Appalachian cuisine is made up of a diverse set of foods rooted in place and created from hearty ingredients. Because of the climate in the Appalachian region – a 205,000-square-mile area extending along the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi – growing conditions are often limited, and preservation is key to last through long winters.
Cured meats, pickled vegetables and dried fruits are hallmarks of the Mountain South – and not just because they can stand up to harsh weather. They’re delicious!
1. Pepperoni rolls
Pepperoni rolls — Photo courtesy of Candace Nelson
This West Virginia regional favorite is rarely found outside of the state’s borders. The soft roll stuffed with sticks or slices of pepperoni was influenced by coal miners in the region who needed a quick, shelf-stable snack while deep underground. Now, the pepperoni roll may be filled with cheese, sauce or other ingredients for a filling meal.
Where to get it: Tomaro’s Bakery in Clarksburg, W. Va.
2. Beans and cornbread
Beans and cornbread — Photo courtesy of Candace Nelson
If you grew up in Appalachia, a pot of soup beans is cozy and familiar. Soup beans can often be found simmering on stovetops across Appalachia all winter long. The dish is made with pinto beans, ham, salt and pepper. It’s served with diced white onions and cornbread. Sometimes, there’s fried potatoes, homemade chow chow or slaw.
It’s a mountain favorite that is sure to warm you up on a cold evening.
Where to get it: Pufferbelly’s Ice Cream Station in Fairmont, W. Va.
3. Buckwheat cakes
Nothing says fall in Appalachia like buckwheat cakes. These pancakes are made with buckwheat flour, giving them a slightly sour or yeasty flavor. They’re typically served with local bacon or sausage patties and topped with maple syrup. Buckwheat is a hearty crop that can withstand cold snaps, which are common in mountainous areas in the late spring.</p
Where to get it: Mabry Mill in Meadows of Dan, Va.
Appalachia’s tropical fruit, the pawpaw, has a banana and mango flavor and can be found in a number of dishes when it’s in season. Think pawpaw beer, pawpaw ice cream and pawpaw butter. The greenish-brown fruit is three to six inches long with a yellow custard dotted with thick black seeds. And if you’re lucky, you might even find some growing near you.
Where to get it: Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream in Charleston, W. Va.
Morel mushrooms — Photo courtesy of Candace Nelson
The elusive morel mushroom is a springtime favorite that adds a bit of umami flavor to any dish. Chefs often sauté them in butter, season with pepper and salt and add them to meat and poultry dishes. They are also often a pasta filling or added to a silky soup.
Also called “molly moochers,” morels can be paired with other mushrooms like shiitakes or portobellos to enhance their flavor.
Where to get it: The Market Place Restaurant in Asheville, N.C.
This garlicky-onion is an in-demand wild plant that chefs across Appalachia clamor for in the spring. Chefs like Sean Brock of Husk use ramps in purees and sauces, like the ramp remoulade at his restaurant. Festivals in Appalachia celebrate the foraged vegetable, and roadside stands sell them by the mess.
Where to get it: Husk Nashville
7. West Virginia hot dogs
West Virginia hot dogs — Photo courtesy of Candace Nelson
Chili. Slaw. Mustard. Onions. Those four ingredients make up the perfect West Virginia hot dog. Slathered on a wiener with a steamed bun, the combination makes for hot dog nirvana. These hot dogs have slight variations depending on the region of the state, but there’s no argument that they’re delicious wherever they are.
Where to get it: Morrison’s Drive Inn in Logan, W. Va.
8. Maple syrup
Maple syrup is used in everything from glazed greens and pancakes to poultry and pork in Appalachia. Tapped from sugar maple trees, the syrup production has been increasing across Appalachia in recent years, and subsequently, maple syrup has been showing up in more dishes all over the region. Try it in a cookie with dark chocolate, bacon and Jack Daniels.
Where to get it: Appalachia Cookie Company in Charlotte
Venison, or deer, as well as other wild game is commonly seen on menus in the Mountain South. 2941 Restaurant in Virginia serves a venison loin with braised huckleberry, bacon, savoy cabbage and juniper salt. Wild game is often highlighted with foraged fruits and berries to accent its mild flavor.
Where to get it: 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, Va.
10. Apple stack cake
This traditional mountain dessert is rooted in resourcefulness. The many thin layers of sorghum-sweetened cake are stacked with a dried apple filling. This simple cake could be made at any time of year since the ingredients weren’t dependent on fresh apples. The many layers are stacked and filled, and after two days, the moisture from the cake loosens up the dried apples and creates a moist and tasty treat.
Where to get it: Comfort in Richmond, Va.