Animals were Grandpa Ferguson's passion, both killing and keeping them. A fur trader by profession, he sold the pelts of creatures he hunted and fed his family their meat. Deer, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, opossum—it was impossible to guess what you might eat at his table—and just as hard to guess what might be living in his yard.
Behind the garage, a bobcat lazed in a big cage. Domesticated raccoons played on the patio. A skunk was treated like kin for many years. There was more predictable pets too, a beagle, maybe a cat or two. Some were injured when they joined his menagerie. Others I believe lost their parents. All needed love, and he gave it readily, which is puzzling—how one man can rear certain animals, naming them and cradling them like babies, while killing others without pause.
Maybe grandpa followed that verse in Genesis, the one that grants humans dominion over fish and birds and beasts. He was probably raised that way. Or maybe his perspective shifted over time. Before he was out of grade school he was hunting and fishing on his own. Perhaps living alongside animals for so long, he came to consider us beasts among beasts, killing and loving like all the others.
It's too late to ask. Cancer took him in 1992, and even before that, it would have been a strange conversation. Grandpa never involved me in hunting or animal rearing. He saw, I suspect, that I was more interested in comic books at that age than my own heritage.
My grandpa with his raccoons. From photo's back: "Holding Rascal and Mascal cause we couldn't keep them still. These on the camper have been sold but they were just as cuddly. Every one spoiled rotten. June 1975."
Years after his death, I began to explore my cultural roots and around the same time, question my responsibility to other animals. Do I have the right to eat them? How should livestock live, the billions of animals raised in U.S. factory farms each year? And what about wild ones, what does rampant human development do to them?
This summer, these questions of humanity and heritage collided around one dish—wild rabbit hash. I knew that Appalachian Appetite 2016, my food photo contest, would focus on family recipes, so I started digging for more of my own. During an online chat, my father mentioned grandpa's rabbit recipe, one I don't remember eating, one that had never even been written down. He jotted it from memory, and I stared at his email a long time, realizing that if I featured this dish, I'd have to find a wild rabbit or, at least, one that was humanely raised.
Years ago, I decided to only eat meat from animals that lived decent lives. Sometimes that can be real work.
Bunny's had been grazing in my yard all spring, and I imagined trying to discretely yet swiftly kill one amid row houses. A gun was out of the question. An arrow promised to go horribly wrong. An air rifle maybe.
While pondering methods, I also began to imagine skinning and gutting the animal, and the more I thought about it, the more attractive simpler family recipes looked. Everyone loves potato salad, and cookies are always a hit, right?
Then I thought about my upcoming drive through the Shenandoah Valley. With a few clicks and calls, I discovered that the good folks at Polyface Farm sold rabbits that had lived well and were fully dressed. On my way South, I dragged my husband and our pup down gravel roads, miles out of our way, to pick up the animal, which was then hauled in an insulated bag to Roanoke for an overnight stay and on to Asheville, where we would spend a week with my niece and nephew.
Grandpa with pelts.
City kids, they didn't know what to think about the dead bunny traveling with us. On cooking day, I sprawled it on a cutting board, cleaver in hand. My niece left the room. My nephew lingered at a distance while I quartered the rabbit and started soaking the pieces. Once it was cooked and shredded, looking more like meat they're accustomed to seeing, they both agreed to help. They chopped veggies while I fried the rabbit and thought of grandpa. What would he make of all this—me cooking a recipe he never thought would interest me alongside two grandkids he never met.
“When I make this dish, I experience something my grandpa experienced, taste what he tasted," I'd later write in a media release for the photo contest, "But not just him. He learned to hunt from his daddy, who learned to hunt from his. This goes a long way back.”
All that is true. I was thinking of forbearers as the ingredients came together, as I offered my husband and the kids a bowl of hash and they all refused, as I dug into one myself and tasted, for the first, a dish that was nearly lost between generations.
I'll never know who all made it. My grandpa likely learned the recipe from his parents down at our homeplace in Stewartsville, Virginia. Maybe one of them learned it from their parents and so on, perhaps back to Silas and Polly Dearing who established the farm in the 1820s. Whatever its origin, it tasted delicious with flavors of onion and pepper on top, the rabbit lending a gamey undercurrent, and it tasted important, like a heap of rediscovered heritage right there in my bowl.
