Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Slow down and enjoy the beauty of mountain magic and its people. Bizarre Foods: Andrew Zimmern: APPALACHIA

by Ivy

Wow! What a curious peek into a piece of Americana that most Americans don't realize or appreciate. You'd think this is pure hillbilly country, but Appalachia has its own rural, rustic and mountainous charm. A few upscale restaurants feature contemporary fare along with local ingredients such as Squirrel and Possum. The Swiss have also made their stake here in a town called "Helvetia" and also carry their traditions and culture in Appalachian cuisine. He also feasts with Native Americans who treat him to an authentic Thanksgiving dinner that was more similar to what the Pilgrims ate than whats familiar to the American table today. Andrew Zimmern also makes it clear that he not only eats what's known to be "bizarre" but also has to earn the right of being delicious or even an epicurean delight. I may never try some of these things, but I'm always curious to watch him eat or describe it!

Central casting office from Deliverance. Speaking in tongues. Moonshine. Dolly Parton. If you listen to the ethnocentric pop culture Mandarins you would think the Appalachian Trail is littered with this hill country iconography. It's not. The trip we took through West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee was the crème de la crème of all our domestic shoots. Chic little restaurants in Asheville NC, killer barbecue stands on the rural highways in Tennessee, real country stores in the mountains of West Virginia where even the hams are cured on the premise. That's the Trail that I saw. -Andrew Zimmern

Here are the main items he ate and also my comments:
  • Squirrel Au Vin: Prepared like Coq au vin, but Squirrel instead of Rooster.
    This looked like a good preparation if I ever were to foray into squirrel meat.

Squirrel Head
  • Squirrel Brains: He described the taste "creamy, like Foie Gras".

Mmm... brains....need brains...
  • Fried Squirrel: Everything tastes better fried! I've been researching the flavor of this online... it seems that squirrel tastes closest to Rabbit. Squirrel has a distinct flavor that owns it's own "squirrel" taste meaning it doesn't exactly taste quite like chicken. Another called it chicken with a gamey taste.
  • Moonshine: Powerful fire water rooted in the spirit of Prohibition.

    Moonshine continues to be produced in the United States, mainly in southern Appalachia.[29] The product is often called "white lightning" because it is not aged and is generally sold at high alcohol proof, often bottled in canning jars ("Mason jars"). A typical moonshine still may produce 1000 gallons per week and net $6000 per week for its owner.[29] The simplicity of the process, and the easy availability of key ingredients such as corn and sugar, make enforcement a difficult task. Old, abandoned moonshine stills can be found throughout the Appalachian Mountains in the states of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. -Wikipedia

  • Swiss culture + Appalachian: Andrew discusses how the Swiss decided to settle in the Appalachian Mountains to a town they called Helvetia. The next two items that follow in this list are from that area, such as...
  • Pfeffernüsse: A Cookie made with Sugar, Cinnamon with handfuls of black pepper.
    Sounds SPICY! I'd want to try this.
  • Doe a deer... first, cooked over a flame, stuffed with it internal organs, bacon, veggies, buried over coals and cooked again. Hmm.. internal organs...hmmm..hmmmmm.
  • "Bouli Flada": essentially an Onion Pie and literally translates to "bulb pie". It looks good! The result and preparation look similar to a quiche. It's food grounded in old Swiss tradition mixed with mountain ingredients.
  • Andrew learning Polka :) Definitely a highlight for me! LOL!!!
  • Livermush in Shelby, NC; Livemush contains pig liver, fatty cuts, head meat.. ground with cornmeal and spices, and then is baked into a loaf. Dates back to 300 years ago during Civil war and Depression era. He explains that it has a "textural crunch!?" LOL. Locals describe it as "comfort food". To most Americans not from that region, the closest relative to Livermush would be akin to the hot dog. Locals vote that the best condiment with Livermush is half mustard, half mayo or half mayo and half grape jelly?! or darnit, all three. Blegh...
  • He also visits the Cherokee. The Trail of Tears runs through Appalachia.
    He visits a Native American woman's home, together they cook deer with "Sumac", which is a lemony spice, Trout cooked with nuts, berries, and flowers, "Sochan" a leafy, cressy, peppery vegetable or plant, Roasted Bear, and Chestnut bread baked with back fat from pig. He also underlines that "back fat" is misused in cooking, it's actually the underbelly from a pig and not from the back side. After assessing their entire spread, this is all reminiscent of an original Thanksgiving and a reminder of where we come from. They begin with a Cherokee Prayer before eating and we actually hear our native tongue.

