Combatting Stereotypes Through Cultural Traditions
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
From her garden nestled in a holler in Pikeville, KY, Lauren May (creator of the cooking blog Must Love Herbs) discusses how she came into her love for gardening and cooking, and how her blog featuring traditional Appalachian cuisine with a twist is helping combat stereotypes of the region.
Full video transcript:
Appalachia is my history. It's my history 200 years back. I feel like Appalachia is me. And it's my family, and it's my friends, and it's my home. And it's my garden, and it's my food. It's everything about me.
Gardening is very integrated in Appalachian culture. It is very much how you lived. It was the only way that you got food only just a few generations ago. My Big Daddy lived that way. He lived more towards the end of a road and they didn't get out as much, and his mother supplemented with corn and potatoes and tomatoes and canning. And they had a root cellar, is what they called it, back in the hill and they would fill that full. And so he, I think, took that up on passing it on to me. My mom did it, but she was more landscaping. So like, right through here, this is my mom with all of the perennial garden and stuff. But the vegetable garden, that is all my grandfather. He absolutely prided himself on his tomato garden.
The joy that he got from it, it just really stuck with me. And I think I always loved it. It wasn't that he passed it on to me or forced it upon me. I just, I was always drawn to digging in the dirt and planting things and watching them grow and bugs. My mom always thought I was weird because I loved bugs.
My grandmother loved to cook and she always let me cook with her, so she would be cooking and then she would have me a giant pot in the sink and she would let me do whatever I wanted with all the scraps and pretend like I was cooking. And I think that, from a young age, did it. My husband cooks just as much as I do. I bake. He cooks. He grills. But I think that that kind of got me more home based. So garden based, and cooking based. And so we learned to cook things that are comfort food to us, so chicken and dumplings and beans and cornbread and all those kind of things. I like to do traditional, but I like to put my spin on it because a lot of traditional recipes, if you look at them, they have things like lard in them and stuff that, do you actually want to eat? So I think that I take tradition and I give it a new spin for our generation.
A lot of the tomatoes are heirloom tomatoes that were cultivated in West Virginia. So they are made for Appalachia and for our soil and the type that we have. Cherokee Purples and the German Johnsons, Mortgage Lifters, Mr. Stripeys, those are all ones that were developed in Appalachia. And radishes and beets and peas. Those are bean teepees. I'm very proud of my bean teepees. And they're Kentucky Wonder, so they are actually native to around here. I tried to do as many Appalachian things as I could.
I have seen a lot in the media of how Appalachia is portrayed, and it's wrong. It's not what we are. It's not how we live. It's not a true portrayal of everybody. There are, of course, what these people touch upon is in certain places, but it's in certain places everywhere. It's not Appalachia as a whole. And I wanted to, with Must Love Herbs, shine a light. We have wonderful traditions and we have wonderful recipes and people. I want to show them that we are cultured and that we are people that are worth coming here and visiting and seeing all of our heritage. And maybe somebody who has said that we are hillbillies, and they've said it in a negative connotation, will say, well, that's a good thing. It's a wonderful thing. They have a wonderful culture and they're wonderful people that would give you the shirt off their back. And I hope that I can somehow show that just a little tiny bit with me. And I know I'm not going to make a huge difference, but I'm at least doing my part.
I hope that people will see this and they'll think, I would like to do that. I would like to teach my children to make that. And it won't die with us. It won't die with my grandparents. And it won't die with me. It will be something that will go on.