The Leftovers in a Coal Miner’s Bucket

Oct 14, 2016

If your father worked in the coal mines, chances are you remember his lunch or dinner bucket and the food that he brought to work. For many families, the extra food that was packed away in these dinner buckets was practical -- it would be there just in case an accident happened.


Returning home safely meant miners could give those extra goodies to their children. They worked a lot, so taking as many moments as possible to say, “I love you,” was important.

It’s hard to explain if you don’t know what it’s like to see your father go off to work as a miner. Or what it’s like to find out one day that you won’t see him return home ever again.

It’s more than just the dinner bucket or the food that’s in it, it’s the love that comes with it. It’s our daddy that carried it, or our momma that kept it full of the things he left on the day he didn’t come home from work. 

"It didn’t matter that he was always covered completely from head to toe in coal dirt. I’d jump up in Dad’s arms and I’d take his bucket because he always had leftovers for me."- Jennifer Alverez

This week’s episode of Inside Appalachia is dedicated to coal miner’s lunch buckets. One woman, Jennifer Alverez, shares her memories of her father’s lunch bucket. For Jennifer, remembering the food he took with him to work is another opportunity to remember her father.

Caleb and Ronnie Johnson, back when Caleb was a child.
Credit courtesy Caleb Johnson

And Caleb Johnson remembers his father’s lunchtime ritual of waking up in the late afternoon, and fixing a lunch to bring with him 2,000 feet underground.

We’ll also hear what happened to his family when his father had to hang up his lunch bucket.

Pepperoni Rolls

Pepperoni rolls have been called the unofficial food of West Virginia. Legend has it they were originally made for coal miners to take underground in their dinner buckets -- because the cured pepperoni didn’t spoil. WVU Press is set to publish a new book about pepperoni rolls next year. Candace Nelson is the author, and she talks with us about her research into the origins of pepperoni rolls.

Misty Whiteman, baker at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia
Credit Daniel Walker/WVPB

Last year, we visited the bakery that’s credited with inventing the pepperoni roll. From the Inside Appalachia archives, we’ll hear a taste of her visit.

What’s your favorite way to eat pepperoni rolls? Or if you’ve moved away, what do you do to satisfy your pepperoni roll cravings? Tell us your story on Twitter, @InAppalachia.

Music in today’s show was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Andy Agnew Jr., Ben Townsend, Blue Dot Sessions and Ralph Stanley II, with his song "Daddy's Dinner Bucket".

Our producer is Roxy Todd. Our editor is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Zander Aloi.