H. K. Ferguson’s Wild Rabbit Hash
1 large rabbit (wild or humanely raised) 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 cup chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery 2 tablespoons flour Toast or biscuits Seasonings: salt and pepper
STEP 1: Clean and quarter rabbit.
STEP 2: Soak meat in water with teaspoon of salt overnight.
STEP 3: Drain salt water, and then boil quarters in fresh water until meat will come off the bone—about five minutes.
STEP 4: Pull meat from bone and, in chunks or shredded according to your taste, fry in iron skillet with tablespoon of vegetable oil until cooked through and just starting to brown.
STEP 5: Remove meat and add cup of chopped onion and cup of chopped celery to skillet, sautéing them until tender.
STEP 6: Return meat to skillet and add two tablespoons of flour and two cups of water. Cover and simmer, stirring every few minutes untll the juices thicken to a gravy-like state.
STEP 7: Serve over toast or biscuits, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Haute cuisine doesn’t stand a chance. Sure, wheatgrass fanciness shows up in all those lifestyle magazines. Trying it might even be fun, but we all know that trendy eats will never have the power of good family recipes...
“We’re creating a revolution in how you can make mature whiskey,” says Joel Patrino of Blue Ridge Distilling Company, one of the newest distilleries in the nation and perhaps the most brash. When Joel and his business partners started the company, they refused to wait for years while whiskey aged. “Barrels are a 500-year-old technology,” he explains, “It works but takes a long time.” Instead, they looked to innovative wineries and breweries, which had speed up production with footlong wooden spirals. Submerge enough of them into a boozy beverage and oak infuses dramatically faster than it would from barrels. Blue Ridge’s first product—the aptly-named Defiant Whisky—hit the shelves in December 2012. Having matured just sixty days, it was met with skepticism, but after a sip, even whiskey traditionalist had to tip their hats. For two years running, Defiant has taken the silver prize at the Craft Spirit Awards. It was named best new whiskey by the 2014 Drammie Awards and has racked up other accolades from San Francisco to Berlin. This company isn’t content to sit still, which is ironic since Blue Ridge’s newest venture is restoring a haven for solitude. The company recently purchased a retired Girl Scout camp near the distillery. Complete with 600 mostly wooded acres, a lake, hiking trails, and an old lodge, Joel says it will be like “an adult style summer camp.” Once he and his crew fix it up, visitors will enjoy their fast-distilled whiskey in a slow-paced environment, which means that Blue Ridge’s Distillery’s next revolution may be one in relaxation.
You can visit Blue Ridge and 39 other distilleries
Thursday took a turn when my neighbor Kat showed, hauling a basket full of liqueurs and cocktail-making devices, a bar kit so heavy she'd reinforced the handle with gaffer tape. Sure, I knew she served drinks back in college and seemed excited to experiment with pawpaws, a fruit neither of us had tried and that waited in my kitchen, but it wasn't until this Air Force officer and amateur athlete walked through my door, bent under the weight of her bar kit, that I knew things were getting serious.
Kat beelined for the kitchen and began assessing pawpaws, which had arrived ripe that afternoon, a delicacy for both of us since we live by D.C., where the nearest pawpaw tree might be half a state away. I ordered these online. We wasted no time slicing one open and spooning out its custardy innards, which was even better than we expected, a mango banana hybrid just like everyone says, so good I sucked fruit remnants from each and every seed.
But that was later, after my third cocktail, and we haven't even gotten to the first.
You see, Kat had a cookbook—both food and drinks—and after tasting the fruit she flipped through its pages, mumbling as she jotted down notes.
"St-Germain," she finally said, pulling a bottle from the basket, "I really think it will compliment them. Have you ever had it?"
She handed me the bottle and a spoon. If it was time for me to take my cough medicine, which is how it felt, this was the best I'd ever had. I hesitate to use bouquet because it is so pretentious, but this liqueur unfolded with so many complimentary flavors—sweet and boozy with clear floral notes—I can't think of a better word.
