I am off the road and back to blogging. The previous three weeks have seen me in Honduras for family; Northeast Ohio: Dover, Cadiz, Steubenville, Toronto, East Liverpool, Lisbon and Kent for my paying profession; and Fairmont, West Virginia for my academic and avocational passions. It is good to be home.
Kevin Cordi - Storyteller and New Pepperoni Roll Researcher
So why West Virginia? (Why the other places as well…?) My friend Kevin Cordi is a professional Storyteller and the nations first Storyteller in Residence at The Ohio State University. He has started the internationally known – The Story Box Project. He was invited the Fairmont State University as the keynote speaker for the Mountain State Storytelling Institute. During Columbus Foodcast Episode Four – Storytelling Through Food, an idea started to stew in our heads about how food serves as connection for people. Below is part of our pitch to the Mountain State Story Telling Institute and the reason why I was riding shotgun and acting as a culinary guide on our Appalachian odyssey.
In addition to hosting an incredible weekend of Storytelling, the Mountain State Storytelling Institute, may well be the site of “conception” of a book by keynote speaker Kevin Cordi.
Mr. Cordi has been collaborating with freelance writer and social media guru Jim Ellison on a book combining two of their shared passions – storytelling and food (the order is different depending on the author). This ongoing project is titled “Food, Family, and Folk: A Feast of Stories from the Counters and Tables of the Heartland.” The recipe for this project mixes food lore, personal memories, local histories and the spices of life that help us all connect with the people through the foods of our home towns. The main focus is on iconic regional and local foods.
Kevin and Jim picked Fairmont and the Mountain State Storytelling Institute as the site to launch their journey of culinary discovery into the folkways and foodways of our country. Jim and Kevin’s storytelling heritage hails from generations of family history in the hills of West Virginia. Both look forward to the weekend in Fairmont as an opportunity to reconnect with their roots.
The two writers hope the weekend will end with a notebook, a laptop, a Macbook and two recorders full of memories of Pepperoni Rolls, Ramps, Hillbilly Hot Dogs (and more). These three foods are the focus of the first chapter of their book. They hope you can help with a serving for your thoughts on these West Virginia comfort foods.
As fate would have it, Fairmont is the undisputed home of the Pepperoni Roll, Ramps were in season and I can sniff out a hot dog within a three mile radius so this was the perfect time and place to launch our project. The addition of a free conference registration secured my spot in the Cordimobile.
Our mission was successful. Thanks to everyone at the Mountain Storytelling Institute for their support. I want to especially thank Dr. Judy Byers as well as the students and storytellers at Fairmont University who will be helping us with our melting pot of food stories. I would be remiss not to thank Kevin’s wife, Barbara Allen, for letting Kevin eat his research and for driving us when we were experiencing pepperoni overload induced dementia
In addition to two days of workshops – which included blogging, using Photostory, Ghost Tales, and such, Kevin and I did some serious food research in our off hours. Here are some highlights of our three day expedition.
What is a Pepperoni Roll? It is a small bun of bread with strips of pepperoni baked in the middle. Some places will add cheese, marinara sauce with peppers or other Italian influenced toppings to the mix. Pepperoni Rolls were designed as an easy to eat food for coal miners. It’s origin was at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont in 1927 or the 1940’s depending on whom you ask. Everyone agrees that the Pepperoni Roll (sometimes called a Pepperoni Bun) is the trademark food of Northcentral West Virginia (with appearances along the Ohio River in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania).
I did not know that this part of the Mountain state had such a large Italian American population which continues a strong heritage to this day – there are some great Italian Restaurants sprinkled along I 79 from Morganstown to Clarksburg. These links will bring you up to speed on Pepperoni Rolls and their Italian connection.
Wikipedia on the Pepperoni Roll
Bob Heffner’s Pepperoni Roll Page
We dined at a few famous Pepperoni Roll restaurants in town. As researchers we paid our respects to the Country Club Bakery. We had to make a quick dash there in between seminars and before it closed for the weekend. They had sold out of Pepperoni Rolls for the day but Billie Joe behind the counter let me buy a bag set aside in the freezer for Monday’s restaurant orders. The bakery is a small and for pick up only. The walls are covered with articles about the bakery and its place in culinary history. The best article is in the January 2007 issue of Gourmet.
Kevin with Billie Joe at the Country Club Bakery
As is often the case, the best Pepperoni Roll was at a place we ate at my pure chance and dire circumstances. Mikey’s is a small, easy to miss six-seater sandwich shop near the Country Club Bakery. It was not on my research list. Since we were not inclined to eat the frozen rolls from the Country Club Bakery we needed a quick lunch spot close to the university and Mikey’s was our default choice.
We found the previous Pepperoni Rolls we sampled to be very “bready”. This was not the case here. At Mikey’s they split open the bun and remove a section of the roll for the pepperoni. Then the roll is buttered, cheese is added and on request, they add homemade coney sauce. The whole package goes into the oven for about 10 minutes to heat to a toasty and melting mass of yummy goodness.
Mikeys version of a pepperoni roll
Ramps were next on the list. I have heard about Ramps my whole life but I have never been in West Virginia during Ramp season. I was able to buy them fresh out of the ground. The gentleman I bought them from took extra time to show me how to handle the roots so that I can plant ramps in my garden so I can grow my own.
Having never eaten Ramps, I was at a loss for how to prepare them. I knew they were pungent with qualities of onions and garlic. One of the women at the Mountain Storytelling Institute had just the book I needed in this situation with recipes for ramps included. It is a great book on West Virgina wild foods by Anna Lee Robe-Terry.
Here is a resource on Ramps.
1985 NY Times article on Ramps
A Hillbilly Hot Dog includes mustard, chili or coney sauce and cole slaw. My mother proclaims that the best Hillbilly Hot Dogs hail from the King Tut Drive In in Beckley, West Virginia. Most mountaineers have strong opinions on their hot dogs and plenty of places to pacify their palates as they debate the merits of one place against another.
We had little time left to hit the Hillbilly Hot Dog hot spots but we did find some time and room for one wiener. In the process we found an incredible diner that was so good we visited it twice.
The Poky Dot
(Beware the music – The Restaurant Widow and I are of like mind about loud music in restaurant web sites – it turns our stomachs.)
At the Poky Dot, they added cheese and pickles to their hot dog. We also found a lot more on the menu that made our mouths water.
This is a classic 50’s style dinner with a funky, eclectic and fun decor. Their fare features incredible house made cheesecakes and pies, huge banana splits and too many items to choose from for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will let the photos do the describing for me.
Cookies and Cream Cheesecake
Peanut Butter French Toast
To help ease my transition back to Ohio, I stopped at O’Betty’s in Athens for a “Blaze” Hot Dog – cole slaw with locally produced bacon.
This week I am working to refresh my relationship with vegetables. For those of you living in Clintonville: BEWARE, I will be cooking my ramps this weekend and the aroma does carry.
If you are interested in the Story Box Project, there is a box at Wild Goose Creative this month. Check out the WGC web site for more details. If you have a Pepperoni Roll, Ramp or Hillbilly Hot Dog story, send me an e-mail.