Thursday, December 29, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- BALONEY SALAD

Of all the food I enjoyed eating around the Christmas season, the one that holds the sweetest memories for me is BALONEY SALAD sandwiches.

Every Christmas Eve, Granny would make a batch large enough to feed Harlan County for our party at her house. I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into a few of them.

BALONEY SALAD is the poor man’s ham.  At least that’s what my family said.

Here’s the recipe:

1 big log of baloney
Boiled eggs (About 4, according to size of batch)
Sweet gherkins, diced tiny
Mayonnaise (Granny used Miracle Whip)

Fitted to Granny’s kitchen table was a metal meat grinder. She peeled and cut the baloney into large chunks and fed it through the grinder. It came out into a big mixing bowl, looking like baloney spaghetti.

Then she fed the boiled eggs through the grinder, according to how much she was making.

Next, she chopped up her gherkins into tiny little bits and added them to the mixture. Mayo came last. Then she stirred it all up together until it became BALONEY SALAD.

Sometimes I got to help with the process. She especially let me help spread the salad onto fresh white Bunny Bread. That fresh, soft bread was the best in the world.

The sandwiches were sliced into two and then placed on platters, covered with foil or Saran Wrap, and then plopped them into the fridge until the party.

When the family arrived and the party was on the way, everyone dived into those BALONEY SALAD SANDWICHES as if they hadn’t eaten anything since Thanksgiving. There was rarely a morsel left at the end of the night.

Yes, those sandwiches still bring a smile to my face when I think about them. As I get older, I realize how special growing up in the mountains truly was. We didn’t have much, but we were abundantly wealthy. Wealth should be measured by your attitude toward your blessings.

As we near the time when we are expected to make resolutions for the new year, how about we look back on our lives and choose to find the blessings in even the smallest of things? I think it could add a lot of joy to our lives in the midst of such suffering and negativity continually being thrown at us.

What’s one memory from 2016 that you count as a blessing?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- SNOWCREAM

My childhood front yard

The appropriate word for the week, considering this is the first day of Winter, is one of my favorites -- SNOWCREAM!

As a youngster in the mountains of Harlan County, KY, I lived for the days when a massive snow covered the landscape. Not only did I enjoy playing in the snow, sliding down the mountainside in a saucer sled, and building a snow fort with my brother, but I loved making SNOWCREAM.

Of course, the process of making SNOWCREAM required us to collect fresh, clean (emphasis on clean) snow before anyone got outside and dirtied it up.

We gathered up all the largest pots and bowls from the kitchen and headed outside.

Now, there is a process to gathering snow. Since almost everybody around us heated their houses with coal, we had to first rake off the top layer of snow to remove the black spots of ash that had dropped onto the top layer. That completed, we began scooping snow into our bowls and pots.

Of course, we made sure not to scoop too close to the ground. Lots of dogs and wild animals used the ground for a litter box, so we made sure to avoid any yellow or brown snow. We also didn't want to get grass trimmings in our snow.

After gathering up all of our bowls and pots, we carried it inside to Mom, who was waiting with the bag of sugar, can of cream, vanilla flavoring and the salt box. She also had the hand mixer ready to get the job done faster.

She took the largest bowl and checked to make sure it was clean snow. Then she added about a cup of sugar and started mixing. Then she added pure cream out of the can. Some people make it with milk, but the flavor is nowhere near as good. Then she added vanilla flavoring and a pinch of salt. As the snow melted down, she scooped in more snow and the process continued until every bowl and pot of snow had been added to the mixture. She continued to add sugar and cream until the concoction was perfect and creamy.

She scooped out a bowl of snowcream for each of us and then put the main bowl into smaller bowls that would fit into the freezer for later.

Oh, what JOY to sit in front of the coal stove and eat that snowcream! Our fingers were numb and so were our lips, but we didn't care. It was glorious.