"How about a martini?!" Kat asked. She dashed to the counter and began shaking a trio of ingredients, a simple but brilliant combo that is now one of my new favorite drinks.
I say one because my nation defending, snowboarding, mountain climbing, aspiring mixologist of a neighbor created five new concoctions that night, all of which I'll share, but none were more romantic than this one: The Appalachian Martini.
There is something about this combo—the world's sexiest cocktail, a beverage sipped by silent film stars and James Bond, married with the rough and tumble pawpaw fruit, which sustained Native Americans from their earliest days. It's been all but forgotten in the last few decades, but now, with everyone trying to infuse contemporary life with authenticity, this pawpaw-based drink could become the very definition of modernity.
It tastes like fruit but not the silly way a mango martini tastes like fruit. You don't feel like you're at a bachelorette party when you drink it. This cocktail belongs in a rustic lodge, one you might find near a small mountain town, where it's possible for the mayor and the barber to be good friends. This lodge is the place they'd stay on hunting trips, and this drink is one they'd share. It's the kind of beverage that forges unlikely bonds, that bridges worlds, that shows how classy Appalachia can be.
The Appalachian Martini
3 ounces Absolute Citron citrus vodka
1/2 ounce St-Germain
2 tablespoons pawpaw puree
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a martini glass.
I've written about my childhood diet, a steady stream of Little Debbie snack cakes and 7-Eleven frozen burritos. Sure, my family ate pinto beans with corn bread some nights, but we didn't dig deep into Appalachian traditions. So it's probably no surprise that I've never had a pawpaw. Even now, after five years of Appalachian blogging, one has yet to pass my lips. I didn't even know this fruit existed—the largest native, edible one in the U.S.— until a few years ago. That's why I was so excited to talk with Andrew Moore, who literally wrote the book on pawpaws. Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit is chock full of background on and recipes for this amazing edible, one that we can find while walking around Appalachian woods. Unfortunately, I live about a hour and a half from the nearest Appalachian woods. After my below chat with Andrew, I knew I had to get my hands on some pawpaws, so I turned to the internet and ordered a bunch online. As soon as they get here, I'll tell you all about my first bite. In fact, I hope you'll leave a comment below, sharing your pawpaw encounters and telling me what to do with mine. In the meantime, enjoy this interview, in which Andrew schools me on America's forgotten fruit.
TR: Okay, so I've made my confession. Until recently, all I knew about pawpaws came from a famous song—that they grow in a patch and you can put them in your pocket. So let me start by asking what is a pawpaw, and why should we all know about it? AM: Good question. Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to the U.S., and they taste like a mixture of mango and banana with a custard-like texture. There’s nothing else like it in the American woods. And although it’s an ancient plant, native to our region, it actually belongs to the tropical Custard Apple family. It was once better known across the eastern U.S., and it wasn’t until the middle of the last century that Americans stopped eating, or even knowing about the pawpaw. And so I’ll argue that on these merits alone--and the fact that we wrote songs about it!--we ought to know more. TR: If I’m not mistaken, the pawpaw season is short, right? AM: Pawpaw season is about 30 days. In the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio River Valley, it is roughly the month of September. Now some trees ripen earlier, some ripen later, so there’s opportunity to expand the season in your home orchard if you select the right trees. But even with any extension efforts, yes, it’s a short season. [caption id="attachment_11439" align="alignright" width="320"] These beauties will soon be mine![/caption] TR: So we all better hustle. When we get one, how do we eat it? AM: My favorite way is to cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. I think I like a pawpaw even better after it’s been chilled in the refrigerator--the pulp is firmer, and the seeds separate with relative ease. But if I’m in the woods, hunting wild pawpaws, I’ll often break the pawpaw in half and squeeze out the pulp and enjoy it right there under the tree. In its own way that’s just as satisfying--even if it is messy and half the pulp ends up on the ground. After you’ve eaten a few pawpaws, you might want to start cooking with it. I’ve had wonderful pawpaw ice creams, gelatos, cheesecakes, puddings, and a quite a few pawpaw beverages—both alcoholic and non. TR: What’s the pawpaw’s native range? And how can folks who live outside that range get their hands on one? AM: The