Cobwebbed Tales: Uniquely Ozarkian

Sandy Jordan
Guest Columnist

My mother-in-law was a typical hard-scrabble Ozarkian. She could put on the lighted miners helmet of her ancestors, sling her rifle on her back and follow her hunting dogs to a treed boar coon. She could shoot him out of the tree, skin him, stretch his hide and bake the coon for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Her mother was said to be Cherokee, Seminole and French. Once, those French relatives came to the Ozarks seeking their family. His mom cooked up a feast that included fat, juicy ears of coon swimming in homemade butter. They quickly informed her "corn was for the pigs.” A clash of world cultures. Whereas, Ozarkian people have mellowly blended into a unique culture all their own.

Pennsylvania Dutch cookery is one of the oldest and most distinctive styles of American cooking. The Rhine and Palatinate people settled in Pennsylvania beginning in 1683. They were German (Deutsch), which somehow evolved into the term “Pennsylvania Dutch.” 

Catholics, Quakers, Amish and Mennonites co-mingled in Massachusetts and the other colonies. These mixed people migrated to Tennessee and Kentucky creating their own unique blending of traditional dishes. People from these groups moved on to settle in the Ozarks and brought to this area their traditions and cooking styles.

The German dishes were the most common. They were said to use everything but the oink in their cooking. Sauerkraut and pastries were two of their biggest influences. It can be noted here that recipes evolved, cooking methods adjusted and ingredients substituted. The cooks used what was available. The further west of the Mississippi you traveled, the less available common staples became.  

Also mixed into this Mulligan stew were the influences of the Spanish Conquistadors, and the French Fur trappers who were the Ozarks first outside influences. They brought with them their own way of cooking. They helped to introduce corn, apples and peppers.

Foods that were unique to the Osage and native tribes of the area were often used to substitute staples that weren’t available.  When steam boats began bringing supplies up the Mississippi to Hannibal and Saint Louis staples were sent out across the territory. The problem of spoilage and high prices often made them inaccessible to the majority of the people.

It was easier to dig sassafras roots for tea, than paying what would be equivalent to ten dollars for a small box of English tea. Salt was common and used to barter for some staples. Furs were also used for acquiring supplies. Still, outside staples were not affordable and not easily available.

We are a blend of generations commingling, surviving and adapting to the world around us. We are uniquely Ozarkian.  A proud, resolute people who have survived hardships for so many years. We are proud to be American, a part of the patchwork quilt that is our country. We can bend when we have to, adapt when we must but we are a people not easily broken and left in the cobwebs of forgotten time.