It’s All Gravy, Baby, Inside Appalachia

Jan 29, 2016

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re talking about food and some of the food we southern Appalachians are  famous for.

We’ll travel to explore stories and the roots of some southern food, visit a historic salt mine in West Virginia that’s being revived and we’ll head over to a fried chicken festival in Virginia.

This show is sure to feed your appetite for stories about Appalachian food.

Subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcast here or on iTunes here, or on Stitcher here.

Pepperoni Roll
Credit Jessica Lilly

Across the coalfields, grocery stores are disappearing. McDowell County, West Virginia, just lost its Wal-Mart and people really don’t have a lot of options if they want to buy fresh food. It’s part of the reason why so many people in Appalachia get their food at gas stations -- a lot of hot dogs, chips and Slim Jims. We know that’s Appalachian food too, but it’s nice to have options.  

There’s an older kind of cooking that’s not quite as popular here in rural Appalachia and across the south. The simple comfort food our grandparents ate. Oddly enough, it’s these foods that are starting to get more popular in urban areas across the country.  Everything from gravy and grits to ramps, beans and cornbread, these dishes seem to keep appearing in restaurants in cities like New York, Richmond and Louisville.

With the rise in food deserts in the region, we think it’s important to cover stories about food. We found a podcast that tackles some tough topics, in a smart way … with food.  We invited some special guests onto our show this week: The producers of a podcast called Gravy by the Southern Foodways Alliance.  

A Salt Story: West Virginia Siblings Mine the Past to Build a Future

Credit Courtesy: Southern Foodways Alliance

While West Virginia may be known for resources like coal, the country once turned to this mountain state for a culinary staple: salt.

Salt production started in this part of the Appalachian mountains in the late 1700s. It was an industry built on the backs of slaves, and one that proved destructive to the region’s environment. Now, a seventh generation salt-making family is reviving the business.

In this episode of Gravy, Caleb Johnson and Irina Zhorov bring us the story of one family’s attempt to reconcile its salt-making past with a more environmentally and socially responsible future.

Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food

Melba Wilson owns her own chicken restaurant.
Credit Courtesy: Southern Foodways Alliance

It’s easy to love fried chicken. The light crunch of a crisped wing or leg, followed by the moist meat of the interior; it’s understandably beloved. But there is more going on with this comfort food than you might think.

Fried chicken has both been the vehicle for the economic empowerment of a whole group of people — and the accessory to an ugly racial stereotype. How can something so delicious be both? In this episode of Gravy, Lauren Ober goes from a Virginia Fried Chicken Festival to a soul food restaurant in Harlem to find out. 

Music in today’s show was provided by Ben TownsendLarry Groce, Hell For Certain String Band, Blue Dot Sessions, and David Shoulman and the Quiet Life Motel,  Ryan Little, Digital Primitives and Diagram Collective. Our Appetite Appalachia theme music is by the Carolina Sunshine Trio.

We’d love to hear from you.  You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd.

Subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcast here or on iTunes here, or on Stitcher here.