Thursday, September 1, 2011

Appalachian Recipes and Memoir

Peggy Ann Shifflett, a retired Radford University professor of sociology, was born and raised in Hopkins Gap—fifteen miles northwest of Harrisonburg, Virginia, where the old ways persisted until recently. Her books, “The Red Flannel Rag” and “Mom’s Family Pie,” chronicle in painstaking detail what growing up in Appalachia was like. She writes both from her own experience and with the perception of a sociologist documenting minute details of the Appalachian culture.

“The Red Flannel Rag,” her memoir of growing up in a large extended Appalachian family, received the 2005 Elmer Lewis Smith Award for preservation of Shenandoah Valley folk life. (The title refers to the custom of rubbing a red flannel rag with a poultice of hog lard, onions and camphor, and tying it around a person’s neck to cure a cold.) Now in its eighth printing and used in Appalachian studies classes at several colleges, the book was written when Shifflett was sixty. Because many of the customs were dying out, she decided to preserve them. She writes about history, family members, religion, education, superstition, and moonshine. And much more.

“Mom’s Family Pie: Memories of Food Traditions and Family in Appalachia” is a collection of country recipes, plus the stories behind the recipes, a genealogical record of Shifflett’s family, the customs of a typical Appalachian family, and a testimonial to strong women who made do with what they had. The title refers to a family pie, which differed from a fancy pie that was served to guests. Fancy pies were round and had both a bottom and top crust, often decorated. Family pies were plain; the bottom crust was simply lapped over the filling and thus required less time to prepare. Family pies were much bigger than fancy pies so there were usually plenty of leftovers.

From childhood, Shifflett watched the planting, picking, processing, and eating of all the foods she describes in “Mom’s Family Pie.” From her mother and aunts, she learned to milk, kill chickens, forage for morels, kindle a fire in a wood stove, cook, can, hunt, and much more— everything a good farmwife needed to know. 

She wrote “Mom’s Family Pie” as a tribute to her grandmother’s generation, when women married in their early teens, had three or four babies before they were twenty, fed their families and cared for their homes, and often died before they were forty. Then their daughters and granddaughters carried on the food traditions. “Mom’s Family Pie” describes how to cook the food these women raised or gathered and how to prepare parts of assorted animals, both domestic and wild.

Like a family pie, Shifflett’s books aren’t fancy—but if you hanker for a taste of down-home life and wonderful story-telling, they’re delicious. Both these books, as well as her latest book, "The Living Room Bed," will be for sale at the Roanoke Valley Pen Women's table.

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