Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest | Lauren Angelucci McDuffie
Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest
By Lauren Angelucci McDuffie
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Lauren McDuffie: I'm Lauren McDuffie, and my latest cookbook is Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest.
Suzy Chase: You believe in the power and magic of home cooking. So this cookbook is not a formal anthology to Appalachia, it's your very personal way to honor your home with stories and food. I didn't realize Appalachia was so vast, 25 million people, and 13 states. Let's kick things off with you telling us exactly where it's located.
Lauren McDuffie: Sure. Yeah, I think it actually does comprise a bigger portion of the United States than I think most people realize. I think, technically speaking, Appalachia stretches from New York all the way, even, down into Alabama, technically. So like you said, 13 states. So it's a pretty big region. But for my book, specifically speaking, the region that I'm kind of honing in on and tapping into with my recipes and stories is central Appalachia. And I refer to it as such in the book, and I think I call it the mountain South throughout as well, just to give people an idea of where, specifically, I'm talking about.
Suzy Chase: So Wikipedia calls it a cultural region. I've never heard of that. And apparently, it means an area inhabited by people who have one or more cultural traits in common, such as language, religion, or system of livelihood. Talk a bit about your family and Appalachian people.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah, I think when people see that I've done an Appalachian-inspired cookbook, they automatically expect to see some sort of Appalachian mama with a thick country accent, which is not what you get with me. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, and in Southwestern Virginia, so right in the heart of central Appalachia, but in my house, that wasn't necessarily the lifestyle that you would've seen reflected.
My mom was from Chicago, and she married my dad. They met at the University of Kentucky, so from Kentucky, but I didn't have those kind of mountain ... That mountainous upbringing. I didn't live in the back of a holler, eating beans and cornbread every day. So I didn't have that kind of iconic Appalachian experience growing up. It was sort of more of just a suburban modern family with influences from different places, and we lived in multiple places growing up, as well.
But I think my grandmother, on my mom's side, however, was from Kentucky, Rough Creek, Kentucky, which is in Southern Kentucky, not far from Tennessee. And I think the older I got, the more interested I became in where she was from, because she's the one who was my greatest cooking influence. And I think it took me growing up and away from Appalachia to become more interested in it, because I think when you're a kid, it's just where you live is where you live. It's not particularly interesting to you, and you don't think of it with analytical eyes.
And my husband would say the same thing. We moved away, and then all of a sudden, gained a greater appreciation for where we were from. And so, while I didn't necessarily have that traditional Appalachian upbringing, I grew up in this part of the country that I realize was really interesting and very fascinating and has a lot to offer, and I wanted to learn more about it, and kind of also rediscover some of my favorite things about it from when I was younger.
Suzy Chase: So you just brought up Rough Creek, Kentucky. I love the name of that.
Lauren McDuffie: I do, too.
Suzy Chase: And it was your grandma Nora that was in Rough Creek. Tell me about her chicken stew with saffron-scented dumplings.
Lauren McDuffie: This is a true fusion recipe, and I think kind of epitomizes what I was really trying to do with this book, capturing a little bit of the present and the past in a single recipe. My grandma made really good chicken and dumplings, and she made them the very classic, traditional way, just simmering chicken for a long period of time with veggies and these thick, hardy dumplings. That's how she would make it.
But for my book, I wanted to kind of give it my own little spin and incorporate some flavors that I also love, and that I cook with in my kitchen today pretty regularly. So I gave it a little bit of a North African twist by adding some warm spices like cinnamon sticks, and cardamom, and there's tumeric, and infusing the buttermilk in the dumplings with some saffron, just as like a little bit of an extra special twist, which you, by no means, have to do. But it was just a really fun way to kind of bring new life into a really classic, traditional recipe, which she had mastered.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, and I bet she could do it with her eyes closed.
Lauren McDuffie: Totally. I wouldn't doubt it, yeah.
Suzy Chase: That's out of your winter chapter. And you organized all the chapters by seasons. Why did you do that?
Lauren McDuffie: Well, that's truthfully how I cook. I think I have, and especially the older that I get and the more cooking that I do, I've just gained a real appreciation for the benefits of seasonal cooking. There's just a real logic to it, honestly. It's more affordable to purchase produce when it's in season, and things taste better when they're grown and they're picked in their pique season.