As we made our way through the main bowls of snowcream stored in the freezer, we sometimes added a bit of flavor to the mix. A favorite was Nehi Grape pop. We also tried peach pop, strawberry pop, or chocolate pop. If you don't know what pop is, you may call it soda or soft drink. Back in my day, we had some wonderful flavors available.

So, if you are fortunate enough to get a big snow where you live, why not give it a try and make some SNOWCREAM for yourself? Just make sure you watch out for yellow or brown snow.

Exact recipes don't work for our snowcream. You have to go by taste. If the mix is too sweet, add some snow. If it's not sweet enough, add more sugar. If it's not creamy enough, add more cream. You get the picture.

Have you ever eaten SNOWCREAM? Tell me about your experience.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week - SWEET PILLS

Appalachian Word of the Week – SWEET PILLS

I’m going to do something a little different this week. Instead of one word, I’m going to describe two words. SWEET PILLS

Not everybody called them that, but my mom and granny always used the term SWEET PILLS to describe all those luscious sweet confections we only got to eat during the Christmas season.

My all-time favorite is the FRUITCAKE.

Now, this isn’t the kind of fruitcake of jokes. Mom’s fruitcake was moist, spicy cake with candied fruit, raisins, and black walnuts. The best part of the cake was the top and the edge. Oh, my goodness, the chewiness made it heavenly. Nothing else compares. I truly miss those cakes.

Mom always hid the cakes, wrapped in tinfoil, somewhere in her bedroom. She doled out tiny slices only when she wanted to share. It nearly drove me crazy waiting for her to be in the mood to be generous.

Another popular treat in my house was FUDGE made from marshmallow cream. Mom wasn’t the greatest cook in the world, but she was a master fudge maker.  She generally made two large batches—one was plain and the other had English walnuts in it.

She poured the melted, creamy mixture into large platters. When it hardened, she sliced it into pieces. Most of the candy was hidden away like the fruitcake, but she usually left the smallest plate of fudge on the kitchen table for us to nibble on. I had a hard time staying out of the kitchen.

And then there was the APPLE STACK CAKE. The batter for this cake is totally different from most cakes. It is thicker consistency and you spread a thin layer into round pans to bake. It took forever, it seemed, because Mom only had two round pans. The first two layers had to cool enough to be removed safely before she could use the pans again to bake the next two layers.

Special thanks to Lady Behind the Curtain for the photo

While she waited between layers, she made the filling. After every layer had cooled, the cake was built by placing a layer, spooning on some of the apple mixture, and then the next layer, until it was completed.

My granny always made a BLACKBERRY JAM CAKE. It wasn’t my favorite because it was so sweet it gave me a tummy ache. I much preferred fruitcake. Her cake was quite popular with all the other houseguests, though.

One thing mountain women do at Christmas when they bake up a storm is to share. I remember my mom wrapping up pieces of cake or candy in tinfoil and then Christmas paper and tying it up with ribbon. She then dispersed her gifts to special people in the community. I remember her giving some to our garbage man, too.

If you’d like to try one of our mountain SWEET PILLS, I’ve given you the recipes from family files. Enjoy. Next week, I’ll tell you about another treat we only got to eat in winter.

Do you have any favorite SWEET PILLS from your mom or grandmother? I'd love to hear about them and where they originated.



2 ½ cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp soda
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (or more)
1 tsp cloves (or more)
½ tsp allspice
1 ½ cups applesauce (a little extra helps make it moister)
½ cup water
½ cup shortening/butter
2 eggs
1 cup raisins (soaked in warm water and then drained)
½ chopped walnuts (add more) English or black
Mixed candied fruit

Heat oven to 350
Grease and flour baking pan
Measure all ingredients into large bowls (separate bowls for wet and dry ingredients) 
Alternate dry/wet/applesauce, then mix
Add fruit, nuts, raisins and blend ½ minute on low speed, scraping bowl occasionally
Pour into pan (preferably an angel food pan)
Bake 60-65 minutes
If doing layers, bake for 50 minutes
Cool before removing from pan.

