Hills and Hollows: West Virginia’s Wild and Wonderful Food Traditions

Weelunk.com | May 5 2020

As reported by Kyle Knox in Weelunk.com, May 5 2020:

“Food helps paint a picture about people. It blends the colors of their cultural heritage, their present socioeconomic status and, perhaps, future. Mountaineers are resourceful, independent and resilient. Those qualities come through in the food that we’ve known for generations and continue to eat today.

Our relatives utilized simple ingredients and whatever was available from the wild, garden and farms — and made it delicious. Born out of necessity, they’re foods like ramps, salt rising bread, paw paws, pepperoni rolls, buckwheat cakes and so many other foods — foods as wonderful and simple as the people in the mountain kitchens where they originated. Some are more popular than others today, but they all continue to define a part of the wild and wonderful state. While it’s easy to forget tradition in a modern world, food traditions must be preserved in order to continue painting the picture that makes people Mountaineers….

Buckwheat Cake Suppers are held regularly at churches, VFW halls, civic clubs or other social places in rural West Virginia. Every year, many attend the Preston County Buckwheat Festival in Kingwood, West Virginia. But how many know what buckwheat is and its history?

Buckwheat is a pseudocereal. This means that its name is deceiving in that it is not really a grain or wheat, and it is not even a grass.

Many buckwheat events originated during the late Great Depression. Buckwheat was seen as an “insurance crop” at the time because of its relatively short growing season. Farmers would come together at these events to celebrate the end of the growing season and their harvest. Those events survive today.

The family-operated mills that processed those buckwheat harvests were once a staple in West Virginia. Today, they’re nearly gone. However, there is hope.

In Avella, Pennsylvania, the tradition continues less than 10 miles from Wellsburg, West Virginia.

Weatherbury Farm grows and mills USDA certified organic grains. Today, they mill high quality certified organic flour including buckwheat flour milled from Westsylvanian Common Buckwheat. They also mill many other flours including wheat bread flours, Appalachian bread flour, pastry flour, rye flour, spelt flour, cornmeal and more. Like a fine wine, their “estate flours” are loved, chaperoned and defended from seed to field to flour without leaving their farm.

While the decline in the milling industry in the state forced citizens to purchase non-locally grown and produced products made with heritage grains, it also affected their social life. ‘A hundred years ago, every town had its own grist mill, which in addition to milling grains was also a community gathering place,’ explained Nigel Tudor of Weatherbury Farm. ‘But then large roller mill operations replaced the local mill. And not only did the flours suffer, so did the community.’  ”