And that's how my mom always cooked growing up. She's a real seasonal eater and cook, so I think I got a lot of influence from her. And I think, as far as my book goes, organizing it by season was really helpful in the storytelling component of the book. It kind of helped me anchor the storytelling, and the way that I kind of paced the menus and the different spreads throughout the book, too. So, yeah, kind of two-fold, there.
Suzy Chase: You dedicated this book to your mom by writing, "For you, Mom. You were right all along." Talk a little bit about that.
Lauren McDuffie: So, my mom has always said, since I was little, that I would write a book someday. She said it so many times, and I used to just kind of bat it away, like, "No, I don't know, Mom. I don't think I can do that. I don't know, I don't know what I would write about." And she's always said, "No, I think you'll do it. I think you'll write a book someday." And so, lo and behold, she was right, and it happened, and so it only seemed right that I dedicate this first book to her, because she had a lot of faith in me before I even did. So, yeah.
Suzy Chase: I would venture to say that Appalachia is the most unique place in the United States. Why do you think it has had such a long struggle with poverty?
Lauren McDuffie: I think, honestly, this is the kind of question we could dedicate an entire episode to. We could deep dive, for sure, and I don't know that I'm so much an authority on this, but when it comes to the poverty in Appalachia, my understanding is that it goes back quite a ways, and can maybe be pinpointed to the industries that grew in the region in the 1800s, early 1900s. Specifically coal mining.
A big business coming in that wants to capitalize on a region, they're going to do what they can to better their position, and my understanding is that these manufacturers controlled the populations of Appalachia to the best of their ability by limiting access to information, limiting education, and limiting wages to keep people dependent on them. So, intentionally creating this dependency, from my reading and from what I understand.
And I think that's true for other rural parts of the country, too, not just Appalachia, but specifically Appalachia really suffered from that practice, and when something goes on for generations, it's really difficult to pull out of it, and it's got really wide and far-reaching implications and impacts besides just poverty, as well, but I know that's one that's still very much the case. It's recovered, for sure, but it's still an issue.
Suzy Chase: So you've seen the struggle affect the cuisine in the region?
Lauren McDuffie: Yes, but I think it's an example of something beautiful coming from struggle, because I love the notion of just kind of making the best of what you have, making the best of what's around. This subsistence cooking, which still you see very much today, that's something that has definitely not gone away. The waste not, want not mentality, which, if I had a dime for every time my mom and grandma used those words. That's an aspect of Appalachian cooking that I just appreciate so much.
Just being really resourceful, and efficient, and effective, in both your growing of food and then utilizing of the items once you've got them, and things like canning, and preserving, and pickling, and just not wasting anything, using all of the plants from root to tip, or an animal. Not letting anything go wasted. That's something that I think anyone could appreciate that, whether they actually need to do it to survive or not.
Suzy Chase: Describe the three sisters, and how it came about from the Cherokee people. I love the story.
Lauren McDuffie: I do, too. And I'm not a very green-thumbed person, so maybe that makes me appreciate things like this even more. Yeah, I wanted to include this in the book because I think it so beautifully epitomizes just what I was referring to, just a smart approach to food, and growing of food, and cooking of food. So, the three sisters refers to corn, beans, and squash, which are three crops that are traditionally grown together. It's called companion planting, I believe.
And when you plant them together, they have a really beautifully symbiotic relationship. And this is something I believe the Cherokees, Indians introduced to the region. And essentially, how it works in a nutshell, is the corn stalks provide a trellis for the beans to grow up, so you don't need a pole.
And the squash, the leaves of the squash, kind of provide shade and prevent sunlight from damaging the plants, and they also help prevent weeds from growing, as well. And also, I think they provide almost like a living mulch, and even create a little microclimate for the beans to grow, and it's amazing how beautifully the three crops work together.
And I think, when eaten together, as well, they provide a very complete diet. You get your essential fatty acids, amino acids, and complex carbs. So it's just kind of a brilliant little system, there. And they're called the three sisters.
Suzy Chase: The first of your kitchen essentials is something you don't see that often mentioned in cookbooks. It's an apron. Talk a little bit about that.
Lauren McDuffie: So, I have an apron. Actually, I have a few of them, but I've worn the same apron, now, for years. And it's from my friend, Ashley, who runs a wonderful company out of Georgia called Heirloomed. And I've worn it in a lot of photos that I've published on my blog or on social media over the years, so it's something that people do ask me about a lot.