Ingredients for the Cake:

5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour like White Lily or a cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ground ginger
2 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (or 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup molasses or sorghum)
1 cup butter
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
Directions for cake:

1. HEAT oven to 425°F.
2. “Grease and flour” seven (7) 9-inch round pans or line the pans with parchment paper or use a no-stick flour cooking spray
3. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl; set aside
4. Beat the brown sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
5. Beat in eggs and vanilla
6. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beating after each addition until just combined
7. Divide dough into seven portions of about ¾ cup each.
8. With floured hands, pat dough into prepared pans.
9. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden crust forms.
10. Remove from pan and place on a wire rack

Ingredients for the dried apple filling:

5 cups water
1 pound dried apples
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ to 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or all spice
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions for Assembling the Cake:

1. Place one cake layer on a large, flat plate or cake plate.
2. Smooth an even amount of hot dried apple filling on top of the one cake layer.
3. Add the second cake layer onto the dried apple filling.
4. Put the dried apple filling on top of the second layer.
5. Repeat until all seven layers are stacked one on top another BUT do not put the apple filling on the top layer.
6. Cover the cake and place in the refrigerator (or cool place) for 24 to 48 hours.


For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, beaten
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped raisins or dates
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1 cup seedless blackberry jam
For the icing
3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

Make the cake:

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and combine the mixture well. Into a bowl sift together 3 cups of the flour, the allspice, the cloves, the cinnamon, and the salt.

In another bowl combine the buttermilk and the baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in batches alternately with the buttermilk mixture, beating well after each addition. In a bowl, toss together the raisins, the nuts, and the remaining 1 tablespoon flour and stir the mixture into the batter with the jam, stirring until the mixture is combined well.

Line the bottoms of 2 buttered 9-inch cake pans with wax paper and butter the paper. Pour the batter into the pans and bake the layers in the middle of a preheated 325°F. oven for 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, invert them onto the rack, and let the layers cool completely.

Make the icing:
In a saucepan combine the brown sugar, the evaporated milk, and the butter, cook the mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, and cook it, undisturbed, washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water, until it registers 238°F. on a candy thermometer. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and beat it until it is of spreading consistency. If the icing gets too hard to spread, dip the icing spatula in hot water.

Transfer one of the layers, bottom up, to a cake plate, frost the top with the icing, and top it with the remaining layer, bottom down. Frost the top and sides with the icing.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- MESS

My Appalachian word this week is MESS.

Although there are several uses of the word “mess” in Appalachia, and I have been told many times that I am one of those types of mess

and have been responsible for leaving another type of mess, 

the one I am concentrating on this week refers to a MESS of food.

A MESS is the amount of a food item you gather for a meal. The size of a MESS varies, according to the number of people who will be eating the meal. That means a MESS for just me is much smaller than a group of six people. A group of twelve or more would require an even larger MESS.

Although a MESS can refer to a variety of food items, in my family it generally referred to green beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green onions, or any other food we grew in our garden. It also referred to wild blackberries or other berries.

However, in my household, we also gathered a MESS of uncultivated greens from our yard.

Last week I told you about poke, but there are several other greens available. Greens that aren't as potentially toxic.


My mother regularly sent me out into the yard to collect plantin’, dandelions, and violets to cook up a good MESS of greens for dinner.


Wild Violets


She cleaned them up (you never knew which critter had stopped for a visit), trimmed them, and threw them into a pot of boiling salted water to cook. In an area where fresh vegetables were usually limited to what you had on hand, the variety of wild greens was a healthy change to the regular menu and extended the supply of canned vegetables from the previous year.

Have you ever eaten the weeds from your yard? If so, what did you serve up?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- POKE

My Appalachian word this week is POKE.

This one might be a tad confusing to non-mountain folks. There are two kinds of POKES we refer to in the mountains.

The first kind of POKE is the one you get when you go shopping for your groceries. The paper type, that is. Some of you may call it a sack or a bag. In my part of the country we called it a POKE.

