavily populated with families of German descent, enjoy it still today.  It is kind of like potato salad in that every family has its own recipe!  The variations are many.

Bologna originated in Italy, specifically in its namesake city, Bologna.  We know it as Mortadella.  It is made from beef and pork and is studded with little chunks of fat.  Italian immigrants brought it to America, shared it with German sausage makers and bologna was Americanized to be what we love today. In Germany, Wurst Salat is made differently in regions.  It is typically julienned.  Strips of Swiss cheese, pickles, onion and sometimes pimento are added.  Dressings range from a vinegar and oil base to a mayonnaise base.  A quick internet search will lead you to recipes and pictures.  It is served as a salad with rustic bread, boiled eggs and radishes.

We see this style of salad in German communities in the United States.  We find it made with German bologna which has a nice garlic flavor   Amish and Mennonite communities favor Lebanese bologna, which originated in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  This beef bologna is heavily flavored with spices like black pepper, white pepper, mace and nutmeg.  It is smoked and I think it is more like a summer sausage than typical bologna. 

I’m happy to share my recipe for bologna salad today.  We love it on soft white bread and on crackers.  My husband could eat a whole sleeve of saltines with bologna salad.  I enjoy it for breakfast/brunch on white toast.  Find your favorite way to eat it and adjust the recipe to your own tastes.  Enjoy!

Bologna Sandwich Spread

1 pound of bologna, cut in chunks
1 hardboiled egg
1 stalk of celery
About ¼ of a medium sized sweet onion
2 Tablespoons of sweet pickle relish and a splash of the juice
¾ - 1 cup of mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon of yellow mustard
Salt and pepper
A sprinkle of celery seed

Use a food processor to prepare these ingredients.  Begin by chopping the onion and celery into chunks.  Add the bologna and the egg.  Continue chopping until it reaches the consistency you desire.  Complete the mixing in a bowl.  Add the relish, juice, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of celery seed.  You should adjust the liquid ingredients if the salad is too dry.   You can certainly eat this immediately.  It is better if you refrigerate it for a couple hours.  This will last in the fridge for three days but doesn’t hold up well in the freezer.  I have, however, made sandwiches on white bread and frozen them.  They are great to take in a packed lunch.  Just remove from the freezer in the morning and by lunchtime, they are ready to eat.  If the mayonnaise liquifies because of the freezing, I don’t notice it. 

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