To be sure, food is the centerpiece of Susi Gott Séguret‘s luxurious new book, Appalachian Appetite: Recipes from the Heart of America. The pages, awash with rich images of Madison County vistas, pop with over 100 recipes that let fresh Appalachian-grown ingredients shine.
Séguret herself, raised in a log cabin on Tater Gap Road in the mountainous marrow of Madison County and educated at the Cordon Bleu in France, contributes recipes for everything from nettle soup to baked eggs in cream. And chefs as diverse as Madison County musician Ralph Lewis and farm-to-table pioneer Mark Rosenstein offer their own versions of Appalachian dishes, from the comfortingly simple to the thrillingly complex.
But Séguret’s book embraces more than just flavors of a culinary nature. It dips deep into other defining facets of Appalachian life — music, family and community. “It’s really a love letter to Appalachia and to the best that Appalachia has to offer,” says Séguret. She adds that the book’s numerous photos, stories, quotes and songs make it, she hopes, something that can “feed you on more than one level.”
Séguret kicks the book off with the story of how her parents, Peter and Polly Gott, ventured as newlyweds into Madison County in their little Volkswagen Bug in 1961. They arrived with Peter’s banjo, a couple of sleeping bags and a vision of crafting a simple life in the wilderness. There were no paved roads there in those days, Séguret notes in her introduction, and the Gotts were the first outsiders to venture into those mountains since the start of the 1900s.
Séguret was born a year after their arrival and lived a life steeped in the local lore and traditions of her secluded Shelton Laurel community. This included her dad’s love of traditional Appalachian music and song, an affinity that she picked up and turned into a lifelong career as a musician.
The theme of music is thoroughly woven into the book. Photos of the author playing her fiddle and her father on his banjo are sprinkled throughout, and each chapter opens with the lyrics of a traditional Appalachian song.
Most of the gorgeous photos in the book were taken by Séguret herself, with a few provided by Marshall resident Steve Tweed. “It seems he has the same eye that I do to get photos of places in Madison County that could be disappearing but maybe, with a little luck and recognition, will be preserved,” says Séguret.
As for the recipes, the selection is generous and sundry. There is the oat-crusted trout with red sauce vinaigrette and Carolina slaw contributed by Michelin-starred Irish and Scottish chefs Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn. The pair prepared the dish for Séguret at her cabin with fish caught fresh from the Shelton Laurel River when they were visiting Madison County during a trip across the United States following the trail of the first Ulster-Scot settlers in North America.
And there are plenty of contributions from local luminaries — tea-smoked quail breast from Rhubarb’s John Fleer, chow chow from Joe Scully of Chestnut and Corner Kitchen and blueberry semifreddo from William Dissen of The Market Place, to name just a few.
Of Séguret’s recipes, her favorite, she says, is possum paté — one she admits is a bit “off the wall and unexpected.” But it comes with a great story.
“I had a couple of possums that were inhabiting my chicken house last winter, and so I had to do something about it,” she begins. After a few misadventures (“A possum has nine lives,” she states in the book) that eventually ended in bloodshed, the first possum proved to be a puzzling potential ingredient.
“There aren’t a whole lot of possum recipes out there, so I just decided to give it a French treatment and saute some shallots and coat it with Dijon mustard and a bunch of thyme and slow-cook it in white wine. It turned out to be delectable,” she says.
With the second possum, she allowed a longer cooking time, which let the meat fall off the bones. “And then you have a really nice rillette, which I call possum paté, because it has a nice ring,” she says. For chefs with limited access to possums or an aversion to eating our native marsupial, she notes, rabbit, or even chicken, can be substituted.
Appalachian Appetite joins myriad other cookbooks launched this year by notable Asheville chefs and authors, including Ronni Lundy‘s Victuals, which also explores and aims to help preserve the cuisine of Appalachia. “I’m really hoping that the wave of interest in Appalachia will continue to grow and peak,” says Séguret. “It’s a relatively recent thing that Appalachia has been getting the recognition it deserves after years of paying its dues, so to speak, to use a musician’s term. I’m delighted to see this happening now with the emergence of so many wonderful cookbooks. … It’s the year for local authors, and that’s exciting.”
Appalachian Appetite will be released Tuesday, Nov. 29, and will be available for $20 at most local bookstores.