How a Book Changed My Assumptions about Appalachia

Real Estate Agent with A Buyer's Best Choice Realty

For those of you new to east Tennessee and asking yourself, “Where have I landed?” You are not alone—I felt the same way when I arrived three years ago. 

I felt like a foreigner. Despite the stunning mountains and friendly people, I saw what I expected to see. My mental concept of Appalachia was a decades long accumulation of negative cultural stereotypes from TV, movies and the wide-spread cultural bias of careless-thinking people who accepted the image of “poor, no class, ignorant hillbilly” as a fair representation of Appalachian reality.

As they sing in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so!” (Although there are some stereotypical “hillbillies” here, you can find those folks just about anywhere in this country.)

The single, most powerful influence in my re-education, the one that clarified my thinking and wiped away my negative bias about Appalachia, was a book I picked up at the library written by a local author known for his appreciation for and loving portrayals of the foodways of the mountain south. 

Foodways? I never heard of foodways either until I became acquainted with Fred’s work. Here is the best definition I have found. Foodways are the combination of social, familial, cultural and historic contextual influences in the production and/or appreciation of food in the lives of a given sub-culture.

The author’s name is Fred W. Sauceman and the book is: The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level, First Course. Available here

Despite his many multi-media accomplishments and somewhat ponderous professional titles (Senior Writer, Executive Assistant to the President for University Relations, Associate Professor of Appalachian Studies, and Chair, ETSU Centennial Steering Committee for East Tennessee State University), Fred is an unassuming, warm and friendly local native son (from Greeneville) who is at heart a passionate and thoroughgoing foodie. 

Fred's writing is easy to like. It's simple without being simplistic, clean and easy to understand. In short it’s a pleasure to read.

The Midwest Book Review said, “The Place Setting presents an entertaining and invaluable compilation of area restaurants, unique cooking ideas, and intriguing stories…” 

It’s more than that. A lot more. Though light-hearted in tone, this collection of short vignettes about people, places, history and traditions of the region provides a low-key, almost casual, yet dignified and respectful bridge to Appalachian culture that transcends the hillbilly stereotype. 

It helped me to recognize the rich cultural value and dignity inherent to the hard-working families and individuals with roots of inter-generational reliance growing deep into the rocky soil so prevalent around here. Surviving through hard times meant families had to find imaginative ways to make do with the most basic resources.

Fred writes engagingly about celebrations, recipes and quirky personalities but underlying it all is a foundation of gritty determination and self-reliance.

What did I discover in these stories? One word. Respect. 

I encourage you to check out “The Place Setting…”. The stories are fun to read and at the end you’ll have a whole new perspective on your new community.


By the way, if one volume isn’t enough—and it wasn’t for me—there are two sequels: “The Place Setting…Second Serving” and “…Thirds”. 



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Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

I will have to check  "The Place Setting".

Enjoy the days of summer with your camera in hand. 

Aug 25, 2012 06:47 AM
George Black
A Buyer's Best Choice Realty - Johnson City, TN
Exclusive Buyer Agent - Johnson City TN

Thanks Roy.

Aug 25, 2012 06:50 AM