"Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills and other folkloric documentation can serve as a mirror to show us the culture we have, but also what we’ve lost and gained along the way, for better or for worse. Throughout the collection, Gainer provides evidence of how folk songs are distilled democratic cultural nuggets of a community, conveying the values of its people. He declares, 'They are called folk songs because they belong to the people and not any one individual.' Folklorist Lynne McNeill says this another way: 'Group consensus shapes folklore, so folklore is a great measure of group consensus.' I, for one, am proud to live and work in a place where the group consensus is for singing."
Read on via West Virginia University Press
"It’s not that Helvetia is inauthentic or fake—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. And to say that the presence of a Swiss community in the remote mountains of West Virginia is unlikely would deny the history and impact of the waves of immigration and relocation to central Appalachia by diverse cultural groups (there were several Swiss settlements scattered across the region in the late nineteenth century). But what makes Helvetia unusual resides not only in the cultural, historical, and social preservation of the nearly 150-year-old village but in something less tangible. There is an enchantment about the place that exudes from the hand-painted signs of coats of arms, Swiss phrases, historical markers, and the public buildings and homes adorned in Alpine gingerbread and bright floral patterns. It’s a magic that exists in the intimacy of a community whose families have been neighbors, friends, and colleagues for generations."
Read more via HUMANITIES Magazine
Welcome to Helvetia, population 59. In a high mountain valley “an hour from anywhere,” the little town sustains the traditions of the Swiss immigrants who settled there in 1869. West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard spent 2016 documenting Helvetia’s seasonal celebrations to understand how this isolated community draws strength from its land, its history, and its people.
Read on via Bitter Southerner
We arrived at the small country store at dusk, giddy for our first hot dog. The hand-painted sign outside Buddy B’s in Sissonville, West Virginia, advertised fresh produce, pinto beans and cornbread, and “Best In Town Hot Dogs.” Inside, bulk seeds, bags of peanuts, and jars of penny candy lined the red gingham–papered walls, and a cash register and food counter stood on either side of the door. We gawked like tourists at the hot dog clock and hand-painted hot dog sign, outlined by the triple-underlined text, try our hot dogs they are go-o-o-o-d. As the cashier-cook prepared our dogs, we surreptitiously took pictures.
Read on in Gravy
The last Friday in April, I drove along the Buckhannon River through the village of Helvetia, West Virginia to the coat of arms-adorned community hall in the center of town. Though I’ve been visiting the Swiss-German community for five years now— first as a tourist, then as a journalist, and now as a folklorist— this was my first time here in the spring. Having previously contended with whiteout blizzards just to make it to the 59-resident town perched in a high mountain valley, I was struck by how lush and alive everything seemed. Spring ephemerals dotted the roadsides, locals were out walking and doing yard work, and the distinctively pungent smell of ramps wafted out from the kitchen of the hall.
Read on via the Southern Foodways Alliance blog
Travis Milton greets me at the door of his Richmond, Virginia, house, bearded and burly in a plaid shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, and a “Virginia is for lovers” ball cap. Peeking out from his rolled-up shirt sleeve is a tattoo of his great-grandfather’s farm logo surrounded by vegetables. He offers me whiskey before I’m through the door, and I spy his collection of Star Wars and Ghostbusters action figures in the next room. As we cross the hall, he reverently points out his grandmother’s last written recipe hanging in a small wooden frame among family photos and album covers—Rick James, Hank Williams, and Thin Lizzy.
In the living room, he’s piled at least a dozen notebooks of varying sizes on the coffee table, their open pages revealing scrawled handwriting and sketches of kitchen layouts. I’ve heard about these notebooks before. When I first met Travis at Comfort, where he was executive chef, he told me that he keeps 19 journals in various locations—restaurant kitchen, home kitchen, glove compartment, and nightstand. When ideas strike, he records them before they flit away.
Read on in Gravy