- The Place Setting; Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level, Thirds
The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level, written by Fred W. Sauceman, offers readers of the series a final volume entitled Thirds. With a distinct focus on Appalachian foodways, Appalachian history, and a reliance on traditional Appalachian storytelling, Sauceman blends seamlessly together a collection of food memories meant to preserve the familial and communal food legacies of Appalachian culture. Along with rich food narratives and Appalachian food histories, Sauceman, a native of Greenville, Tennessee, who teaches courses in the foodways of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University, also serves up a collection of traditional Appalachian recipes and a compilation of reviews for restaurants, diners, and "dives" that specialize in Appalachian fare.
Beginning in Bristol, Tennessee, at the Ratliff Candy Company, Sauceman takes us on a palatable journey through the Mountain South and on into the hills of West Virginia where folks are greeted with traditional pepperoni rolls at Colasessano's in Fairmont. The stories shared in this collection [End Page 89] are reminders that many of the very best Appalachian food traditions were "born during hard times" (xvii), and from a people who found "virtue and satisfaction in the labor of their hands" (xviii). Sauceman neatly folds in the historical accounts of the West Virginia pepperoni roll and the tales of the people from the region: "The pepperoni roll was conceived as lunch for coal miners. They needed a type of meat that would not spoil. They needed food that was portable, that could be eaten with one hand, and that didn't require a plate or a fork. And they needed something that was filling" (29). The pepperoni roll was a practical, staple food created for the coal miners of West Virginia much like the affordable, satisfying Moon Pie was created for the miners near Chattanooga, Tennessee (116).
If one theme unites Sauceman's work, it is storytelling and the ways in which stories of Appalachian food reflect the past, a practical people, and "hard-times cooking" (6). In the section, "The Covenant of Black Iron," the common use of the black, cast-iron skillet symbolizes "permanence and simplicity in a time of complexity and change" (6). Sauceman relates that "our skillets tell the story of our past.… We trace family reunions, recall church dinners on the ground, think back to blackberry cobbler breakfasts, and renew memories of fried potatoes" (6). Food in Appalachian culture binds together a people, and offers a sense of community and belonging. As Pastor Richie Neese points out, "meals and celebrations build fellowship between people" (10).
This sense of community continues as Sauceman traces the Appalachian food traditions among the family-owned, small yet enduring restaurants of the Appalachian region. From tales of the peculiar lemon milkshakes at the Dari Ace, or the spicy brown salt burgers from Engle's Roadside Restaurant, both in Erwin, Tennessee, to red-dyed hotdogs at Dude's Drive-In in Christiansburg, Virginia, Sauceman's tour of Appalachian cuisine is a mouth-watering journey from beginning to end.
Recipes for homemade rolls, tomato dumplings, black-eyed peas and ham hocks, tangled britches, and chocolate gravy lead the way in this collection as stories of "funeral foods," church potlucks, and family reunions combine with historical and cultural tales to frame a rich cultural tradition of Appalachian foodways. The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level offers a heaping helping of sumptuous food narratives, recipes, and restaurant reviews of the Appalachian regions of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Next time perhaps, Professor Sauceman can venture a little further north into the foothills of Appalachia and explore the rich foodways of southern New [End Page 90] York, western Pennsylvania, southeastern Ohio, and Kentucky, or move on down to northern Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Onward to the next delicious journey!