You know the term “pig in a poke”? Well, that’s what the POKE is. Aren’t you glad you finally know what they’re talking about?

There’s also another type of POKE. It’s a green leafy plant that grows wild, uncultivated. In my hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, we even have a POKE Sallet Festival every June to celebrate the POKE weed. If you don’t know what a SALLET is, come back next week to find out.

Special thanks to Corinne Farley for this photo

There’s an important secret about POKE before you go out, gather the plants, and eat them on your own. It’s TOXIC. Yep, it can make you quite ill and can even kill you. Because of that, you need to know exactly how to harvest and prepare POKE to keep from killing anyone.

Here is the link to a Youtube video showing how to harvest and prepare POKE properly.

Most of the people I know add scrambled eggs to their POKE. It can be a tad bitter and the eggs calm down the flavor.

Here’s the Poke Sallet Recipe

1.    Remove Poke leaves from plant
2.    Rinse Pokeweed leaves in cool water
3.    Bring leaves to rolling boil in large pot for 20 minutes
4.    Pour leaves into sieve (colander) and rinse in cool water
5.    Repeat Steps 3 and 4 two more times
6.    Panfry Poke leaves for a couple of minutes in bacon grease
7.    Add crushed bacon, salt and pepper to taste (or add and scramble eggs)
8.    Serve and enjoy

One more secret of the POKE weed plant. As the season progresses, purplish berries appear on the top of the plant. Those berries seem to be the most toxic part of the plant. If you put a berry into your mouth and chew it, you will probably die.

However, some Granny Women and current day natural medical practitioners swear by the healing qualities of those POKE berries if they are swallowed whole without biting or chewing.

Feeling lucky? Me either. I’ll leave the whole POKE plant to someone else to risk, thank you.

So, do you think you would ever try POKE sallet? If so, I recommend you travel to Harlan, Kentucky next June and try it at the POKE Sallet Festival. Check out their website at: 

Make sure you choose a vendor with a long line of repeat customers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week - Conveyors

This week's word is CONVEYORS. The conveyor is how miners got coal from an underground mine to the coal tipple (that we talked about last week). I've seen conveyors that stretched from the entrance to the mine all the way down the side of the mountain to the tipple. I've even seen one near Pineville, KY that crossed the main road.

Crummies, KY conveyor stretching down the mountain to the tipple

Although trucks can also be used to transport the coal, I remember how fascinated I was watching the coal travel along the conveyor and drop into the bin of the tipple, to then be released into a train car. Most conveyors are enclosed, though, so the coal doesn't slip off.

Benito Mine, Benito, KY

You may wonder how the coal gets to the conveyor from where it’s mined.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity of visiting a coal mine and seeing for myself how coal is, or was, mined. That mine is no longer in operation.

As I did some research for a novel set in the Appalachian coal fields, I took a tour of Portal 31 in Lynch, Kentucky in Harlan County. I climbed into a people mover as it drove us into the mine and down further and further. Not a great experience for anyone who is claustrophobic. 

People mover that takes miners (visitors) deep into the mine

My tour guide who I discovered was a former classmate. We've both changed a lot in 40 years.

One of the vignettes with a mule. That ceiling didn't make me feel safe.

A map of all the tunnels through the mountain. 

Some equipment needed in the mines

Along the way, we stopped at vignettes of life in a coal mine from the early days of mining there. The days when they had mules to pull the coal out of the mine. We also saw the early methods of getting the coal out of the mountain using dynamite and pick axes. Those were the days when fancy gadgets didn’t help shore up the roof to keep it from collapsing on them and they had no modern devices to alert them to gas. It was especially dangerous since they used caps with carbide lamps to light the way. Those flames could be fatal if gas was present.

Miner from Lejunior Mine

I remember my dad used a carbide miners cap to go frog gigging at night. I miss those days of fresh bullfrog legs for dinner.