Because I'm not sure everybody's rocking aprons in their modern kitchens, now, I don't know. But, for me personally, I enjoy just the function of the apron. It serves a good, practical purpose. I think I'm a messy cook, honestly, so it's just nice to be able to save my clothing. And I cook all the time. So for me, there's just a nice, practical function there.
But honestly, I think I just kind of like the act of doing it. It's similar to why I listen to the same types of music when I cook, or just music in general. There's a ritualistic element to it. I just like the process of going in my kitchen, I throw my hair up, I tie my apron on, I turn music on, and I just kind of ... It's like my me time.
Suzy Chase: You're a big advocate of making things from scratch. In the fall chapter, you have a recipe for s'mores from scratch.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: That's crazy, in my mind. Walk us through this.
Lauren McDuffie: So, I hear you. I made sure in the head note for that recipe to stress that, if you want to streamline it, or kind of do a semi-homemade version, you can easily just do one component homemade and the other store bought. Just made homemade graham crackers, and then go buy your marshmallows or vice versa. But if you want to do the full blown, homemade s'mores, I have to tell you, they're great. They're delicious. Because I think each component, both the graham cracker and the marshmallow, is so much better when you make it yourself.
And not everything is. I don't make absolutely everything from scratch. You got to keep it real. But once you've had a homemade graham cracker, I swear, you won't want to go back. There's something to be said for just that home baked kind of cookie, as opposed to a store bought kind of dried out, who knows how long it's been sitting on the shelf kind of thing.
And plus, you can control the spices. I like to make a really spicy graham cracker, and it's really delicious when you roll it out and make it yourself. And homemade marshmallows are the same. They're just much more flavorful than the ones you buy in the store. So I'm actually going to make them this Friday. I'm going to take them to a friend's house, and we're going to do the whole deal out in the backyard with the fire. So they're really fun.
I love how you said they're crazy. I get that, though. You can streamline it, if you want.
Suzy Chase: I was like, "This girl's crazy."
Lauren McDuffie: I get that, for sure.
Suzy Chase: No, but it sounds amazing, and I'm definitely going to try it.
Lauren McDuffie: Highly recommend it.
Suzy Chase: What are some other recipes out of the cookbook you think are better made from scratch?
Lauren McDuffie: So, biscuits. I get that popping the can of biscuits, which has always kind of terrified me, the popping of the can.
Suzy Chase: I know.
Lauren McDuffie: It's like a fear of mine. But of course, that's a quick way to get biscuits on the table, but biscuits, a homemade biscuit, takes two minutes to whip up. They're so quick, and they're so inexpensive, and they're such an unbelievably delicious thing that I've always just thought that's a no-brainer. That's a good one to just kind of always do from scratch, because they're so easy to accomplish.
If you want to talk puff pastries, or croissants, then I would say no, that's not easy and simple, so I would understand never wanting to do that. But biscuits are just so simple that I always advocate for making those from scratch. And the graham crackers and the marshmallows, like I said before. Those are really delicious when you make them yourself.
And another thing that I always advocate for not buying and always making are salad dressings. I've got three or four salad dressings in the book, and I just think when you compare a bottle of the store bought dressing to a homemade one, there's just no comparison. Homemade is so, so much better.
Oh, and hot sauce. There's a hot sauce recipe in my book, too, which is not something I think many people would think to make, maybe, themselves. Because you can certainly buy hot sauce. A lot of different hot sauces, now. But you can control the heat level and the flavor so easily, and it's kind of the sky's the limit when it comes to that. So that's a really fun one to make yourself.
Suzy Chase: On page 83, you have a recipe for blackberry cobbler, crisp, buckle, and betty. What's the difference between all those?
Lauren McDuffie: Well, on a high level, those are all basically baked fruit desserts, which is one of my favorite genres of eating. I love a baked fruit dessert. But to separate them out from one another, a cobbler is essentially, it's like a pie, kind of, but you've got fruit on the bottom, and you make a batter, and you dollop and drop the batter on top in kind of a haphazard way, essentially cobbling the surface, hence the name.
The crisp is similar to the cobbler, however, instead of the batter, you make a streusel, which I could eat by the bucket full. I love streusel. I could make an entire chapter on just streusel things, I think. I love me a crisp. That's probably my favorite in the whole section.
And then, a buckle is a lot like a coffee cake, honestly. You put the batter on the bottom, and you sprinkle the fruit, typically, on the top. So it's kind of a reverse of a cobbler. And by doing so, you get a buckled appearance, and a little bit of a different texture in the end, as well, from doing it that way.
