Ronni Lundy, author of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes
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8 cups torn crisp salad greens (in bite-sized pieces)
2 whole green onions, finely chopped
4 bacon slices
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse and thoroughly dry the greens, and then toss them with the green onions in a large bowl. Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until very crisp, and remove from the skillet to drain. Remove the skillet from the heat. Immediately pour the vinegar over the lettuce and toss, then pour the warm bacon grease over that, tossing again. Add salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the bacon over the greens and serve immediately.
The defining part of this dish is that the greens—and the chopped green onions that are mixed with them— are not cooked, but are tossed with vinegar and hot bacon grease to wilt them. In that general rubric, variations exist. My mother tossed the raw lettuce and onions in vinegar and then poured on the bacon grease. Sheri Castle’s grandmother cooked the vinegar and grease together with a bit of sugar. A friend of my family made hers by tempering a beaten egg with the hot grease and vinegar and then cooking it to make a thick dressing. My mother once killed a bowl of vinegared lettuce by pouring on ladlefuls of hot, pork-seasoned pinto beans. A number of restaurant chefs serving killed lettuce these days like to top the dish with a soft-cooked egg so the runny yolk can become a part of the dressing.
Here are proportions and directions from my family’s kitchen to get you started. Serve this with cornbread to sop up the dressing.
Morels & Ramps with Eggs on Toast serves 4
The abundance of morels and other mushrooms in the spring was another way the woods provided for early mountain dwellers.
Not long after chef Ian Boden had moved to Staunton, Virginia, from New York City, he got a phone call from a young woman he’d recently met. “I called him and said that my grandpa had some mushrooms, did he want to buy them?” his wife, Leslie, recalls. Ian laughs. “She pulled up with a McDonald’s bag filled with the most beautiful mushrooms I’d seen. I was paying a fortune in New York for morels not like the likes of these.”
“And I said, Granddaddy will take five dollars for them to play the scratch Lotto,” Leslie finishes, grinning.
Ian created this simple dish, in keeping with the traditions of gathering mushrooms and ramps in the spring. It is also delicious made with chanterelles, which grow wild in parts of the Appalachians.
To clean wild morels, mix warm water and a handful of salt in a large container until the salt dissolves. Submerge the morels in the salt water for 15 minutes. If there are any bugs in the morels, this will force them out. Remove the morels from the water and pat them dry with a clean towel.
1 pound morel mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed
6 tablespoons butter
20 ramps, trimmed, greens and bulbs separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
4 large, thick slices rustic bread
4 large eggs
Cut any overly large mushrooms so that all are roughly the same size.
Place 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the ramp bulbs and cook until they start to soften, about 1½ minutes. Then add the cleaned morels, another 1 tablespoon of the butter, and a healthy pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the morels to cook for 3 minutes or until just tender, stirring occasionally.
Add the heavy cream and gently simmer until the cream has reduced by about half, about 15 minutes. Add the green ramp tops and 2 tablespoons of the butter to the morel mixture. Let simmer about 3 more minutes, stirring to make a pan sauce. Season with salt and a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
While the ramp tops are simmering, toast the bread.
While the bread is toasting, in a skillet that is large enough to accommodate 4 eggs, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet, and cover. Let cook for 4 minutes for just-set sunny-side-up eggs, or cook to your preference. Remove the lid and season with salt and pepper.
To serve, butter the toast with the remaining butter.
Place one slice of toast on each of four plates. Top the toast with the creamed morels and ramps, and lastly one fried egg. Add another turn of black pepper.