pawpaw is native to 26 eastern states--from the Atlantic to eastern Nebraska, and from southern Louisiana to Ontario, Canada. If you happen to live in one of these states, you have a good chance of finding pawpaws in the wild, or finding someone at a farmers’ market who might actually grow pawpaws. And you can now order the fruit from a few sources online: Earthy Delights, Integration Acres, and Rocky Point Farm. TR: The pawpaw is part of Appalachia’s food heritage. How far back does that run? AM: Humans have eaten pawpaws in Appalachia from day one. Fossil records show that the earliest Native Americans ate the fruit in great quantities, and even used the tree’s fibrous inner bark for rope, cordage, clothing items, and baskets. Subsequent pioneers—European and African newcomers—also ate the fruit. In some Appalachian locales, there were so many pawpaws the tree inspired town names--so we now have Paw Paw, West Virginia; Paw Paw, Kentucky; and even Paw Paw rivers and streets and avenues. TR: You grew up in Florida, where pawpaws don’t grow natively, right? What sparked your interest? AM: I was introduced to pawpaws after a friend invited me to attend the Ohio Pawpaw Festival. The festival is located in that state’s southern hill country, situated among thousands--if not millions--of pawpaw trees. The experience of going there, finding trees in the wild, hooked me. TR: I know you’ve spent a lot of time raising the profile of this forgotten fruit. What’s your biggest dream for the pawpaw? AM: My biggest dream for the pawpaw is a personal one: to always live near a few trees. Beyond that, I do hope that people will simply become more interested in pawpaws and the many other wild fruits, nuts, and greens that grow and thrive in our native landscapes.
When I launched Appalachian Appetite, I didn't know what to expect. I just had a rattling question I couldn't answer—what is Appalachian food today? Ten weeks and one hundred thirteen photos later, I'm starting to get the idea. Appalachian food is simply the food we're eating. From venison stew to pork tacos, whatever we cook in Appalachia defines or redefines our food traditions, and it always has. Mountain folk didn't used to eatbiscuits, you know. They were popularized in the early 1900s when volunteers poured into the region and crusaded for biscuits as a more civilized alternative to cornpones. Similarly, West Virginians didn't fall for pepperoni rolls until the 1920s, after Italians moved to the state for mining jobs.
It's important to remember that Appalachian food constantly evolves, yet our winning photos illustrate something else. Even with the influx of kung pao and pad Thai, we still revere more traditional foods. Take Appalachian Appetite's grand prize winner for instance. The above picture was shot by Ronnie Lee Bailey, an image of funnel cake that reminds everyone of simple summertime joys. "The funnel cake photo was taken in Vinton, Virginia, at an Independence Day event," Ronnie recently told me, "The moment happened organically—nobody was posed—but it carried a lot of symbolic weight all the same." This classic shot won Ronnie a trip to North Carolina's charming Mast Farm Inn plus a meal at the nearby Over Yonder restaurant. Our two runners up are also classic dishes. The first, a lovely photo of summertime canning, comes from Beth Minton in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It shows dill pickles and bread & butter squash, enough to last into winter. The second runner up was photographed by Sean Hyde of Charleston, West Virginia. His image of a prime rib at Paterno's restaurant made mouths water. Both Beth and Sean receive subscriptions to Smoky Mountain Living, and watch for all three winning images in upcoming issues of the magazine. While these shots garnered the most votes, every last photo submitted to the contest inspired and informed us. As a collection, they reflect our region today—how we adore our roots yet connect with the larger world. They illustrate that this is a very special time to live and eat in Appalachia.
The good folks at West Virginia Public Radio recently invited me to discuss the revival of Appalachian culture, the growing interest in our food traditions, and The Revivalist's food photo contest. Curious to hear what you think—is Appalachian food becoming hip? https://soundcloud.com/wvpublicnews/0903revivalist
When was the last time you had a pawpaw? How about apple stack cake or cushaw pie? In spite of being an Appalachian native, I’ve yet to eat any these traditional mountain foods. I have, however, scarfed my share of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls and McRibs and the occasional Krispy Kreme doughnut.
I keep telling myself that I’ll dive deep into my own culinary heritage, that I’ll cook every dish in “The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery,” but juggling my day job with writing projects while towing the line against domestic chaos, it’s just easier to pick up mass-produced meals.
