The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Soppers and Gravy

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1986

Issue: December, 1986

A traditional bread in the Blue Ridge is spoon bread. When mountain cooks were in a hurry and just cooking for family, spoon bread fit the menu.

Spoon bread is essentially the same batter as biscuit, except that it is moister. Use self-rising flour, solid shortening and buttermilk. They are the only ingredients necessary.

Put 3 cups flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a depression in the middle of the flour. Put a lump of shortening in it the size of a black walnut. Pour buttermilk in the depression and start stirring in the flour closest to the center, working out to the bowl. If the batter looks too dry, add a little more milk. The batter should be sticky but not liquid.

At this point you have two options as to how you want to cook your bread. You can grease and heat a cast iron skillet and cook it on top of a stove or in a fire place, on top of hot coals. You can also grease a baking pan and bake it in a 400 degree oven. The moister the batter, the higher and lighter your bread will be, but if your batter is more moist it will take a little longer to bake. A tip to make the bread look smooth on top is to wet the top with a little water and smooth the batter with the back of a spoon.

It will take about 15 or 20 minutes to cook.

When done, turn it out onto a plate. No need to slice it, just break off the size hunk you want. It makes great "soppers." Soppers are also a tradition. Soppers are bread broken up in small pieces. They are used to "sop" up gravy, primarily, but are also dropped in a glass of sweet or butter milk and eaten with a spoon.

Now if I give you a recipe for gravy, you'll have a complete depression era meal that many a mountain family has survived on in the past and enjoyed it!

Many people associate gravy with meat but while grease is an essential ingredient, it's all you need. You can save your bacon grease and make gravy from it. Many old timers made gravy just from lard.

Heat about 4 tablespoons of bacon or sausage grease in a cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When it is melted, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in about an equal amount of flour and blend it so there are no lumps of dry flour. Continue until this mixture bubbles. If you cook this mixture longer the gravy will be browner. Add one and a half to two cups of sweet milk slowly, stirring continuously to prevent lumping. Stir the gravy with a large spoon so that the backside of the spoon is rubbing the bottom of the skillet at all times. Make sure you stir all areas of the bottom of the skillet to prevent sticking. When it gets as thick as you like it, remove from heat and pour over "soppers."