New Film Series with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress Explores Food Traditions in West Virginia

Vivian Jarrell’s canned goods, produced from her Raleigh County, West Virginia garden, including tomato juice, pickles, grape juice, and beans. Part of the AFC’s Coal River Folklife Project Collection (1999/008). Photo by Terry Eiler, 1997. Find archival file here.

In partnership with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, West Virginia Folklife is excited to launch the new Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia film series, presenting four short films that explore a range of food traditions in the state. The series will be produced by West Virginia farmers, chefs, and foodways storytellers Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm in Harrison County.

The first film in the series will premiere on the AFC’s Facebook page on Wednesday, August 18, followed by premieres on Wednesday, September 1 and Wednesday, September 15 (double feature). There will also be a culminating discussion panel on Thursday, September 30, featuring AFC staff, West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard, filmmakers Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, and foodways practitioners featured in the films. After the series premiere, the films will be accessible for viewing on the Library of Congress’ YouTube channel.

For the AFC blog, Hilliard contextualized the series within a brief history of foodways in the Mountain State and existing content documenting West Virginia food traditions in the AFC’s archival collections.

African American Man and Woman Butchering Hogs, Morgantown, West Virginia. Photo by Scott Gibson, ca. 1910. Courtesy of West Virginia History on View, West Virginia University.

Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia films:

Wednesday, August 18 @ noon: Foraging and Relations with Jonathan Hall

Filmmakers Costello and Dawson will be joined by fellow hunter and forager Jonathan Hall as they sustainably harvest and preserve ramps. Jonathan reflects on the experience of being a Black outdoorsman hunting and foraging in virtually all-white spaces in rural West Virginia, discussing how racism has created unique barriers to entry to the practice of outdoor foodways traditions in Appalachia. As a teacher to his friends, to his children, and professionally, as a geography professor at West Virginia University, Jonathan uses wild food to educate about the conservation of the resources that sustain us, informed by the ethos of “relations” that has guided Indigenous communities for thousands of years before white settlers arrived in Appalachia. 

Wednesday, September 1 @ noon: Kimchi Fermentation with Marlyn McClendon

Marlyn McClendon remembers the pungent smell of kimchi wafting from her lunchbox in the middle school cafeteria, but what she especially recalls are the sneers and snickers that followed. Growing up in Huntington, West Virginia, she was often teased by classmates over her Korean-American identity. Over the years she developed a deeper appreciation for her Korean heritage––as well as a closer relationship with her Korean-born mother––largely through food. Now living in the remote community of Lobelia, in Pocahontas County, Marlyn explores both her Korean and Appalachian heritage at the dinner table, often preparing traditional Korean foods with ingredients grown or foraged nearby. In this video, Marlyn and her mother, Yong, prepare traditional kimchi and a variety of other Korean dishes for a meal shared with friends and neighbors. 

Wednesday, September 15 @ noon: Ravioli and Sauce with Lou Maiuri

Lou Maiuri, 92, is the son of Italian immigrants who arrived in West Virginia in the early 1900s. “Italians are big on food,” Lou says from his basement cellar, where the shelves are lined with preserved peppers, canned beans, and a family-recipe pasta sauce he’s been making for 70 years. Mike and Amy often find themselves exploring Italian-American foodways in West Virginia in places like Clarksburg’s historic Glen Elk District with its bakeries and delicatessens, at traditional spaghetti houses, and with seasoned cooks like Maiuri, who shares his recipe for homemade pasta sauce and ravioli in this video.

Wednesday, September 15 @ noon: Turkish Cuisine with Mehmet Öztan

In the small mountain community of Reedsville, in northern West Virginia, sits a farm where hundreds of varieties of heirloom seeds are preserved, but relatively few of these varieties are known as Appalachian heirlooms; they’re mostly Turkish seeds from Mehmet Öztan’s home country. Mehmet, who is the owner of Two Seeds in a Pod Heirloom Seed Company, and is a teaching artist in the 2020-2021 West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, got into saving seeds after he moved to the U.S. and had a difficult time accessing ingredients he knew growing up in the Turkish capital of Ankara. He has used seeds and communal meals prepared in the traditional brick oven he and his partner Amy Thompson built in their backyard to establish new connections with the rural community where he now lives. In this video, Mehmet prepares a hearty bean stew and lavash, a traditional rustic bread, in his backyard oven.

For more information visit the American Folklife Center blog.