Food is an important element of literature. It can help to establish setting, conflicts, a hero and heroine, relationships with nature and other humans, comfort to readers as well as characters in fictional texts, class structure, and survival of a culture. For the reader, Appalachian literature invokes a sense of home, memories, and family. Appalachian food is also a catalyst for infamous stereotyping of the culture in the United States.
The names of Hawthorne and Thoreau represent New England; Twain and Faulkner represent the South; and authors like Robert Morgan, Silas House, and Charles Frazier represent Appalachia putting it on the literary map to become canonical and studied outside of its own region with the appeal of not only the pastoral setting, but also the quality of hero and the memories provided by the details in the preservation and preparation of the food.
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the different aspects of the food motif frequently appearing in Appalachian literature: the struggle of the hero to grow and hunt food as seen in novels such as The Dollmaker, Cold Mountain, Gap Creek, The Kentuckians, A Parchment of Leaves, and Jayber Crow; relationships surrounding the production or eating of food seen in the same novels, but also in memoirs such as Growing Up Hard In Harlan County and Addie: A Memoir; and stereotypes derived from certain types of Appalachian foods as illustrated not only in short stories from Chris Offut and Chris Holbrook, but also in articles in anthologies such as Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, White Trash: Race and Class in America, and Food and Culture: A Reader.
This dissertation will also address larger elements in relation to food and its production such as coal, timber, and moonshine production, as well as the importance of salt to an agrarian society, using texts such as Salt: A World History, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, The United States of Appalachia, Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945, and Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South. While researching, I gained momentum reading such texts as Salt like Food In History, Kitchen Literacy, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, and Food Is Culture because each validated what I was finding in the fictional texts. Furthermore, these authors had studied food, or elements of food production, in ways that allowed me to apply my chosen Appalachian texts to predetermined food theories such as the importance of salt and the adoration of sugar—the food binary that became thematic. Food is one of the most defining characteristics of Appalachian literature and as important as Appalachia‘s geography and history in placing a text in this region of America.
Another purpose of this dissertation is to insure that homage is given to the mountain people who have maintained the skills of food production and cooking as demonstrated in Foodways, Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine, The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, and Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. Chapter Eight expresses the homage in the form of a personal reflection of stories and experiences I have gathered while researching. It explains the origin of my commitment to this topic and hopefully demonstrates the respect I have for my family history and the people of the Appalachians.