It was love at first site. I mean how can you not be smitten by a cookbook entitled: Cider Beans, Wild Greens and Dandelion Jelly? This fine work, subtitled Recipes from Southern Appalachia, may take some liberties, I see a number of delicious looking Cajun influenced recipes sneaking in here, but it’s certainly a fun read.

The book features several beautiful pictures of this wonderful and still wild span of States, as well as a short but engaging history of the settlement of the region, but the meat of the book, no pun intended, is, of course, the set of classic recipes, sourced from some of the area's finest restaurants and inns.  There is also a great appendix resource in the book that not only lists all of those restaurants, (road trip anyone?) but also offers sources for some of the typical ingredients used in Appalachian cooking.

This is one of the great regions of America, a region that has retained its own distinct personality and culture to this day, partly because it remains off the beaten track. While being bypassed by time is a double-edged sword, there is something particularly comforting in the food of Southern Appalachia.  These are recipes drawn from states that are almost at my doorstep; yet seem able to transport me back to a time before fusion restaurants and molecular gastronomy! And you know what, I’m liking that trip!
I usually only pick a recipe or two from a cook book but I had to add a third. I mean how can I say no to 'I Love Bacon Muffins"?

These look to be perfect all-day muffins, and something that might round out a meal with some Cider Beans!

makes 1 dozen

Imagine these muffins served with scrambled eggs or an omelet for breakfast. They would also be good served with a luncheon salad or Wild Greens Salad. This down-home muffin is a real treat served with Sweet Onion Butter (recipe follows), and you just may have to make more of both.

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, well beaten
6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and crumbled

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan and place it in the oven to heat.
In A LARGE BOWL, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the bacon drippings, milk, and eggs and stir to blend. Fold the crumbled bacon into the batter and mix until blended. Spoon the batter into the hot muffin pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

Sweet Onion Butter
makes 3/4 cup
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup finely grated sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

In A MEDIUM BOWL, combine the butter, onion, and garlic powder and blend well. Pack the mixture into a butter mold or place it in a serving container and chill it in the refrigerator before using.
Note: The butter will keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator. It can also be heated and served as a sauce over steak, hamburgers, or vegetables.
—From Cider Beans, Wild Greens, and Dandelion Jelly by Joan E. Aller/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Cider beans are not wine's best friends, but they sound so delicious! I would opt for a nice Riesling or Chenin Blanc here, something with enough sweeness to stand up to the sweet/sourness of this dish. Thrown in a couple of I Love Bacon muffins and I'm ready to eat!

serves 8

The first time that I tasted cider beans was at the local gas station. Here, in the mountains, folks gather at the local gas station to visit, have a meal, and catch up on the local news. Far from serving “fast food,” these little places present “home cookin’” and it’s delicious. This good ol’ mountain recipe is very satisfying paired with cornbread or muffins.

3 cups dried pinto beans
3 cups fresh apple cider
8 ounces salt pork, thinly sliced
2 small yellow onions
6 tablespoons sorghum molasses
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt

Pick over the beans and discard any stones and wrinkled beans. Rinse well and place in a large bowl. Add cold water to cover by 3 inches, cover, and let soak for 12 hours.

Drain the beans and transfer them to a heavy saucepan. Add the cider and bring the beans slowly to a boil over medium heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Layer half of the salt pork slices on the bottom of a 2-quart ceramic bean pot or other deep baking dish. Spoon the beans into the bean pot, and then bury the onions in the beans.

In a small saucepan, combine the sorghum molasses, dry mustard, and salt and place over medium heat to dissolve the mustard and salt. Pour the hot mixture evenly over the beans, and top with the remaining salt pork slices. Pour in the reserved cooking liquid and add hot water as needed to cover the beans. Cover the bean pot.

Bake for 4 hours, and then uncover the pot and add more water if the beans seem too dry. Re-cover and continue to bake for 1 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Serve hot directly from the pot.

—From Cider Beans, Wild Greens, and Dandelion Jelly: Recipes from Southern Appalachia by Joan E. Aller/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Many of the recipes of Southern Appalachia are downright wine friendly though. This version of stuffed mushrooms looks like a real winner, perfect for a rich, nutty white or  fruity red. I'd opt for a nice Sangiovese, maybe a 2007 Chianti Classico which is plump with fruit.

Mushrooms Stuffed with Rice and Greens
serves 4

The Iron Mountain Inn Bed and Breakfast and cabins is located just above Watauga Lake in the Cherokee National Forest. Set high atop a mountain with a section of the Appalachian Trail along the ridge behind the Inn, they welcome guests from around the world to share the peace and quiet and the glorious views. The Cherokee National Forest is home to about 1,500 black bears, but you probably won’t see them. And in the spring that thunderlike roar you hear is the wild mountain turkey finding his mate. If you like to fish, this is the place for you. There are 154 species of fish in the forest. This recipe is from the inn. I can see this as a hot appetizer, two on a plate for luncheon, or as a side to dinner. Try to use mushrooms that are 4½ to 5 inches in diameter. To prevent the mushrooms from becoming waterlogged, remove any sand or dirt with a brush and wipe with damp paper towels instead of rinsing with water.

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
4 cups sliced escarole or Swiss chard
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions
½ cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
½ cup prepared hummus, preferably basil flavored
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the escarole and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the rice and peppers.

Place the mushrooms, gill side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread with the hummus and spoon the rice mixture over the top, spreading it to the edges. Arrange the tomato slices on top and sprinkle with the walnuts and Parmesan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: Although nearly half the calories of hummus come from fat, virtually none of it is saturated. Add olive oil and walnuts and you have a delectable dose of monounsaturated fats to keep you hunger-free for hours.

—From Cider Beans, Wild Greens, and Dandelion Jelly by Joan E. Aller/Andrews McMeel Publishing