You know how it goes — a burrito bowl one day, frozen risotto another — eventually you look up and realize you’ve drifted into what I call the Chipotle Zone, this strange territory where all food traditions are reduced to quick-service blandness.
It makes me think about my father. Though now retired, he hit a great balance even when he was working. One night, he’d gorge on enchiladas, the next on a deer he shot and green beans he grew himself. Even living within sight of an Applebee’s, he’s managed to hold tight to Appalachian traditions.
As unlikely as it sounds, the culinary elite are showing a similar interest in mountain food. In New York, every spring menu has a ramps dish. Steak biscuits are the latest craze on the food truck scene. I even know of four eateries that call themselves Appalachian restaurants. All are outside the region, with one way off in Shanghai, and they wear their backwoods badges without irony, without camp, without poking fun at mountain people. These restauranteurs feel like they’ve discovered a new kind of authenticity, and there’s nothing they like more than that.
Ever since Thomas Jefferson brought macaroni back from Italy, gourmands have obsessed over other cultures. French, Japanese, Mexican — they’ve all had their moments. Now hillbilly food is hot worldwide while back home in the mountains, some people hit a balance like Dad and many others eat more bagels than cornbread, more edamame than shuck beans.
These are strange gastronomic days. It’s enough to make you wonder — what does “Appalachian food” mean anymore?
For the past five years, I’ve run The Revivalist, writing about everything from sorghum cookies to designer moonshine, and I’m still not prepared to answer that question. I have a hunch, though, that other people can.
I recently launched Appalachian Appetite: A Photo Contest, where folks are sharing pictures of food they’ve grown, cooked and enjoyed with loved ones. So far, people have posted hot dogs over a campfire, kale chips, canned blackberries, cobbler in a cast-iron skillet, beer bread, pork tacos, and lots and lots of pies.
It’s a revealing look at what people are eating in Appalachia today and also what Appalachia inspires people to eat in the rest of the world. Between now and Sept. 13, when the contest ends and prizes are awarded, I hope folks from all walks of life contribute to this big, delicious photo collage and that in the end, it teaches us all a little about who we are, about what it means to eat like you’re from Appalachia.
This piece appeared in The Roanoke Times on August 16, 2015.
The Revivalist turns five years old in 2015! Since no celebration is complete without food, I'm proud to present Appalachian Appetite, a photo contest about some of the best things in life—veggies in your garden, treats straight from your kitchen, and loved ones enjoying great meals.
The best part—we all get to be judges. Winners are decided by the number of "likes," so every time you share entries with friends, you get closer to amazing prizes. The grand prize winner heads to North Carolina for a two-night getaway at the historic Mast Farm Inn. Nestled in the secluded Valley Crucis, the inn boasts an award-winning restaurant, nearby shops, and all the outdoor activities you could ever want. [caption id="attachment_11170" align="alignright" width="180"] Grand prize is a weekend getaway at Mast Farm Inn.[/caption] Two runners-up win one-year subscriptions to one of the region's best magazines, Smoky Mountain Living, which celebrates life throughout the Southern Appalachians. The magazine will also showcase the three top-voted photos in an upcoming issue. So start snapping that camera and vote for your favorite food pics today.
