Book Review: “Buttermilk and Bible Burgers”

Posted by | November 6, 2014

lisa king dolloffPlease welcome guest writer Lisa King Dolloff. Dolloff, a journalist at Communities Digital News, was born and educated in Southwest Virginia (Emory & Henry). She traveled with her job all over America in her twenties and early thirties, then came back to the mountains to raise her daughter. “I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town,” she says. “I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.”


In Buttermilk and Bible Burgers, Fred Sauceman’s latest book about the art of Appalachian cooking, he has once again demonstrated his ability to capture the essence of the people. Not only does the reader get some great recipes, but the unique way of life in one of the poorest regions in the country comes to life in a way that makes us forget about the poverty and yearn to meet the rich assortment of people he features.

For those unfamiliar with Appalachian ways, it is one thing to get a wave from a front porch when driving by but quite another to be invited into the kitchen. The misleading stereotypes that still plague the region have made the people cautious about opening up too much for fear of being misinterpreted.

Sauceman not only gets into the kitchens of Appalachia, he has gathered a collection of stories that provide an accurate portrayal of the reverence of a good meal in the region by taking the time to get to know the people who wield the iron skillet with such skill.

Buttermilk and Bible Burgers cover

Perhaps the most telling statement of the entire book is “Appalachia is sustainable without saying it.” Long before it was fashionable to plant a garden, and “buy local” appeared on bumper stickers, each spring the gardens were laid out in wistful anticipation of that first fresh garden tomato.

The gardening and gathering were not complete until a colorful array of jars, jugs and hanging pork filled pantries and smokehouses. With the preparations complete, the families had the satisfaction of knowing that come what may, they would not go hungry.

The book is divided into three sections; “The People,” “The Products,” and “The Places.” Sauceman seamlessly takes the reader on a joyful romp through Appalachian kitchens, farms and restaurants while introducing us to a diversity of characters we would love to get to know better. He portrays the region so accurately one can almost hear the snap of freshly harvested beans being prepared for the cooking pot and the lively banter that often accompanies the task.

Writing a book review is usually a simple task; either you like the book or you do not. But as a native Appalachian I will confess the book had my undivided attention from the first chapter about memories of frog gigging in the summer time.

Frog legs were a tasty staple and another source of protein long before “The Cooking Channel” introduced the rest of the country to the southern Appalachian tradition. It is yet another demonstration of the resourcefulness of the people and their ability to always find a way to get by.

It is hard to be non-biased when each story reminds me of people and places I know and love. My Great Aunt Lessie is long gone now but I can still hear echoing in my mind her solution to unexpected dinner guests. “Just add some flour and water to the pot and stir it up a while.” I don’t know how many times she pulled this on me, but I do know she cooked some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Thank you Mr. Sauceman for reminding me of her culinary wizardry.

If you want to know what the people and the food of Appalachia are really like, ignore the endless parade of Appalachian based “reality shows” and pick up Buttermilk and Bible Burgers instead. Long after the current fad fades away, Sauceman’s collection of books will stand as a lasting testament to the hardworking people of the region and the love they put into preparing a good meal.

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