Music and food travel hand-in-hand.
While bluegrass influences make their way into events and gatherings on the opposite side of the globe, food traditions linger not far behind - if they are not already there.
Foods rooted in Appalachia are increasingly found in dishes outside of the region and beyond.
Whether it is a naturally grown fruit or a value-added product, these Appalachian foods are finding fans far from their home.
Sea salt. Himalayan pink salt. Fleur de sel. There are myriad types of salt, but one particular brand harvested in Appalachia has become a favorite of people near and far. In fact, this salt was awarded the “Best Salt in the World” at the World’s Fair in London in 1851. J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works, located in Malden, West Virginia, harvests all-natural salt by hand from an ancient ocean trapped underneath the Appalachian Mountains. The artisanal finishing salt is coveted for its natural flavor. But it is also sold in specialty flavors, such as Applewood Smoked, Bourbon Barrel Smoked, Ghost Pepper, Mushroom Herb, and Ramps.
Every spring, large green, leafy shoots sprout from the soil as a bulbous garlic-flavored onion grows underground. The wild onions known as ramps are pungent and flavorful, making them the perfect addition to sauces, pasta, and breads. The beloved allium is celebrated at festivals throughout Appalachia and is often found at roadside farm stands along country roads. Messes of ramps are in Eastern North America, specifically in shady Appalachian forests, and demand for them has skyrocketed over the last decade. A version of the ramp - the ramson - can be found elsewhere, like in Germany where they have found their way into mainstream cuisine and supermarket shelves.
If you were to cross a mango and a banana, you might end up with Appalachia’s tropical fruit;the pawpaw. The greenish-brown fruit is full of a yellow custard and large black disc seeds. It’s about six inches long and is the largest edible fruit native to North America. Pawpaws are found growing in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, extending up into Ontario, Canada. “It is believed that Indigenous people, including the Erie and Onondaga, introduced the tree to Southern Ontario from the United States,” according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. They unfortunately don’t have a very long shelf life and can bruise easily, so our neighbors to the north may be the furthest the fruit travels for now.
Also known as “Molly Moochers,” morel mushrooms are a prized find for foragers in Appalachia. The wild fungi has an earthy, nutty flavor that makes them highly desired in the culinary world, particularly in Catalan and French cuisine. But because morels are difficult to cultivate, foraging is usually the most effective way of gathering the mushrooms. The capped mushroom has a honeycomb texture and are found near trees in the woods; there are other mushrooms that look similar but are toxic so proper identification is crucial. The deep umami flavor lends itself to salads, soups and pastas well - in any cuisine. Or, just sautée them in butter with salt and pepper to get a true taste.
The sticky sweet syrup that comes from Maple trees is perfect on pancakes, waffles and French toast, but in Appalachia, it is also used as a glaze for meat, a sweetener for sauces and a topping for biscuits. Maple syrup production is increasing in the region, but Canada holds the crown for the maple syrup category. And together, the two countries are at the top. Nearly all of the world’s maple syrup production is based in the United States and Canada. Maple syrup from the two North American countries is exported to Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom most frequently.
Appalachia is home to a bounty of incredible food - much of which has expanded beyond the borders of the region or has a similar variety growing in other parts of the world.
Global dishes are being created with Appalachian ingredients due to their unique flavor profiles and scarcity of availability. When a meal is made with morels or ramps, it is special because those ingredients are not available just anywhere - and, they are delicious.
Appalachian foods continue to make their way into the national, and international, spotlight. After years of relative obscurity and being considered hidden gems, these ingredients are now the highlights of meals and bringing attention to the Appalachian region for its culinary diversity.
So, be sure to check out these delicacies now or when they are in season; your taste buds will thank you.