Appalachian Words about Cooking


I’ll be teaching my Mountain Flavors class next week at the Folk School. I’m super excited! I love teaching others about the foodways of Appalachia and I always come away with new friends.

My co-teacher Carolyn and I have planned a week full of preserving, cake making, bread making and learning field trips.

I wish each of you could be there with us to enjoy it all. Since that’s not possible, I plan to share a peek into each day with you.

One thing I would like to do in the class is place an emphasis on Appalachian language. Carolyn and I are both fluent in the Appalachian language 🙂 so they’ll hear plenty from us! In addition Jim Casada has graciously allowed me to share his recent guest post “Mystifying Matter of Measurements” with the students.

I’d love to share an Appalachian word of the day during the class that pertains to food. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to study on Appalachian words related to cooking. Do you have any suggestions for me?


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  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    July 22, 2019 at 12:00 am

    “If you want a big cake start with a big cup,” words from my Aunt Grace as she rummaged through my coffe cups and mugs. She was going to teach me to make a jam cake.

    Our family has a tradition of making blackberry jam cake with homemade caramel frosting. If you haven’t eaten this spiced cake with blackberry jam in the batter you are really missing out.

    When I was a kid my Aunt Grace always made the cake and there was no written recipe. I asked her to teach me how to make it. She used the big cup, her hands and fingers and I measured each ingredient and wrote it down til I had a good recipe I could follow.

  • Reply
    June 20, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    in addition to the smidgen, pinch. mess, and dab, don’t forget the shake, teacup, heap, mugful, and gob

  • Reply
    June 20, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    How about clabbered milk? On occasion I’ve heard potatoes called ‘pratties’ And let’s not forget leather britches beans.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 20, 2019 at 9:34 am

    One integral part of the Appalachian kitchen hardly ever gets mentioned. It sits there, half hidden, throughout the day, awaiting it’s one moment to display its importance in the family unit. Of necessity it sturdy and strong, capable and trustworthy all the day long. And sometimes into the next day.
    In the days before garbage disposals, trash pickup and even trash cans there was the slop bucket. Food came into the kitchen in really raw form. Things that are now trimmed away before our food is displayed in the grocery store were bought into the kitchen to be cleaned up. Carrot tops, the dried or rotted outer leaves of cabbage, corn cobs, shucks and silks (and the cutaway ends and other parts that the worms got to), strawberry caps and apple cores all found their way into the slop bucket. Spoiled food, blinky milk, bran from cornmeal, chicken bones and meat skins, old maids from your popcorn and many more all saw their fate in that lowly but essential appliance in the Appalachian kitchen.
    But, this wasn’t waste. In modern jargon it was recycled food. It went to feed the porcine members of the family, the family hogs. They would quickly and efficiently dispose of even the rottenest smelliest morsels within the putrid mass. And often before you could pour it into their trough.
    “That’s just nasty!” some might say. They put their kitchen scraps in plastic bags and keep them around until the trash man comes. Sometimes a week or more! Then the bag rips when the trash man tries to pick it up and he walks away. Now which is nastier?
    Oh, for the days of chickens in the back yard and pigs in the pen. And a slop bucket in the corner!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Taters, Maters, Okrey, Onguns, mushmelon (for cantaloupe or muskmelon), lard, fatback, hog-jou, greens, corn pone, grits and gravy, aggs, flapjacks, I’m starting to make myself hungry.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 19, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Im sorry! Was this about measurements? I misunderstood!

    • Reply
      June 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm

      Ed-no it was about anything to do with food-and you helped me a bunch! Thank you 🙂

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 19, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    In the first pitcher, you show pints of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s pears or peaches, but they sure look good.

    Good luck on all that cooking you and Carolyn are going to do. …Ken

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Well, all I know is, we eat a bait of that cobbler! It was gooder than snuff!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 19, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Some of your readers who grew up near me speak of a pone of cornbread. I never heard that word until I was grown. To us it was a pan or cake of cornbread. I can’t remember Mommy ever making cornbread in a cast iron skillet either. She used an eleven by fifteen cake pan. She had to! If she wanted to feed all eight of us and maybe, just maybe, have some left over for the next meal.
    I loved her cornbread! It had four distinct corners and a bottom crust that would peel off in a sheet if you did it carefully. Skillet cornbread has no corners. Zero!
    Can you tell I am a crust man? Any kind of bread! I’ll eat the crust and leave the doughy parts to those who prefer them. I prefer the end pieces of loaf bread that many people throw away. I’ll buy frozen biscuits (I still can’t make a good biscuit), bake them until the top and bottom crust is dark, open them and scoop out everything but the crust Then put in a slice of mater or whatever. I end up eating a quarter or less of the bread.

