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Stories about Modern Appalachian Life


It got it's name because it could be prepared quickly when a housewife looked out her window and saw the preacher riding up the mountain...” 

Susanne, owner of

My niece and nephew had never eaten preacher cookies. They were visiting last week, and I asked if they wanted to make a batch. I got blank stares.


I described the ingredients—chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal—and added, “You know, you cook them on the stove.”


My niece looked confused. My nephew curled his nose and said, “I don’t like chocolate very much.”


I wasted no time in calling their grandmother to tell her that she’s falling down on the job. Growing up, preacher cookies were a cornerstone of our snack food diet. They were fast and low mess. They didn’t require the oven (which mattered during summertime in our un-air conditioned apartment). They were so simple I could make them by myself by age nine in 3 minutes. They filled my mouth with the most ecstatic goopy wonder, the perfect balance of creamy and crunchy, chocolate and nutty, as cool as a popsicle and as sweet as a slice of fudge.
She was a loving grandmother. How had she not fixed at least one batch for the children?


“They don’t seem to want to cook when they’re here.”


I didn’t quite hang up on her, but I must have made an audible gasp. She added, “Really, I don’t think they’re interested.”


The baking goods cabinet was open and the cocoa was on the counter before I said, “Love ya’. Gotta go.”


The kids helped me measure and stir. They watched enrapt as I dropped dollops onto a plate. They offered their tongues when I asked if they’d like to lick the goo-encrusted spoon.


My niece was hooked from her first taste. She “mmmmmed” and motioned for my nephew. He claimed that the chocolate gave him a bellyache, but once they cooled, I caught him eating them, a half a cookie at a time. By the middle of the next day, he had finished off four.


I’d never given any thought to preacher cookies’ origin until I discovered that they were becoming a lost art in my family. Then I poked around the Internet. Everybody seems to agree on the genesis of the name. The blog Hillbilly Housewife describes it this way:


"It got it's name because it could be prepared quickly when a housewife looked out her window and saw the preacher riding up the mountain on his horse. By the time the preacher arrived, the cookies were cooling."


People don’t agree, however, on the right name for the cookies. Everyone I know in the Appalachians call them preacher cookies, but apparently, somewhere out there, they’re referred to as cow-patties. I suppose it’s apt. They are dark brown little globs that squish under the least pressure.


I recently offered a batch to a friend from Texas. She squealed, “You made poodgies?!”


While she couldn’t explain the name, she clearly relished saying it. She drew it out, “Pooooooodgies,” and spelled it without prompting.


I also discovered that some poor folks call them no-bake cookies. Maybe they’re Puritans or mathematicians. Whatever the case, let’s hope this post inspires a less literal name.


At the other end of the spectrum are people who fiddle with the recipe itself, adding exotic ingredients like dulce de leche and Nutella. I'm all for creative monikers, but when making this dish, become a bit of a Puritan.


Below is the good, old recipe I use for my preacher cookies, which was handed down from my mother. I hope you enjoy making these oven-free treats as much as my niece and nephew did. 

Preacher Cookies

½ cup butter


4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa


2 cups sugar


½ cup milk


1/8 teaspoon salt


3 cups quick cooking oatmeal


¼ cup peanut butter


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Mix the cocoa powder, butter, sugar, milk, and salt in a double boiler. (Don’t tell Mother, but I just use a regular pot.) Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, vanilla, and oatmeal—not the new, instant kind, Mother emphasizes, just quick oats. Slop it all together. Drop them on a plate. (Wax paper is even better if you have it.) Pop in the fridge for a few hours and enjoy.