Andrew shares a traditional meal with a Native American family in Cherokee, North Carolina.
  • He also encounters the "Mushroom Man". They both bond by eating Wasp larvae inside a chestnut. The little buggers are crawling in his palm and they lick it off. He describes the flavor of a wasp larvae whose diet consists mostly of chestnut as "milky, nutty like a raw almond and.... sweet" ?! LOL. What a wild and adventuresome pair they make.

Yes, that's a mushroom
  • They go foraging for wild and exotic mushrooms in the woods which they later take to an uber fancy, "Marketplace" restaurant. These mushrooms seemed to have earned their namesakes due to their tastes or appearances...
    - "Hen of the Woods" which they later eat with Rabbit puree. The mushroom resembles a cockscomb.
    - "Honey Mushroom", fetches for $25/lb. You too can have a career in mushroom picking. Seems like truffles aren't the only ones that are profitable.
    - "Beefsteak Mushroom". They taste like beef. Later, they get to try it pickled with red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar. Ooh yum.
    - "Ox Tongue Mushroom". Vegetarian Lengua anybody?
    - "Chaga Mushroom" which can only be described as looking like a giant piece of charred or burnt wood. It only grows in high elevations. Later they create a dessert drink out of it. In the past, it was used in folk medicines. They also mention that this ground up tastes like smoky coffee
  • In the last quarter of the show, he goes to a real "Smoky Mountain" Cookout... which features Raccoon and Possum

  • He asks will there be "Local Possum?" They respond"Yea, REAL local...Trapped in the backyard local!". Every edible item seems to be gathered, trapped or hunted down. Later you see whole Possum has been cooked, fried, baked with apples and potatoes. The Possum skull in the pot looks pretty fierce with the sharp teeth. LOL
  • He mentions at the cookout you get a "sense of people who live there--Professional Whittler, a woman Storyteller & Weaver", and Hillbilly music. Hahaha. Wow, what an experience! LOL!
  • Possum is "more organy and a little gamey". He says, "Both pretty darn good tho"
  • Raccoon "more refined, almost an elegant meat--mellow, sweet, tasty". He also remarks since the taste of the meat is so refined, Raccoon could probably be served at a fine dining establishment and no one would be the wiser! Sure would help our pest population.

  • Remember the feud between the McCoy vs. Hatfields? Some of the attendees seem to be descendants from the McCoy family.
  • The beauty of the mountains and Appalachia look in one word AWESOME. Perhaps this is as close to what our early frontiersmen experienced when seeing America's true unspoiled, untamed nature.
Here is Andrew Zimmern's blog post on the Appalachian episode.
Another link to the restaurants they tried
Travel Channel cliffnotes of the Appalachian episode
All pictures within this post courtesy of Tremendous Inc.

1 comment:

  1. As a longtime resident of West Virginia, I was looking forward to Andrew Zimmern's Appalachian adventure quite a bit.

    His visit to Helvetia made me want to go there someday. I've heard of Helvetia but never had a reason to visit. Now I do. I have to try some of those Pfeffernüsse.

    As for the squirrel brains, I've been informed that it was a delicacy specially cooked for Andrew's visit, and that the restaurant won't be adding them to the menu. [:o(

    And then there's the liver mush. Sounds weird, doesn't it? I think the Liver Mush Festival in Shelby, NC, would probably be fun to drive to ... but actually liver mush is known by a better name in many other places: SCRAPPLE. You can buy it in most grocery stores here in West Virginia. Slice it and toss it in a skillet, fry until nice and crispy, and serve with eggs or on a sandwich. It's really quite good.