My daddy raised me like a lot of mountain folks. Being just one generation off the farm and an avid hunter, he taught me to respect animals, to honor ones that died for my nourishment. It's an old fashioned outlook I guess, drawn from a time when people knew the animals they ate, when they raised chickens and cows and pigs themselves, sometimes seeing their first breaths. A little over a year ago, I hunched over a fast food burger, thinking how it was made from parts of different cows, squished together, thinking how I couldn't have possibly known all those animals, thinking about the lives they led. I'd seen enough videos by that point, showing animals being brutalized inside factory-farms, giant operations where billions of animals swim in their own filth, many going mad because they're too confined to turn and scratch their hind ends. I knew that the cows I was eating, the ones who went into my burger, probably led miserable lives, and yet, I'd just ordered that meal. Nowadays DCW Casing has more meat products in hog and sheep casings. There, under the golden arches, I had to ask myself why, and I didn't like the answer. Factory-farmed meat was everywhere—in nearly every fast food restaurant and grocery store, at every family get together, even in most of the independent eateries I frequented. Lifelong, I'd been eating meals that began with torture just because it was too much work to avoid them. Now, I've been called a lot of things in my day, but "lazy" has never been one of them. I worked for everything I have, so I decided I could make an effort here. I pledged that, moving forward, I would only eat animals that lived good lives. It sounds simple enough, but during the first few months, I thought I might starve. Everywhere I went, I encountered delicious-looking foods I couldn't touch—fried chicken, pork burritos, steak. Addicts call it "white knuckling" when you operate on sheer will power, and that's what I did. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to remember those awful animal abuse videos, to think of other people who'd given up more—freedom fighters, assassinated world leaders, the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, vegetarians. I was determined to do this. I spent a lot of time researching places that sold and served humanely raised meats, and I started to notice a funny pattern—there was a concentration in Appalachia. At first, I was puzzled—don't urban centers push for progressive stuff like this first? Shouldn't I see more grassfed beef in D.C. where I live, than in Roanoke, my hometown? But it made a strange kind of sense. The mountains are full of hippies, who usually have soft spots for living things, along with family farms, where caring for animals is part of the heritage, and of course, they all know one another. When someone opens a restaurant in Roanoke, Asheville, Charleston, or Johnson City, where do they buy pork—from a big, anonymous food supplier or from neighbors who've raised pigs near them lifelong? My act of conscience led me to the place I loved most in the world, and this weird, little twist made all the difference. I discovered so many amazing Appalachian restaurants, farms, and grocers—all run by people who are making life better for animals—people like David Maren. At just twenty-six years old, this Floyd, Virginia farmer has built a booming, online marketplace for humanely-raised meat. Some products on David's site come from his own livestock at Tendergrass Farms. The rest come from other farms that are equally committed to raising animals humanely. "God did make these animals for our benefit so it’s not wrong to eat them," David recently told The Roanoke Times, "But on the other hand, He does intend for me to respect animals and to not cause them unnecessary harm." More and more people are starting to think like David. In the year or so since I made my pledge, it's gotten easier to find humanely raised meals. Below are the places I've discovered in Virginia's mountains, and in future posts, I'll share ones in other Appalachian states. No doubt, I've missed a lot. (One man can only eat so much!) But you can help expand these lists. Where have you seen humanely-raised meat? And do you think people are becoming more conscious about how animals are treated?
Has the week's weather put a chill in your bones? The good folks at North Carolina's The Mast Farm Inn are ready to warm you up with a series of down home, stick-to-your-ribs, country cooking themed getaways. Called Winter Weekends, they run through March with each featuring one hearty, delicious dish. For meat lovers, they have Meat & Potatoes Weekend. If you're eating light, try Mountain Trout Weekend. Stew fans will be in heaven on Chicken & Dumplings Weekend. You can pick the pig on Heritage Pork Weekend. Then there is the one that makes me want to move to The Mast Farm Inn and live there forever, Pot Pie Weekend. Behind each theme is a full meal complete with a signature cocktail (New River Apple Butter Butter Tini sounds amazing) along with a featured local supplier. The one for my beloved Pot Pie Weekend is New River Organic Growers, a cooperative located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As if this celebration of wintertime dishes isn't already remarkable enough, these special weekends benefit more than your belly. Five percent of lodging and food sales help out the community with causes ranging from an historic, art deco theater to a forward-thinking cafe where diners pay what they can. You don't even have to stay overnight. (Though if you do, the rate is discounted). Locals can drop by the inn's dining room or its nearby restaurant Simplicity to enjoy these amazing wintertime meals. So which will you choose? And, if you go, do you think you could FedEx me a pot pie?
