Does Holding on to Appalachian Traditions Matter?

Mar 24, 2017

In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we take a road trip to explore stories of people who are reviving Appalachian traditions, like baking salt rising bread or making sorghum sweeteners.

Some folklorists, artists and educators are wondering what the future of traditional arts in the country will look like. On Friday, the West Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill that would eliminate the state's Secretary of Education and the Arts and reorganize several of the departments the position oversees. Most of those departments oversee cultural and arts programs like the state archives, the state museum, the annual Vandalia music gathering and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The bill still needs to be approved by the state Senate to take effect.

Watch a video about James Shaffer, 87-year-old broom-maker:

Additionally, President Donald Trump has called for eliminating federal funding for many cultural programs, including the National Endowments for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities- two programs that provide some funding for cultural programs and scholars of folklore and traditional arts.

In this episode you'll hear:

High school students in Appalachian Georgia who wrote a series of books and magazines as part of an oral history project called Foxfire

The Guenther family, who grow and produce sorghum in Tennessee. The family is featured in a film called Sunlight Makes it Sweeter: A Story of Sorghum, directed and written by WETS's Fred Sauceman.

sorghum syrup being poured over ice cream
Credit Fred Sauceman

James Shaffer is the 87-year-owner of Charleston Broom and Mop in Loundendale, WV. You can also find his brooms at Pile Hardware on Charleston’s West Side.

Bakers Susan Brown and Jenny Bardwell have been working to document the recipes and stories of salt rising bread over the past few years. Their new book is called Salt Rising Bread: Recipes and Heartfelt Stories of a Nearly Lost Appalachian Tradition. Below is one of their recipes:

Salt Rising Bread Recipe #1 - Download as PDF

This recipe comes from an expert Salt Rising Bread baker from Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania, who has been making the bread for 80 years. Her starter, or “raisin,” as she calls it, uses fewer ingredients than most recipes and has no sugar or salt in it.

Ingredients:

3 tsp Corn Meal

1 tsp Flour

1/8 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 cup Scalded Milk

Preparation:

Pour milk onto dry ingredients and stir.

Keep warm overnight until foamy.

After the "raisin" has foamed and has a "rotten cheese" smell, in a medium sized bowl, add 2 cups of warm water to mixture, then enough flour (about 1 ½ cup) to make like a thin pancake batter.  Stir and let rise again until becomes foamy.  This usually takes about 2 hours.

Next, add one cup of warm water for each loaf of bread you want to make, up to 6 loaves (e.g. six cups of water makes six loaves of bread).   Add enough flour (20 cups for 6 loaves, or about one 5 pound bag of flour + 1/3 bag).  Form into loaves; grease tops of loaves.   Let rise in greased pans for several hours, maybe 2-6 hours.

Bake at 300F for 30 to 45 minutes,  or until loaves sound hollow when tapped.

For other recipes, visit Susan Brown's website dedicated to Salt Rising Bread.

We’d love to hear from you.  You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the West Virginia Folklife Program, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council, at wvfolklife.org, WETS in Johnson City, TN, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

Music in today’s show was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Dick Spain, Robert Johnson, Ben Townsend, Podington Bear and Teresa Brewer. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition. Patrick Stephens is our Audio Mixer. Suzanne Higgins edited our show this week. Roxy Todd helped produce. Jesse Wright is our executive producer.