Food And Family Holiday Traditions, Inside Appalachia


Have you ever noticed how conversations about food can lead us to learn surprising things about each other? In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we talk about holiday foods. We’ve got recipes for things like cranberry salad, sorghum gingerbread, and pecan pie. But more than recipes, this show is about the power of memory, and tradition.

Co-host Caitlin Tan shares her grandmother’s recipe for stollen, a special German sweet bread that she makes each Christmas. And co-host Mason Adams sits down with his mom to talk about baking cookies during the holidays. Their conversation led her to divulge a secret. “Oh goodness, I love to make cookies. You guys would go to bed at night, and I would be up to two or three o’clock in the morning making cookies.”

And our listeners across Appalachia share some of their favorite traditions — that and more in this holiday special episode of Inside Appalachia.

Stollen Bread

Stollen is a cake-like fruit bread of nuts, spices, and dried or candied fruit, and coated with sugar. It’s a traditional German bread eaten during the Christmas season. Our co-host Caitlin Tan interviewed her grandmother Ilse Tan about the recipe, and what makes this food so important to her.


Caitlin Tan
Ilse Tan makes her traditional stollen bread that she grew up with in the former East Germany.

Oma’s Stollen Recipe

  • 5 Cups Flour (about)
  • A little less than a Tablespoon of Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Knife tip Cinnamon
  • 1 Knife tip Cardamom
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 3 Drops Lemon Juice
  • 2 Sticks butter (melted)
  • 1 Pint Sour Cream
  • 1 Handful Raisins
  • 1 Handful other dried fruit, chopped
  • 1 Handful sliced almonds
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Rum

Mix all ingredients together. Should be like a sticky bread dough.

Knead into 1-3 loaves.

Bake @ 350 degrees F for 65-75 minutes (or a clean fork).

Paint melted butter on top.

Sprinkle with a thick layer of powdered sugar.

Let it cool, slice and enjoy!


Cranberry Salad

One of our listeners, Emma Louise Leahy, is from Jefferson County, West Virginia, but she’s currently studying abroad in Germany. She shared the story behind her family’s handwritten recipe card for cranberry salad, which has been passed down from her grandmother. She said you have to start the day before because it has to sit overnight and includes fresh cranberries, Mandarin oranges, pecans, and apples, if you want. She chops them up really finely, saying it is easiest with a food processor and then lets it sit overnight with brown sugar. They use it as a palate cleanser between courses at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Leahy’s grandmother died when she was five. She says this recipe, and others, make her feel connected to her ancestor, even after all these years. “She’s still somebody that even in her physical absence from our life since she’s passed on that she’s left a big impact on our family,” Leahy said.

Famous Pecan Pie.jpg

A holiday tradition in associate producer Eric Douglas' home was pecan pie. He shares his mother's recipe.

Christmas Morning Strawberry Shortcake

Clara Haizlett, a member of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Corps, shared her family’s tradition of Christmas morning strawberry shortcake.

When she was born, their next door neighbor was a woman named Betsy who took the kids in her family under her wing and made strawberry shortcake for them. They lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. When she moved with her family to West Virginia, her mom continued the tradition.

Christmas Shortcake

  • Make some biscuits (recipe off the back of Bisquick is fine!)
  • Slice fresh strawberries
  • Combine heavy whipping cream, maple syrup and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form
  • Make an open face sandwich with your biscuit, top with strawberries a dollop of whipped cream.
  • Enjoy with coffee and have a Merry Christmas!

Hand Pies


Mike Costello/Host Pickle Shelf Radio Hour
Peach and basil hand pies from chef Mike Costello.

Have you ever grabbed one of those small, to-go apple pies at a convenience store? Maybe it came in a paper bag or a cardboard sleeve.

On its face, the hand pie seems like a pretty straightforward food — some filling wrapped in dough. But Folkways reporter Kelley Libby found that hand pie makers in Appalachia are getting creative.

Special thanks to Emily Hilliard with the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council, for her help with this story.


Folkways Corps reporter Connie Bailey-Kitts brings us a story about her family’s gingerbread recipe, using homemade sorghum.

The recipe is passed down from her grandmother, Alice Bailey, who was widowed shortly before the stock market crashed in 1929. Sugar was expensive and scarce, but sorghum was easy to grow on their mountain land. You could boil down its juice to a thick sweet syrup. It technically wasn’t “molasses” (which comes from sugar) but it looked so much like it, it was called sorghum molasses.

Her pro tip: Dissolve the soda in water first, instead of mixing it with the dry ingredients. That way you don’t have to worry about getting a speck of bitter soda taste in the cake. Top it off with a lemon sauce, orange sauce or whipped cream. It freezes beautifully too!


Serving up some holiday gingerbread cake, once made in this coal-burning cook stove by Grandmother Alice Bailey.

Grandmother Bailey’s Soft Gingerbread

  • 1 cup Wesson oil (or safflower oil)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sorghum (reduce to ¾ cup if using blackstrap or mild molasses)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour an 8 x 12-inch or 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Sift flour together with sugar, salt and spices*. Set aside.

Beat the eggs, add oil, sorghum/molasses, and soda (that has been dissolved in the two tablespoons of hot water). Add the sifted flour mixture to wet ingredients. Beat well. Gently stir in the cup of water and beat lightly. Batter will be very thin, like a soup, but do not add more flour.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Let settle for 1 or 2 minutes. Bake 30 – 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*You can use the spices to suit your taste. We reduce or eliminate the cinnamon, but that is your choice.

Lemon Sauce

  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg plus ¼ cup water
  • Pinch Salt
  • Fresh juice of 1 or 2 lemons (to taste) plus grated zest of 1 lemon

Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat. Whisk in sugar, egg, water, and salt. Add juice of lemon, plus zest and bring all to boil.

Stir until thick. Remove from heat and pour over gingerbread cake. Sauce freezes well.

Orange sauce

  • 1 cup orange juice, mixed with ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, combine juice, water, sugar, cornstarch and salt and heat over medium low heat until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat, add butter and stir.

gingerbread politics

Nicole Musgrave
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
LaRue Laferty (left) watches her grandson, Jaxon Conley, portion gingerbread batter onto a metal baking sheet in the kitchen of her Knott County home. Growing up in neighboring Floyd County, Laferty’s mother used to make gingerbread for candidates during election season.

Election Day Gingerbread

Folkways Corps reporter Nicole Musgrave traveled to Knott County, Kentucky where gingerbread was once tied to election season.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by The Ritch Collins Three-O, Bortex, Blue Dot Sessions, Tim Marema, Andrew Bird, and Corey Chisel as heard on Mountain Stage.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. Caitlin Tan is @miss_ctan. Mason Adams is @MasonAtoms. You can also send us an email to

We love real letters, too. You can send them to 600 Capitol Street. Charleston, WV 25301.

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.