A Better West Virginia – Insight Through Food

Susan says:

This post is a part of a statewide effort of West Virginia bloggers to create and promote “new stereotypes” of West Virginia, led by Jason Keeling of abetterwestvirginia.com.  As a native that loves our great State, I was pleased to be able to participate in the effort.

When WV was founded 145 years ago today, only the toughest people chose to inhabit this mountainous region.  Many were called hillbillys and mountain folk, also known as mountaineers. The term “redneck” came about from the red bandanas the union coal miners wore around their necks when they marched into non-union Mingo County to risk their lives to improve the dangerous and degrading working conditions forced upon those miners by the coal companies at the Battle of Blair Mountain.  I am willing to bet that the majority of people who use the term “redneck” as a cutdown have no idea the badge of honor they are instead bestowing upon their target.

Yes this guy is Jerry West from Cabin Creek West VirginiaWest Virginians can do it all.  Throughout history we have made our mark.  A West Virginian was the first man to break the sound barrier – Chuck Yeager.  We are home to gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton.  Our who’s who list goes on and on….. General Stonewall Jackson,  Jerry West – the icon of the NBA… yes that guy dribbling the basketball in the NBA logo is Jerry West from Cabin Creek.  It is even a West Virginia University female basketball player that is recoginized as the first female to dunk a basketball.  The first brick streets were in Charleston, West Virginia.  We embrace the stereotype that West Virginians are a people that understand hard work, determination and sacrifice.  West Virginia is independent.  We can stand on our own two feet and are always willing to help our neighbors.

West Virginians live simple lives and cling to their family roots.  We are the birthplace of Mother’s Day even. We love simple foods and family recipes.   We are a  people that hold family in the highest regard.  A meal shared with family is next to religion here.  Sunday supper is a tradition that prospered even when the economy did not.  My mother’s family has German roots.  They incorporated their heritage into the regional cuisine of Preston County, West Virginia.  Growing up, I spent many happy summer days helping my Grandma in her very large vegetable garden.  They grew a lot of the they food they ate, even more so when my mother was a girl.  I can remember pulling the most tender green onions, rinsing them under the outdoor faucet, sprinkling on some salt and eating them right there beside the house.  Theirs was a typical West Virginian existence and that simple lifestyle has fueled some of the stereotypes of West Virginians.  That is only half the story, however.  You see, in West Virginia, we have the best of both worlds.

Deer at Canaan in the morning lightWe hunt for food. It is true that many West Virginians wear camoflauge, tote guns and cheer the first day of buck season.  But that is not a bad thing.  Our wild, wonderful environment is a treasure trove for hunters and fishermen.  Hunters bring home deer and squirrel for the family table.  We also have places like the Williams River and Shaver’s Fork where trout fishing abounds.  In addition, catfish and bass are staples of the West Virginia palette.  You can’t get fresh trout in LA.

Each year more than 350,000 hunters take to West Virginia’s woods, directing millions of dollars toward the state’s economy, creating more than 5,000 jobs. West Virginia’s hunting-related expenditures for food, lodging, transportation, and equipment brought in nearly $270 million to the state’s economy.

Venison Hoagies – a great lunch sandwich

1 jar of West Virginia’s very own Oliverio Peppers (preferably red hot)
Sandwich Buns
Mozzarella Cheese
1 – 2 lbs of thinly sliced venison

Simply brown the Venison slices in a skillet, once brown empty the jar of peppers…cover cook and simmer to desired consistency ~ 30 minutes.  Toast buns in oven. Once toasted, heap your venison and pepper mixture onto the buns, and cover with mozzarella.  Return to oven til cheese is melted.

