Annual cook-off helps preserve Appalachian heritage

Red Dog Monroe participates in the cast iron cook off.

Rob Engle

Red Dog Monroe participates in the cast iron cook off.

Chefs from around the region kindled their fires and greased their pans to compete in the 5th Annual Cast Iron Cook-Off at Heritage Farm today.

Five teams competed to create traditional Appalachian dishes using only local ingredients and cast iron utensils over a fire.

The contest was judged Huntington mayor, Steve Williams, President of Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, Tyson Compton and Executive Director of United Way of the River Cities, Laura Gilliam. The public could also enjoy the cuisine and vote for their favorite competitor.

The competition is part of Heritage Farm’s Way Back Weekend series, which showcases a different aspect of Appalachian culture on the first Saturday of each month from May through December.

Audy Perry, executive director of Heritage Farm and son of the late Mike Perry, former interim president of Marshall and founder of Heritage Farm, said their mission is to preserve the passion of the Appalachian way of life.

“The Appalachian people are a creative, ingenious, hard-working people who deserve to be celebrated.””

— Audy Perry

“The Appalachian people are a creative, ingenious, hard-working people who deserve to be celebrated,” Perry said. “Food is one way people passed on love and passion and we’re trying to remember that here.”

One contestant who knows this tradition better than anyone is Red Dog Monroe, the cook-off’s defending champion. Red Dog, who teaches cast iron cooking classes, began cooking at the Milton Pumpkin Festival more than 30 years ago.

“I’m one of the last of the first Mountain Men who were down at the Pumpkin Festival when it started,” Monroe said. “When I started, I was the young guy asking, ‘How do you do this? And how do you do that?’ Now that I’m one of the last and I’m the one teaching everyone else how to do it.”

Monroe’s menu for the day consisted of traditional cuisine made of locally sourced ingredients, including wild boar, beans with buffalo meat, ramps with potatoes and bacon, cornbread and cobbler.

“A lot of this tradition is getting lost. When people want to cook with cast iron, it’s hard for them to know how their grandparents did it,” Monroe said. “I was lucky that my great uncle taught me how to cook, so I can pass that tradition onto other people in my family.”

Becky Crouch, Education Director at Heritage Farm, said she hopes these events remind people of the resourcefulness of their Appalachian ancestors.

“We are here today because someone else was creative with what they had,” Crouch said. “When the early settlers came over the mountains they were forced to be innovative with how they cooked. Our goal is to help people appreciate the past, experience the present and dream of the future.”

Other events for the day included family cooking demonstrations, square dancing lessons and a dulcimer club performance.

Rob can be contacted at [email protected]