Longtime Louisville resident and food writer Ronni Lundy returns to her old stomping ground this week for two events to promote her new book, “Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes.”
The pages are beautiful, filled with Lundy’s prose that is simple yet distinctive like the Appalachian food and stories it surveys. It’s also filled with photos of food and places that are almost haunting in their beauty, whether it’s a plate of beans or a lone farmer tending his fields at the foot of a mountain.
Lundy isn’t a household name, but she’s known among food writers. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, celebrity chef Edward Lee will host her at 610 Magnolia, where he’ll cook appetizers from the book. Attendees also will receive a copy of “Victuals,” and she’ll be on hand to sign.
Then on Sunday, Sept. 18, Lundy will tell stories and sign books at Carmichael’s Bookstore on Frankfort Avenue. Toni Tipton-Martin, author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks, will read as well.
Insider caught up with Lundy by phone to talk about her new book, her time in Louisville and the importance of “foodways.”
Lundy started her writing career by talking about music and working as a “hippy waitress” in the Southwest. She did some kitchen work, too, and became familiar with the restaurant industry.
On the side, she covered what at the time was called “New Grass.” Back then, the genre was often ignored by more traditional music writers and bluegrass fans. Now it would fit easily alongside big acts like The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, and likely inspired them.
She moved to Louisville in 1980, and after the birth of her first child, realized waitressing and working in the food industry wasn’t going to work anymore.
“I wanted (my) work to have some level of meaning. I also realized it would be physically exhausting to work as a waitress. I had a handful of clips, largely about music, and I wrote this proposal to Scene magazine,” said Lundy, recalling the now defunct Scene, which began its life in The Louisville Times before becoming a section of The Courier-Journal.
Lundy pitched a “best burrito” in Louisville story.
“That was well before the proliferation of Mexican restaurants,” she said. “There were maybe a half-dozen restaurants that were doing any kind of Mexican food.”
The editor liked the idea, and Lundy went on to write for the publication for the next decade, in addition to penning articles for the C-J and Louisville Magazine, as well as national publications like Esquire.
Eventually, she combined her passion for music and food into a single book.
“Those became the two things I wrote about, which evolved into an agent calling me up and saying, ‘Would you like to write a book about country food and country music?’; and that turned out to be ‘Shuck Beans,’” said Lundy.
While books with recipes and stories are all the rage now, Lundy was ahead of that trend. “Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken: The Heart and Soul of Southern Country Kitchens” was published in 1994, long before our food culture had entered the blogosphere, and even before Food Network and food-based reality TV.
With her first book, she already was writing about what the fooderati now describe as “foodways.”
“You can talk about what’s on the plate, you can talk about what’s in the kitchen, but when you broaden that to foodways, you’re talking about a whole bunch of related traditions,” said Lundy, as she defined the concept of foodways for Insider. “Foodways is a larger perspective on things that have to do with how we ate, why we ate and when we ate. And how all those things inform us about the culture itself.”
Her newest book, “Victuals” (pronounced vittles) is an exploration specifically of Appalachian foodways.
“What was grown in the region, how food was prepared before it got to the kitchen, the curing of meat, the curing of sausages … the fermenting of vegetables and the drying of vegetables and fruits, that is distinctly Appalachian,” said Lundy, adding that there also are material aspects like cast iron skillets.
Lundy first wrote the pitch for the book that would become “Victuals” back in 2009. It was a tough pitch. “Victuals” includes recipes and stories from all over Appalachia and required extensive traveling to complete.
“There was a point where I believed the book was dead in the water,” she said. Some editors were interested in the pitch, but for different reasons that didn’t fit the project. “(There were) editors who got it but couldn’t give me the money to do it, and a publisher who had some money but didn’t get it, wanted me to drop the word ‘Appalachian’ from the subtitle because of connotations of poverty.”
Thankfully, Lundy found publisher Clarkson Potter.
“It was like a fairy story: I waited six years for somebody to even vaguely get this book, and suddenly everybody that is on the project is the most amazing person in the world,” said Lundy. That includes her photographer, Johnny Autry. “It was like I didn’t have a left arm, and suddenly I had one grafted on. It was not just a working relationship, it was a soul relationship,” she said describing the Asheville, N.C.-based photographer.
Lundy said she’s looking forward to stopping by 610 Magnolia on Wednesday and catching up with Chef Lee, who visited her in the mountains. She laughed when she described their travels together. “Ed rode with me in Appalachia. I think he’s got some terrifying stories … riding with me can be terribly scary.”
The signing is ticketed and costs $45, a steal when you figure it includes a copy of the book and appetizers from the recipes prepared by Lee. It starts at 6 p.m.
Then on Sunday, Lundy will be at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave., at 3 p.m. That event is free.