We gather our food. An indiginous plant that sometimes carries a negative connotation to otusiders, but is so beloved that we natives celebrate it with an annual festival, is the ramp – a wild leek. Take a walk through our woods and discover wild blackberries, elderberries and raspberries begging for you to pluck them and taste their sweet, succulent flesh.  We have that at our back doors.  We use the fruit to make jams and jellies and even wine.  Gather a bucket of fresh blackberries and make this cobbler:

Blackberry Cobbler

6 c fresh blackberries
2 c sugar
¼ c Grand Marnier
1 t orange zest
2 T flour
Combine these ingredients and pour into a 9×9 pan.
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
¾ c sugar
¾ c light brown sugar
½ t salt
1 c old-fashioned oats
2 sticks unsalted cold butter, diced

Mix these ingredients in a mixer with the paddle attachment o low speed for one minute until large crumbles form. Spread evenly over the fruit in the pan and cover fruit completely. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbly.
Serve warm with half and half poured over the top of each serving.

We cultivate our food. Another true stereotype is that it is commonplace for West Virginia families to grow gardens.  I even have vegetables growing at my suburban home in Putnam County.  Again, this is not something to be ridiculed, it is something to be proud of that we grow food from the land.  You may not realize that the Golden Delicious apple was born in Clay County, West Virginia.  The harvest provides food throughout the year by utilizing freezing and canning techniques.  We incorporate these fresh fruits and vegetables into our cuisine.  Combine that with your anscetral heritage and your family might hold dear a recipe like this one from my mother’s family, the Sypolts:

German Potato Salad

Peel, cook and drain 6 medium potatoes. Cut into very thin slices. Put in a shallow baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Dice 4 slices of bacon and cook with 1 sliced onion. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar and heat to boiling. Pour over potatoes. Cover and let stand in preheated slow oven (350 degrees F) until warm. Toss lightly. Makes 6 servings.

We are food entrepreneuers. You don’t have to be a chef or a restaurateur to make a business out of food.  The independent and creative nature of our residents has resulted in a successful cottage industry.  Blue Smoke Salsa, Lambert’s Winery and Tasty Blend Foods, maker of Teays Valley cornbread and other mixes.

We dine out for food. Just look at some of the places we have reviewed on our blog, and that is only a small sampling of what is available to us here in West Virginia.  We have international cuisine, fine dining, and yes, the West Virginia hot dog.  It’s all good.

Most people think West Virginians believe fine dining is baked steak or a venison tenderloin, but that’s not our only facet.  We love venison, but we also enjoy filet.  We eat pepperoni rolls, but we dine on spicy tuna rolls, too.  In Fairmont we will order bruschetta at Muriel’s and in Martinsburg we will be served crab cakes at the Station Grill.  So many diamonds have been formed from the coal roots of this State:  take Cafe Cimino in Sutton, for example.  You could put that cuisine up against any in the nation.  The Blossom Deli in downtown Charleston also has exceptional dinner service.  We have a Buckwheat Festival in Kingwood, an Italian Festival in Clarksburg and the Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon.  West Virginians can hunt the meat they eat or don their finest clothes and savor a five-star meal at the Greenbrier.  We are as diverse as the food that defines us.

No matter what we eat, the people of wild, wonderful West Virginia appreciate the bounty of their table.  Let’s continue to show the rest of the nation and the world our strength, independence and creativity.  Whether it is through language, business, or even our food.


7 responses to “A Better West Virginia – Insight Through Food

  1. You make me proud to be from West Virginia.

    And *hungry*.


  2. Great post. Pepperoni rolls are a WV invention. Many people think ramps are a WV only food, but they in fact grow over a large part of the eastern United States.

  3. Pingback: United, We Blog for a Better West Virginia | a Better West Virginia Blog - Culture | Arts | Economy | Government

  4. WOW! Great work ~ so good that I am now going to feature it on my “Great Post Award” (which I have sadly neglected as of late)

    Happy West Virginia Day!

  5. Tremendous! Makes me hungry reading your post! Thanks for highlighting the importance of West Virginia “foods” to our wonderful culture and stereotype.

  6. Charleston might have had the first brick roads, but I bet Huntington will have the last ones.

    Seriously, folks, if you come to town to visit someone in the South Side, make sure to empty your bladder before turning off of Hal Greer or 5th St, or the jarring of the bricks might do it for you.

    Great post.

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