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I've been trying to like wine since I was twelve years old, sneaking it out of Daddy's jug of Gallo. I'd sip it from a stadium cup, pucker, then wash away the bitterness with a sweet tea chaser.
[caption id="attachment_665" align="alignleft" width="203"] Breaux Vineyards: Photo courtesy of Virginia Wine[/caption]
I still can't stand the stuff, but I figure if anyone will convert me, it'll be the folks at Virginia Wine. Their user-friendly Website includes a startlingly robust calendar of upcoming events. In the Blue Ridge region alone, there are 27 happenings this weekend, ranging from a wine drenched calligraphy class to an afternoon of classical music benefiting VH1's Save the Music.
If you're a friend of the vine, check out the full list of Appalachian Virginia wines, and Hell, try some in a stadium cup. They really do make just about any beverage better.
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The thaw is on! In my neck of the woods, I'm seeing cherry blossom buds, crocuses, and exposed legs so bright they could guide airplanes in for landing.
It's blinding but a joy, and it has me anticipating another spring tradition, the return of local produce. Farm stands and farmers' markets will open soon. Right away, that means jarred honey and fresh baked bread. Before too long, they'll add juicy giant tomatoes, plump cucumbers, and at least one very lucky watermelon, which will be carried to my tailgate and sliced open right there on the roadside.
Check these handy guides to see when your favorite farm stands and markets are back in business:
Asheville: The Paris of the South has more than hippy artists playing bongos on the street corners. And that's saying something.
Charlottesville: Adding to C-ville's many downtown charms, is the place to be on Saturdays.
Knoxville: Find out where those impossibly juicy peaches you picked up last Sunday originated. In addition to a twice weekly market, the downtown association offers To the Source Farm Tours and other exciting events.
Roanoke: This is farmers' market deluxe. It is open year round. Dozens of farmers line the city streets, displaying their goodies on permanent tables under shaded awnings.
West Virginia -- Collaborative for the 21st Century has an entire state covered. It lists not only farm stands and farmers' markets but also restaurants and other locations that use West Virginia products.
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Back in January, West Virginia hosted the Cast Iron Cook-Off, which may be the tastiest day this side of Thanksgiving. Organizers describe it as "West Virginia’s culinary trade fair."
That seems like a sterile description for an event that features dishes like Butternut Squash Corndogs, Old School Vanilla Bean Waffles, and Sweet and Spicy Pork Rinds.
You can find the winners and, more importantly, the recipes on the event's website. Here's one to get you started:
Buttered Hickory Nut Ice Cream
from Cafe Cimino
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup chopped hickory nuts
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cooking Directions:
Into a medium hot skillet, add the butter and the nuts, stirring to avoid burning, and remove from the heat when they start to brown and soften, then set hickory nuts aside
Heat a sauce pan to low and pour in the heavy cream and milk and vanilla extract.
Blend the beaten eggs and brown sugar
Pour 3 tablespoons of the heated cream mixture into the bowl with the egg mixture to temper the liquid. Stir.
Once the egg mixture is tempered, pour it into the sauce pan at a rate of one-third of the mix every 45 seconds
Stir while simmering for two to three minutes
Then add the hickory nuts and romove from heat and let cool
pour this cooled mixture into your ice cream maker, mix until it becomes the texture of creamy custard
Serve garnished with a drizzle of maple syrup and whole hickory nuts
Serve with hot, black French Press coffee
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If you're from the mountains of Tennessee or North Carolina, go ahead and stop reading. You surely know all about Popcorn Sutton. He's dead now, but until last year he was a gun totin', model T driving, quick witted, self promoting one man tourist attraction on the Tennessee side of the state line. He was also a moonshiner.
Sutton was more than public about his illegal profession, which he likened to a calling. He wrote a book of his own --  the hard to find and even harder to afford Me and My Likker(currently priced at $428.24 on Amazon) -- and was the subject of a photo exhibit, countless articles and "The Last One," an Emmy Award winning documentary.
Some say Sutton was the last of his kind. That's debatable; I've met some pretty colorful mountaineers, but take one peak at the below clip. You'll see that Sutton was a character, and you might agree that his death, an apparent suicide sparked by a fifteen year sentence for making illegal liquor, was more than a loss to tourists and niche media. It was a loss to Appalachian culture.
If you'd like to see the full documentary "The Last One", I've read that it can be rented at TV Eye in Asheville. If that's not in your neck of the woods, you can also buy it online.
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[caption id="attachment_239" align="alignleft" width="219"] Photo Credit: Blue Ridge Institute and Museum of Ferrum College[/caption]
With Moonshine - Blue Ridge Style, the folks at the Blue Ridge Institute have broken the seal on home brew. Get your recipe, learn your jargon, and figure out which type of still is going to fit in your backyard, basement, or holler.
All the secrets are here, along with historic info and images. For instance, did you know that the last big bust ended just nine years ago in Franklin County, Virginia?
It revealed that the primary local producer had purchased 500 tons of sugar and 125,000 one gallon jugs in just four years. That's enough to give every man, woman, and child in nearby Roanoke City their own gallon and still have enough to throw one helluva' party at Ferrum College, home to the Blue Ridge Institute.
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