By Wendell Brock
She sings of real corn bread and leather britches, chili buns and pickled bologna. She essays on apple butter, killed lettuce, chicken and dumplings, and sorghum syrup. She tells the tale of the people and places of the Southern Appalachians, her homefolk, how they lived off the land, put up food, played fiddles and banjos, and, despite being told that they were poor and backward, were too smart and proud to buy into the lie.
With “Victuals,” Ronni Lundy — salt-of-the-earth Kentucky native, former newspaper reporter, pop-music critic, Southern Foodways Alliance founder and longtime chronicler of the “hillbilly diaspora” — has produced one of the most important and authentic books on Southern culture of her generation.
Like many Southern food writers before her, Lundy starts at home. But she is not content to be moored in the kitchen with grandma. Clocking over 4,000 miles on her Chevy van, Lundy seeks out seed collectors, bread bakers, jam makers and pig farmers, linking their present-day stories and recipes to the traditions of the past. Lovingly annotated and lyrically told, “Victuals” doesn’t begin with spring but ends there, celebrating a renaissance regional moment that is bright-eyed with hope and promise.
Not to mention delicious eating.
I cannot dismiss the power of Lundy’s recipes for Morels & Ramps with Eggs on Toast; Smoked Oyster Stew for Two; Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie; and so forth to draw pangs of hunger and awe. But long after the plates are cleaned and the dishes washed, I’ll return to this book for the stories. Lundy on Appalachia is like Edna Lewis on Virginia, like Joe Dabney on moonshine and scuppernong wine. Her voice brims with grace and good humor. She is a marvel, and “Victuals” her masterpiece.
Author event: Ronni Lundy appears at the AJC Decatur Book Festival on Sunday, Sept. 4, from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. Look for her on the food and cooking stage. www.decaturbookfestival.com .
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