And then the betty is probably the one with which people are least familiar, and I love this one. It's yet another example of waste not, want not, using food, using scraps. It's a lot like a crisp, but instead of making a streusel topping, you take bread. It can be staled bread, or day old bread, and you tear it up into pieces, and you cook it on the stove top.
This is, at least, in the most traditional, kind of classic sense, which is how I have it in my book. You just toast the bread up and make, essentially, sweet bread crumbs. So you use cinnamon and butter and some sugar, and it's really delicious sprinkled over some cooked fruit and served with ice cream. So that's your betty.
Suzy Chase: I didn't realize cobbler was named because it looks like it's cobbled, and buckle looks like it's been ... Oh my gosh.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah, yeah. Aptly named.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Lauren McDuffie: [crosstalk 00:17:47] yeah, yeah.
Suzy Chase: One of the photos I particularly love out of the cookbook was the one with your hand and a big cocktail ring pulling out an old recipe card out of an old recipe box. To me, it just evokes home, and the old days. Is there a story behind that beautiful cocktail ring?
Lauren McDuffie: There is, and I'm so glad that you asked and that you appreciated that photo. That's great. So essentially, that's a mood ring.
Suzy Chase: Oh.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah. So the story that anchors that chapter, or that section of the book, it's the apothecary chapter, I write about my time in this really kind of eccentric little shop in Kentucky, where I was looking for a present, a birthday present for a friend. And the woman who was working in the shop was just this really interesting kind of spirit, who I had just a nice time talking to that day, and she's the one who introduced me to folk medicine that I go into in that chapter a little bit.
But she was wearing a mood ring, and I noticed it, and it was blue. And when I was leaving her store, I think she could tell I'd been staring at the ring. And she explained to me what it meant, and that she was at peace, and happy, and it's a positive. The blue meant something positive. And so, yeah, so I kind of wanted to play on that in that image. So yeah, it's a blue mood ring.
Suzy Chase: Man, I haven't thought about mood rings in years. I had one in the 80s, and it's kind of like a turquoise-y green in the photo, isn't it?
Lauren McDuffie: Yes, it is. I think that also means you might be cold. Yeah, my daughter now is the happy owner of that mood ring. She loves it.
Suzy Chase: Did you take the photos in this cookbook?
Lauren McDuffie: I did. Yes, I shot the whole book. I was just literally telling my husband this last night. I think, when you're working on a project that is just for you, and it is all of your ideas and nobody's telling you what to do, my publisher, Chronicle, gave me complete control over this book. They literally were like, "Great. Go. We'll see you in a year." And that's an amazing opportunity, and it's almost a privilege to be able to go out and capture, well, my own stories, but also this place that I love.
And I was happy to be able to shoot it myself so that I could kind of portray it exactly how I wanted to. It didn't feel like work, I guess. It felt like more of a great opportunity and kind of a privilege to be able to do it.
Suzy Chase: Sometimes I find, with cookbooks, and I read a lot of them, that you can tell when someone else has shot the photo. So it seems almost like the recipes and the photos are kind of two separate things, but here, everything kind of flows together.
Lauren McDuffie: Oh, thank you. Thank you, that's really nice. I'm glad to hear that.
Suzy Chase: So, on Sunday, I made the only pimento cheese recipe you'll ever need.
Lauren McDuffie: Bold. It's a bold thing.
Suzy Chase: I love that. On page 192.
Lauren McDuffie: I think what makes this pimento cheese stand out is how simple it is. Which, probably, is the case for all pimento cheese recipes, and it's just one of my favorite things ever. I just love this stuff. But I always say what makes this so good is using extra sharp cheddar cheese. That's really important. It's just so much better using the extra sharp. Something about that little extra burst of sharpness is really nice.
And also, I cannot stress the importance enough of grating your own cheese fresh from the block, as opposed to just buying pre-grated. The difference there is kind of astronomical. So that's a really big component of this recipe. It's a really simple recipe in terms of, the ingredient list is small, but you got to make sure you get that extra sharp cheese and that you grate it yourself.
And I think a lot of pimento cheese recipes, you'll see that you blend everything up in a blender. Which is also really nice, I've done that sometimes, too, and it creates more of like a pinky, red, creamy, totally homogenous product in the end, but I kind of like having the pimentos flecked throughout. I enjoy that about it, and I put a ton of black pepper in mine, just for that little bit of bite.