  • Reply
    Pam Phipps
    June 19, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    A mess. As in a mess of beans.

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    I am guilty of not using recipes much, and use a dab of this and a pinch of that. That is just the way it was done. I do have a recipe binder now, and it comes in handy for dishes that require accuracy. We have to use mess in Appalachia, because we secretly know exactly how much that is. I told the little overseer of the community garden that I had gotten several messes of mustard, and I fear she had no clue of what I meant. I also took my foot and nudged a weed, and I said that looks like Lamb’s Quarter. She replied “I don’t think we planted that, unless it is a weed.” We obviously are on two different planes, and she studied in college. Maybe as I know her better I can help her learn some of our wonderful expressions. Meanwhile, guess I will have to come to the Blind Pig each day for my daily fix. Sure would love to attend your class also.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 19, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    The one, of course, that pops is ‘pinch’ and it’s first cousin, ‘dab’. A pinch being what you can hold between thumb and fore finger and dab is a little more. Smidgen is equal to a pinch.
    A ‘ handful’ is exactly what it sounds like, the amount you can hold in your hand.

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    I’ve always heard “put up” for canning, as in my aunt put up 20 quarts of snaps(string beans). I’m from Richmond, Va., and I wonder if these terms are Southern and not limited to Appalachia. I’ve also heard mess, as in she gave me a mess of butterbeans to shell. We also use the word “salad” to mean cooked kale, collards, or turnip greens. A tossed salad is lettuce, etc., served raw but salad is cooked greens. Many folks eat raw kale in tossed salads, and kale is supposed to be a super food. I’ve eaten it all my life.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 19, 2019 at 10:59 am

    Do you ever eat or cook with “ungins or ernions”? My family always pronounced it onions but the other pronunciations were prominent in the Needmore vernacular.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 19, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Hows come when we preserve food in sealed glass containers we call it canning? We call the containers jars so why don’t we call it jarring? “Grandma’s in the kitchen jarring some beans!”

    PS: We always called quart jars cans but every other size was called a jar. Half gallon jars were often called “Homebrew Jars”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 19, 2019 at 9:28 am

    How about a word in todays blog? “preserving” It was always “putting up” to me. The only use of the word preserve in cooking was preserves. Mommy made strawberry and peach preserves but she “put them up” too.

    • Reply
      June 19, 2019 at 10:37 am

      Your class is coming up fast! All Spring I harbored a fantasy about signing up for your class and travelling to your neck of the woods to learn how to do some good cooking, and it was fun to imagine. I’m sure the participants are in for a great time! And I’m extra-glad you’ll be sharing glimpses here on your blog.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    June 19, 2019 at 9:00 am

    One of the things we had while growing up was dip. Dip is a mixture of cream and sugar we put on our blackberry or raspberry dumplings. No ice cream! Berry dumplings is what we always had and not cobbler.

    Something you might mention but I know of no one who eats this now is possum seasoned with wild spicebush. Dad said they ate it during the depression and it was pretty good.

  • Reply
    Don Tomlinson
    June 19, 2019 at 8:59 am

    “A little dab”
    This is one of my favorites and was also frequently used by my Momma and both grannies. It can apply to so many other things other than just cooking/ measuring. It would be interesting to hear or read how much others think a “ dab” consists of and then of course there’s always the occasion when a “big dab” is required.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    June 19, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Oh, the memories that pop into my mind. The first two are measurements (of sorts). First is “mess” (like in “a mess of greens”). The other is “a big ol’ spoonful.” My Aunt Jean (Hyatt) Richardson taught me to make cornbread by putting “a big ol’ spoonful” of bacon grease into a cast iron skillet on the stove until it’s melted and add it to the cornmeal. When it came to adding the buttermilk, it was “until the batter looks like stiff oatmeal.” Then heat that skillet until it’s – here’s another – “spittin’ hot.”

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 19, 2019 at 7:52 am

    I have always cooked with pinches, dabs, smidgens and lumps . Trying to educate my friends to these is the hardest part.

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