The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Good Home Cookin'

By Rodger Goodson © 1985

Issue: April, 1985

I have tried to describe elsewhere my Granddaddy Troy Goodson as owner and sole proprietor of Goodson's Cafe on West Grayson Street in Galax, Virginia, from the Depression until the restaurant finally burnt down in 1962. What I wasn't really able to get at was his cooking, and his Christian charity. Somehow they both go together.

Granddaddy said he learned how to cook because, as the youngest of five sons in the cabin at the Goodson Settlement at the foot of Fishers Peak, he always had to "holp Moma git dinner for the rest of them." What made his cooking so good is another matter.

For one thing, in my opinion, it was partly because he learned to cook over an open fire, and because he was on a first-name, first-hand familiarity with every ingredient he ever used. But his was "good ole home cookin'." There was nothing at all fancy about it: not a drop of wine in a sauce or a gravy, not a dab of spice beyond salt and pepper (except in his home-made sausage), not even a dash of whiskey. (I have never known personally a Blue Ridge mountaineer who ever had a single drop of moonshine left over beyond his and his friends' own personal drinking needs.)

Granddaddy was a fatback and frying pan cook. I never knew him to use any other grease than pork drippings, except for butter, or any other weapon besides a skillet, except for a cookpot to bile his taters in. In the old days, as everybody knows, the hogs ranged the mountain all summer long, getting fat; then they were "druv in" and butchered in the fall. As everybody knows, when they got done butcherin', there wasn't nothin' left on that pig but the whistle! Troy Goodson made the best country sausage I ever tasted, but somebody who knows more about it than I do will have to send in the right recipe. And of course he fried it in round hamburger patties, as Southerners tend to do, whereas in Europe (or in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, for that matter) they stuffed the sausage into the pig's intestines, and it came out looking something like your common frankfurter (from Frankfort am Main), or hotdog - true sausage lovers will appreciate that I have left out a whole range of regional sausages still available, at least in Europe.

I don't even need to say that Granddaddy's real specialty was country ham. Of course, he didn't put a lick of grease in the pan to cook that, but when I knew him best, he'd been cooking ham for nigh on to 50 years and he knew just when to turn it and just what heat to cook it at. His pan-fried potatoes came next, and to the best of my memory he first "biled them up" with chopped onions in water in his frying pan, then drained off the water, dropped his glob of pig fat in there and fried his tater slices good and proper. But I still haven't got to Troy Goodson's secret weapon: his white flour gravy. Ham grease, flour and then, at just the right moment, milk, a little salt and more pepper, and nothing else a-tall.

Whenever Grandmaw and Granddaddy had a family feast at the restaurant, particularly in my father's time, there would be pan-fried fresh trout in season or pan-fried perch, there would be country ham, turkey, fried chicken, pork, beef, there would be taters and sweet taters, maters, tommytoe tomaters, cowcumbers, string beans, lima beans, navy beans, green peas, blackeyed peas, boiled corn on the cob, fresh shelled corn.... Granddaddy always had his contacts for fresh food in season from up on the mountain. Then there would be about five different kinds of homemade dessert, and Grandmaw would always say before she sat down, in her demure Low Gap country girl way: "Well, we ain't got much, but you're right welcome to what they is!"

Without a doubt, Granddaddy's favorite cooking was done on an open fire up on the mountain. With the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway came the Cumberland Knob park, with any number of proper stone outdoor fireplaces and picnic tables where you can park your car and have a cookout. Right there on the turf of his childhood, where he had farmed, hunted, cooked moonshine and barked at the moon, Granddaddy would carefully build his fire - I've never seen a man who knew so much about building fires, or banking them up to last through the night - then put on a big white restaurant apron and set in to work with a couple of great big frying pans, and all us kids stepping and fetching for him with considerable enthusiasm. Often enough, all the women in the family got to do was slice the tomatoes and sit around and watch (and, of course, wash up the pots and fry pans - in my time Granddaddy used paper plates when he cooked outdoors, like everybody else).