UNC Press is proud to be releasing this month the new Revised Edition of The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, edited by T.J. Smith—and with a brand new foreword by Chef Sean Brock. Always a tremendous resource for all interested in the region’s culinary culture, the book is being reimagined warmly with today’s heightened interest in cultural-specific cooking and food-lovers culture in mind.
First published in 1984—one of the wildly popular Foxfire books drawn from a wealth of material gathered by Foxfire students in Rabun Gap, Georgia—The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery combines hundreds of unpretentious, delectable recipes with the practical knowledge, wisdom, and riveting stories of those who have cooked this way for generations. This edition features new documentation, photographs, and recipes drawn from Foxfire’s extensive archives while maintaining all the reminiscences and sharp humor of the amazing people originally interviewed.
The new Revised Edition of The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery is available now in both print and ebook editions.
Chef Sean Brock, founder of Husk restaurant in Charleston and featured in Chef’s Table on Netflix, will be opening a new restaurant dedicated to Appalachian cooking—Audrey, in Nashville. As Brock notes in his foreword, he is a native of Wise County, Virginia, where his family “lived in Scott Roberson Holler, up a steep, winding, and barely paved road on ‘Brock Hill.’” His foreword, which follows, makes passionately clear why The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery has long held a treasured place in his culinary heart.
First and foremost, sitting here in front of a blank page about to write the foreword for The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery is about as surreal as it gets for me. I am beyond thankful to have been bestowed this important privilege. I have to admit, I never saw this coming when I discovered this book in my late teens. I had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend cooking school and came across it in the library. I was struck by the honest black-and-white images, the familiar dialect, and the food of my family within its pages.
I’ll never forget the emotions and memories from my childhood that flooded my mind and soul that day. I became obsessed with this book and began to collect the other Foxfire volumes as they popped up at yard sales or on eBay. It was my visual aid to show all the cooks I worked with where I came from and how old-fashioned the food was there. Most people flinched at the images of chickens getting their necks rung before supper or cute little animals being skinned. All I could think about was squirrel gravy on top of a cathead biscuit. These reactions were a surefire sign that most people in cooking school hadn’t grown up the way I did. I would no longer take those sorghum potlucks or strings of leather breeches hanging on the porch for granted. I began to dig in to my family’s traditions and badger my Grandma Audrey about her kitchen and garden wisdom. That’s the sign of a good book, one that inspires gratitude and incites childlike curiosity.
I was born in Wise County, Virginia, butted right up against the Kentucky state line. We lived in Scott Roberson Holler, up a steep, winding, and barely paved road on “Brock Hill.” I grew up around rough and tough coal miners and even stronger Appalachian women who all shared a deep love for good food, family, and hospitality. We always ate together and pretty much never went to restaurants. I was raised the Appalachian way: running barefoot around the garden and in the kitchen by my momma’s side. Cooking for the family was a rite of passage.
Every time I pick up this book I learn something new. I swear my copy smells like a skillet of corn bread after all these years. Just today I was reading about bleaching apples, and now I can’t wait for the first basket to arrive so that I can try this hillbilly alchemy out at home. I also recently ran across the tradition of drying pumpkin slices over the hearth again. I decided to serve them at a guest chef dinner, painting them with reduced pumpkin juice in hopes that they would resemble Japanese hoshigaki (dried persimmons). It worked!
These aforementioned inspirations are why this book is important and will continue to be important long after we are gone. Most of this material lives on through generations only by word of mouth. None of this has been captured in big glossy cookbooks or overproduced food TV shows. This thought is interesting and also worries me sick. I can’t sit back and watch the complexity of this culture dwindle away like the stripped mountaintops from years of irresponsible coal mining and natural resources management. Those practices have placed a black cloud over the economy and landscape of those gorgeous and magical mountains.
Appalachian cooks take pride in not writing recipes down or measuring ingredients. They take pride in working a wood stove by feel and not by glaring at a thermometer or asking Alexa to set a timer. They love teaching the art of a hog killing and preserving food for tougher times. Foxfire became privy to this back in the 1960s and started doing the work that has helped guide my career. The spirit of those high school kids who took to the woods in 1966 will always shine a light on the right path to celebrating this food.
The recipes are written as oral histories, and I wish all cookbooks were laid out this way. For some reason most cookbook publishers just don’t have the courage. A special connection to the food forms when I am able to picture the time and place of these amazing people through the high art of Appalachian storytelling. I hope this book will give you a glimpse into the family reunions, holiday feasts, and church suppers that hold these communities together. At the very least, it may inspire you to pass some of this wisdom on, so the generations after us will pickle by the signs and bury heads of cabbage in their backyards for years to come.
For more information about The Foxfire Fund, visit their website, foxfire.org.