On an unseasonably mild winter weekend, in this the early part of December, the bare, damp hills of Hindman, Kentucky came to life with Hindman Settlement School’s Appalachian food and dance weekend, Dumplins’ and Dancin’. The May Stone Building on the Settlement’s main campus, where all the events took place, was decorated for the holidays adding a feeling of warmth and of home. Some came here to cook, some came here to dance, and some just came to mix and mingle.
Next: the groundswell of stories; the joining of hands to circle up left; recipes swapped and improvised upon; the offerings of local beef and chickens, raised right here by our own staff; local fresh greens and produce provided by Old Homeplace Farm and Four Petals Farm; medicinal herbs and tinctures made by Buckhorn Children and Family Service’s Recreation Director John Craft and crew; the dances that came from here and yon (or came from here and went yon and came back); the potluck presented with the help of Appalachian Food Summit; musings from two-time James Beard Award winning author, Ronni Lundy; the traditional mountain music and dance offered by Sunrise Ridge.
From the Ernest Gaines-awarded novelist Crystal Wilkinson, we learned her grandmother’s dumplings. (Crystal hung one of her granny’s hand-made dresses in the room and kept a picture of her out at the prep station. She was with us.) I have no doubt that this ancestral call, this generational passing down of knowing and love, was the secret ingredient to these now famously tasty dumplings.
We learned about how to make kimchi and kombucha from AuCo Lai, a professional cook who lives down the road in Letcher County. Bennie Massey shared stories from his life in Harlan County, his 30 years as a UMW miner, his present-day gospel group and his Smithsonian-honored all-purpose bbq sauce. We learned old-fashioned candy making with Washington Post-celebrated chef of Appalachia, Travis Milton. We learned West Virginia heritage sausage from Mike and Amy Costello of Lost Creek Farms. And the feast! A collaboration between Kristin Smith from Wrigley Taproom in Corbin, KY and multi-James Beard Award Nominee Ouita Michel from Woodford County (and the whole host of folks they had cooking with them). Old Homeplace Farm La Caja China Beef Bourguignon; Christine Wilkinson’s Dumplin’s with Forks of Troublesome Foods Chicken; Old Homeplace Farm Butternut Squash Chutney; Old Homeplace Farm Korean-style Charred Green Meat Radishes and Turnips; Forks of Troublesome Foods Shucky Bean Succotash; Old Homeplace Farm Mustard Greens and Collards with Bacon Jam and Pickled Onions; Four Petals Lettuce with Sorghum Vinaigrette, Toasted Kentucky Pecans, Gleaned Fennel, and Capriole Goat Cheese; Cornbread and Biscuits with Sorghum and Honey; Hindman Settlement School’s Apple Stack Cake Cobbler; and Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Butter Sauce was all on the menu!
All of this was made possible by our generous community of neighbors and donors, sponsors and friends. This year we enjoyed extra financial support from the Country Dance and Song Society, who provided scholarship funds for local youth to attend Dumplin’s and Dancin,’ allowing them to become immersed in traditional mountain dance calling. The dance workshops included The Kentucky Big Set with Randy Wilson, Dance Calling for Success with Deborah Thompson, Appalachian Clogging with Carla Gover, and a workshop on African drumming and rhythms with Joan Brannon.
Dumplins’ and Dancin’ 2017 was an experience truly worth remembering, a coming together of friends old and new, who together welcomed ancestral knowledge and cultural passions into our shared space at Hindman Settlement School. This combination of the past and the present was on display at any given time throughout the weekend, and at no time more than our keynote presentation delivered and performed by Carla Gover, Yani Vozos, and Paulina Vasquez, who represent a larger performing group called Cornbread and Tortillas.
Cornbread and Tortillas is a project that explores thriving parallels between Appalachian and Latinx cultures. By performing theatrical monologues, conversations between traditional mountain and Latinx dance and song, Cornbread and Tortillas encourages the exploration of ourselves, the richness of our shared cultures, expanding our limitations of how we understand our own place and communities. How many times is this wild and exciting story taken for granted, misunderstood, or ignored by both those who live here and those who don’t (and assume they know this place)? These questions, like fires of inspiration, went out over the crowd on Saturday night, bringing us closer before we had to leave the Settlement the next morning.
Through cultural summits like Dumplins’ and Dancin’, Hindman Settlement School, with your support, continues to tell a more authentic story of Appalachian people.