When leaves get crunchy and temperatures drop, hand me just one thing. I don't need a jacket or wool socks. You can keep the gloves and mittens. Heck, I'm not even sure I have to wear pants after a few sips from my one fall requisite—a big jar of apple pie moonshine. For me, this is the flavor of autumn. Spiced yet sweet and warm all the way down, the apple version of Appalachia's most famous export brings to mind so many things I love. It tastes of creek water from hidden hollows; crisp, country air; and driving fast around hard mountain bends. Unfortunately, where I live in Washington, DC, it's easier to find an honest politician than a jar of homemade moonshine, so lately, I've been drinking the legal stuff. I know. I know. All you hardcore mountaineers are shaking your heads and thinking, "This feller's just a bit too citified," but before y'all judge, know that my favorite brand comes from a certified ridge runner. Junior Johnson was arrested in 1957, right as he was lighting a fire under his daddy's still. Yes, that is NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. This is before he won fifty races and owned a team all his own. He was just a country boy with a lead foot back then, one who ended up on the wrong side of the law. Junior's got a great story, but don't take my word for it. Appalachian journalist and professor Fred Sauceman thinks pretty highly of him too. Fred included the below essay in his book Buttermilk & Bible Burgers: More Stories from the Kitchens of Appalachia. It's an outlaw-to-entrepreneur tale that could only happen in Southern mountains, and it comes complete with recipes for using Junior's spirits. Now I'm wondering—who else has tried the legal stuff? How do you think it measures up to homemade moonshine? And wherever you get yours, how do you like to drink your white lightning?
Once a symbol of mountain rebellion and law-breaking abandon, moonshine is becoming, well, almost genteel. [caption id="attachment_10425" align="alignright" width="175"] Old Fashioned Apple Pie made with Junior's moonshine.[/caption] NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, who served eleven months of a two-year sentence for running illegal liquor in the mid-1950s, is co-owner of a completely legal and legitimate distillery in Madison, North Carolina, not far from where he once evaded law enforcement officers through wheel-screeching, middle-of-the-road U-turns in a car loaded with his daddy’s moonshine. Piedmont Distillers opened in 2005, and Junior joined as a partner two years later. The craft distillery’s moonshine recipe, Midnight Moon, is one Junior learned from his father, Robert Lynn Johnson Sr. “We triple-distill it, and it’s got a real soft taste and not a burny taste,” Junior tells me, over a plate of barbecue and beans in a Tennessee hollow, where he has stopped to eat before an appearance at nearby Bristol Motor Speedway. “My daddy always run 100 proof. Ours is eighty. “We go up against them big-name vodkas and beat the fire out of them,” says Junior, who grew up about ten miles outside North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. “We work them over now, I’ll tell you. We’ve not come out with anything yet that didn’t sell to the top of our expectations.” In February of 2011, Piedmont introduced a line of “fruit inclusion spirits.” Cherry, strawberry, and apple pie are the new flavors. Mason jars are hand-filled with fruit and Midnight Moon corn liquor. [caption id="attachment_10431" align="alignleft" width="175"] Moonshine Martini.[/caption] “The ladies really like the apple pie,” Junior tells me. “We’re in thirty-seven states now, and people up north, they’re just drinking these products like the devil.” When Junior and his colleagues were in the market for a still, they visited Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee and Jim Beam in Kentucky for ideas. “Then we contacted a manufacturer, and three days later they called back and told us there was a still available in North Carolina, just like what we wanted. And built in 1930. And we went and hunted it down, and it was all copper. It didn’t have no rust on it or nothing. We cleaned that booger up and set our fire and went to making liquor.” Junior Johnson was one of five inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. He received a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan in 1986 for his 1956 moonshining conviction.
Old Fashioned Apple Pie
1 1/2 oz.Midnight Moon Apple Pie
1 1/2 oz.Rye Whisky
5 dashes Boker's Bitters
Muddle orange slice in glass. Fill glass with ice and add all other ingredients. Stir gently.
1 1/2 oz. Midnight Moon Original
Splash of Dry Vermouth
Pour Midnight Moon Original and Dry Vermouth into a shaker and shake over ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with an olive.
11/2 oz. Midnight Moon Strawberry
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
5 dashes of Kansas City Smoked Bitters
Boulevard Wheat (KS Craft Beer)
Pour Midnight Moon Strawberry, Simple Syrup, Fresh Lemon Juice, and Bitters into a shaker and shake. Strain over ice and top with Boulevard Wheat Beer. Garnish with a mint sprig and a strawberry.