So yeah, that's how I like it, though. I guess it's a really particular thing. Like cornbread and biscuits. Everybody's got the way they like it the best, but this has always been my favorite.
Suzy Chase: Well, I've only had pimento cheese out of the glass thing, and my mom would put it on celery.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah, oh, yeah.
Suzy Chase: Back in the day.
Lauren McDuffie: Yep. Us, too.
Suzy Chase: I know you saw this on my Instagram. I put it on a hamburger to make cheeseburgers.
Lauren McDuffie: That's so brilliant.
Suzy Chase: It was amazing.
Lauren McDuffie: Was it good? It sounded good. I saw that and I was like, "Well, got to put this on the to do list." Yeah, it looked really good.
Suzy Chase: Talk a bit about the whiskey-spiked cream corn in the summer chapter.
Lauren McDuffie: So, that's another really simple recipe that is made better by just the few things that are in it, and being thoughtful about them. So, whiskey comes from corn. Corn is an ingredient in whiskey. So to me, it seemed like a natural thing to at least try in some corn recipes, and so the cream corn gets a little extra boost of flavor from the whiskey, which cooks out. It's not like you're taking a shot of whiskey with each spoonful of this creamed corn, but it adds a nice faint, subtle backbone of flavor to that recipe, which I thought was really nice.
Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called My Last Meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Lauren McDuffie: So, I love this question. I wrote a whole blog post about this once, because, not to take things to a totally different place, but I actually know someone who was on death row. And this is a person that I knew growing up, he wasn't a close friend of mine, but he was executed last summer in Virginia, and I remember being completely stunned by it. Our whole community was. It kind of rocked out world.
And I thought about this a lot, in a really literal sense, thinking this is a question he was truly asked, and something that he was really faced with, and I just was like, what the heck, what do you do with that question? What would mine be? And I think, if you want to have the best food experience that you could possibly think of, it'd be the things you love the most, and as maybe uninteresting as it might be, honestly, just a really good cheeseburger and some crispy, salty french fries is probably what I would choose as my last meal.
Suzy Chase: With some pimento cheese on it?
Lauren McDuffie: Totally. A pimento cheeseburger.
Suzy Chase: A pimento cheeseburger.
Lauren McDuffie: Well, you see, full circle. This is full circle. Yes, I don't let myself eat a whole lot of cheeseburgers and fries, I guess, but if it were my last meal, you'd better believe I'd be ... I would be doing it.
Suzy Chase: Well, the reason I got the idea to ask this question this season from all of my cookbook authors was, I was reading a book about last meals. And so I had the guy on to talk to him about it, and I think Virginia is one of the states with the highest execution rates.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah, that's true.
Suzy Chase: It's crazy what these guys order for their last ...
Lauren McDuffie: Oh, yeah. Well, I would love to hear, what kinds of things was he saying? That's so interesting.
Suzy Chase: Well, one guy ordered, before they changed the rules, because he really made them mad, and I think this was in Virginia, actually. He ordered 25 McDonald's hamburgers, and then he wanted 30 Taco Bell tacos, and a Pizza Hut pizza, and they brought it all. They went around town, got it all, they brought it all in, and he was like, "I'm not hungry."
Lauren McDuffie: So he's just messing with them.
Suzy Chase: And he made them so mad, yeah.
Lauren McDuffie: Wow, so they had to put some restrictions, I guess. Lesson learned.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, they were like, "That's enough."
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah, that's enough. Wow.
Suzy Chase: And it was interesting, the women wanted things like fruit, and healthy things, and the men just wanted the big steak dinner.
Lauren McDuffie: Okay, that's really fascinating.
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
Lauren McDuffie: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: So where can we find you on the web, social media, and on Spotify?
Lauren McDuffie: So, on the web, I have a food blog called Harvest and Honey, and you can find me at harvestandhoney.com. And on social media, I would say I'm most active on Instagram. And I'm just on Instagram as _LaurenMcDuffie_, because LaurenMcDuffie itself was taken. So yeah, and I'm on Twitter as Harvest and Honey, I believe, and Facebook, as well.
Suzy Chase: There's really no place like home. Thanks, Lauren, for writing this super personal and informative cookbook, and that's for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Lauren McDuffie: Thank you so much for having me.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram, @CookeryByTheBook, and subscribe at Cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book Podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.