When the coal was extracted from the mountain, it was then transported by cart (motorized in modern days, mule-powered in the older days) through the tunnels and outside the mine to the CONVEYER.

The CONVEYER was started up, the coal was loaded onto it, and it carried the blocks up or down the mountain to the tipple.

I won’t get political about it, but mining today has changed from just the deep mine method. There is also strip mining for seams of coal near the surface. However, the one that breaks my heart, since I'm a girl from the mountains, is mountaintop removal. It’s sad to see the tops of my beautiful mountains and the forests that once covered them completely wiped out to reach the coal. Yes, they are forced to replant when they are finished removing all the coal available, but I can’t help but think it is very much like what happens with a mastectomy. The coal is gone, but so is much of the tissue. All that’s left are the scars and the memories.

Coal mining seems to be disappearing from the mountains, though. Men and women have lost their jobs and have few to no opportunities to provide for their families. The economic and social make-up of the area is deteriorating.

It breaks my heart. But, true mountain people always find a way to survive. Above the fog, the sun still shines. Beneath the mist, the mountains still stand—even if they are a tad damaged in spots. There’s always hope for tomorrow.

Photo by Author Sandra Aldrich

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


This week’s Appalachian word is COAL TIPPLE.

Crummies Creek Coal Tipple

Some of you may never have heard of a coal tipple, so I’ll try to explain it to you.

Wikipedia defines a tipple as a structure used at a mine to load the extracted product (e.g., coal, ores) for transport, typically into railroad hopper cars. In the United States, tipples have been frequently associated with coal mines, but they have also been used for hard rock mining.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

 If you’ve ever driven through coal country, you’ve probably seen a tipple and didn’t know what it was used for. I’ll let Wikipedia help in the explaining again.

Basic coal tipples simply loaded coal into railroad cars.[1] Many tipples had simple screening equipment to sort coal pieces by size before loading.[2][3]:20 Today, a coal mine facility usually includes a coal preparation plant which washes coal of soil and rock, before loading it for transport to market. The term "tipple" may be used interchangeably with coal prep plant.

I remember seeing lots of coal tipples in Harlan County. My granny lived across the road from one in Crummies, KY. I sat rocking on the front porch of her house, watching as the train cars slowly rolled under the tipple. They opened the hatch on the tipple and coal filled the train cars as they continued to roll underneath.  

 Because they kept moving underneath, the coal filled the cars a mound at a time. I often thought it interesting that the result was a mountain range of peaks and hollers, just like the mountains around me.

Tipples don’t only fill up train cars. They also fill up pick-up trucks (really big pick-up trucks) so coal can be delivered locally to vendors who sell coal to local businesses and residents.

Also, coal doesn’t come in just one size lump. Different sizes are needed for different uses. Big blocks are used mostly commercially—like in plants. When I was a little girl, we had a pot-bellied stove for heating the house. We used smaller chunks of coal for that so the fire wouldn’t burn too hot and burn the house down. I do remember, however, a couple of times when the fire got so hot that the stovepipe between the stove and the fireplace flue glowed bright red. Those were the nights my mom stayed up all night to watch after the fire.

Later, when we bought a Stokermatic stove, smaller pieces of coal were required. They had to be small enough to fit through an auger that took coal from the built-in coal bin and into the firebox. These stoves had a thermostat and monitored the heat produced by the stove. Much safer. They also didn’t burn you if you accidentally touched them. And they had a fan inside to blow the warmed air so it traveled further into the house.

Imagine today on a cold winter day and you only had one vent from your furnace. One vent in the living room. All the other rooms in the house had to depend on that one vent to receive any warmth at all. I love progress!

If you ever wondered how the coal got to the tipple, stay tuned for next week’s word. If you don’t want to miss it, then sign up with your email address on the right side of this post and I’ll send you a link each week to the new posts.

Do you have any stories about coal tipples? How about scary nights with your coal-powered stoves? Leave a comment below and share.