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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- STEP-INS

My Appalachian word this week is STEP-INS.

Granny always used the term “step-ins” when she referred to a woman’s underwear. She thought the word “panties” was too crude. I always laughed when she said it, but I didn’t say “panties” either. I called them undies or unmentionables.

One of my aunts called them bloomers. It seemed that everybody in the mountains had a different word for the same thing. Now that I look back on those days when Granny was still around, I appreciate her use of step-ins a lot more than I did back then.

Whatever each family member called them, it was the dreaded gift to receive at the family Christmas party each year. Granny always gave me step-ins for Christmas. In my pre-teen years, few things embarrassed me more than having to open that gift in front of all the aunts and uncles and hold them up for all to see. Aunt Mona Jo seemed to get way too much pleasure out of making a big deal of the reveal. She raised her voice so no one could miss her and announced that Kurn Lynn (Karen Lynn) was opening her gift. Oh, what is it, Kurn Lynn? Oh, look! Ain’t they purdy? Kurn Lynn got some step-ins. Hold ‘em up for everybody to see.

If I didn’t hold them up (I much preferred hiding under my chair), Aunt Mona Jo would hold them up for me, high in the air. The laughter only lasted a few seconds but they echoed in my head for… years.

What did your family call them? Did you have any other unusual names for underwear?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Appalachian Word of the Week -- PUMPKNOT

My Appalachian word this week is PUMPKNOT.

A PUMPKNOT is what you get when your head bangs into something it oughtn’t. At high velocity. You may call it a “bump” or a “goose egg” instead of pumpknot. But, that’s what my family always called them.

Real Goose Eggs

My sister had a gift for getting pumpknots. I remember one time she was running crazy through the house (which of course we were told not to do) and she flew head-first into the Stokermatic stove that sat in the middle of the living room floor. Boy, I tell you I could see stars above her head and she had a huge pumpknot that popped out and grew bigger as we watched.

Another time, she had just received a skateboard for her birthday and was practicing inside the house. Well, I guess it seemed the smart thing to do since we had gravel in our driveway. I never saw the sense in having a skateboard in the mountains anyway; but then, that was my sister.

She took the skateboard into the kitchen and zoomed from there into the dining room and then into the living room, gaining speed. I suppose she was attempting to avoid the Stokermatic this time, so she swerved a little as she approached it. Well, she was going so fast that the skateboard veered off and went under the coffee table. My sister did not. She went head first into the table corner. Another huge pumpknot.

Of course, I’ve had my share of pumpknots, too. The one I remember most happened when I lived in Greenville, SC. I was carrying my lunch into the living room to eat while I worked on my computer. Somehow, my toe caught on the carpet and I did a slow spin and hit the floor. On the trip down to the floor, my lunch flew all around me and the back of my head hit a nearby table. My ankle did a spin of its own. In agony, I attempted to get up. No such luck.

About this time, my dachshund, Jessy, came running. I thought he was coming to check up on me. Not quite. He came to eat my lunch.

Not able to get up, I reached up to my desk, grabbed my phone, and called 911. When the dispatcher answered, I said, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Then I giggled because it was so cliché. I figured she would hang up on me. She didn’t.

I made sure to tell her to send someone strong because I’m a big woman. Then I remembered my locked front door and pleaded, “Don’t let them break my door. Tell them to find the stone squirrel in the front yard and pick it up. In its butt is a house key.” Well, now it was her turn to giggle.

Not the squirrel I meant

I lay there on the floor, waiting and watching the pretty stars sparkle around my head. My dachshund barked and looked at the front door. I heard laughter from the front porch. The door opened and in walked four of the hunkiest guys I had ever seen. Glory be!

They surrounded me as my pumpknot pounded as it grew larger and my ankle screamed. One, two, three and I stood in front of them—on one foot and a bit worse for wear.

My heroes. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded if they hung around a bit longer and flexed their muscles for me. But like superheroes tend to do when their job is done, they said their farewells and flew (okay, so they walked) out the front door, laughed as they crossed the porch, and disappeared to wherever superheroes go.

My advice? Beware where you put your head. That is unless you prefer a visit from some hunky heroes. 

Now, tell me your pumpknot stories. Come on, I know you've got at least one doozie.