If you’re not familiar with the Appalachian mountains, well, it’s a mountain range that starts in Canada runs like a spinal cord down the East Coast of the United States. Formed about 480 million years ago, the system is divided into three parts: Northern, Central and Southern. It meanders through eighteen states. And, my hubby, Ben, and I both were raised in ‘them thar hills’, Ben in the Blue Ridge Mountain area and I in the southern West Virginia area.
These mountains are rich in natural resources, however, for decades Appalachia has been experienced and struggled with poverty. In many ways, this struggling and not having much is a true blessing. It makes you resilient. It forces you to be resourceful. It inculcates in you a passion to be ‘green’ and make things last and last. Saving. Restoring. Reinventing. Yes, making silk purses our of a sow’s ear, so to speak.
Cuisine in Appalachia is distinct. It’s known for its simplicity and down home good flavors. Today dishes that were common on the coal miners’ families tables are now considered gourmet. The Washington Post article on the ‘next big thing’ in food talks about this phenomena. Now, don’t roll your eyes, there’s lots of goodliness and history in our food. And, depending upon the neck o’ the woods you’re from along this Appalachian range, flavors and dishes change and are offered up in unique ways.
Take, for instance, ramps. Seasonal and rare, these onion tasting plants were common for us growing up. So were dandelions and their greens. But, we never considered them ‘delicacies’ as some chefs today do. For Appalachian folks, they were a kind of ‘foraging’ to get good food. Growing up it was part of our culture to live off the land and to hunt. Mom always had a big summer garden in our back yard. Canning fresh vegetables for the winter, storing them in the dark cool basement of our home provided us with good food, nutrition and cut down on food costs.
Our foods were simple and noble. Poke Salad or Salat. Cornbread. Beans. Fried taters. Buttermilk biscuits. Creamed gravy. Chipped beef on toast. And, yes, cucumber buttermilk salad. A variation of this salad is made with a vinegar base instead of buttermilk. I love both types. It all depends upon what I’m in the mood for. And, today it’s appalachian cucumber buttermilk salad. I learned more about this wonderful dish from Ben’s Mom, Mama Helen. She was one cracker jack mountain mama cook. Even in the late 1990s and well into 2000, she was still cooking on her nearly 60 year-old Westinghouse stove in her kitchen. At most meals, there was always a pone of crispy buttermilk cornbread and usually this salad. I’ve given it a trendy twist with the addition of refreshing sweet grapes. But, you can go old school without them. Either way, you’re sure to be happy! xoxo ~ally
PS: In case you’re wantin’ to know more about poke salad/salat, here you go, YouTube.
- 3 cups mini cucumbers, sliced
- 1 cup sweet onions, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. coarse ground pepper
- 1 tsp. red chili flakes
- 2 cups red grapes, seedless, sliced in halves
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cumcumbers, onions, buttermilk, salt, pepper and chili flakes. Mix and blend. Refrigerate about 30 minutes before serving.
- When serving have the sliced grapes as an optional garnish.