“A Coal Cracker in The Kitchen”
I was born and raised in Schuylkill County (Pa.) in the Anthracite Coal region.
I have been cooking and baking Coal Region comfort foods since 1965!
THE CONDENSED VERSION
So, you have questions. Who is this woman who calls herself “a coalcracker”? Okay, she is in the kitchen, but can she really cook? What does she know about the Anthracite Coal Region and its foods? Come on in, hang out here for awhile and I’ll answer your questions and give you a glimpse into this “Coalcracker In The Kitchen”.
If you are looking for authentic Coal Region recipes celebrating the blended heritages of Eastern European and Pennsylvania Dutch in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. some sweet memories, and anecdotes that will tug at your heart-strings about comfort food and life in the Anthracite Coal Region, you have knocked on the right kitchen door!
I’m Lori Fogg. I was born and raised in Schuylkill County and was surrounded by some truly great cooks throughout my life. I have decades of cooking and baking experience in creating Coal Region favorites, having started helping my Mom and Nana in the kitchen at five years of age.
The recipes here are for many of the foods loved by us “coalcrackers“. If you misplaced your family recipe, or perhaps your Grandma never wrote hers down, you will likely find something familiar here. My wish for you is to not only find information and recipes for the foods you know and love, but to have them conjure up memories of the good times and the special people in your life.
These recipes are a collection of beloved Coal Region comfort foods passed down through generations so they have been well-tested. How many times have you looked at a recipe in a cookbook and wondered “if it will work”? The great majority use ingredients you are familiar with, most likely already have in your pantry, or are easily obtained at the supermarket.
Pull up a chair and join me at the old chrome and vinyl kitchen table and chairs for some laughs, maybe a few tears, and a whole lot of good food.
WANT TO KNOW MORE DETAILS?
Why I started this blog, who I am, what I do when I’m not in the kitchen!
How This Blog Got Started
I started this blog due to a relentless yearning for a connection to “home” – The Anthracite Coal Region of northeast Pennsylvania, and in particular Schuylkill County.
At the time, I was living in New England (having gotten married in 1997 then relocated shortly thereafter when my husband accepted a job offer in New Hampshire). I was struggling to come to terms with both the loss of my best friend/second Mom/big sister of 30 years, Peg, in early 2013 (who resided in Schuylkill County), and the unexpected loss of my left-leg due to an infection which resulted in a below-the-knee amputation in February 2015.
Always feeling like a fish out of water in “the great north woods”, I had previously satisfied my longing to see friends back home and visit the beloved places so familiar and comforting to me by packing up my 2005 windveil blue Mustang, along with my best buddy, Tyler the Pomeranian, and driving to “the Skook” periodically. (Sadly, I lost my beloved fur-buddy to kidney disease one month after Peg passed away in 2013. I sold my Mustang when my mobility issues dictated I needed another means of transportation — which translates into mini van with a lift).
After Peg’s passing, the trips “home” came to a halt and within a very short time after that, going back to Schuylkill County dropped completely off my “to-do” list due to the challenges my physical condition presented to travelling solo.
As time passed and my disconnect with old friends and Schuylkill County grew, the yearning to embrace my roots became stronger with each passing day. For years I had wanted to move back to Pennsylvania but circumstances wouldn’t allow it. I could not visit home, I could not move home, but I could enjoy the TASTE of home!
Out came my collection of several hundred community and ethnic cookbooks and my dinged up metal recipe box with cards so splotched with drips and grease spots they were in danger of becoming un-decipherable. As I paged through those books and cards, familiar words leapt out at me; “Chicken Pot Pie!”, “City Chicken!”, “Halupki!”, “Pierogi!”, “Ham and String Beans!” Oh, how those names of beloved dishes brought back fond memories of home…lines for bleenies, pierogi, and Yuengling (beer) that stretched around the block at the church picnics and fire company (“hosey”) block parties of my youth.
But none conjured up my connection to my Schuylkill County home and evoked such strong memories as the cards written in my late Mom’s handwriting. As I held each one and read it, in that instant in my mind’s eye, she was right there beside me – she in her cotton apron and me, nine- or ten-years-old, standing on an over-turned wooden crate, peeking around her carefully observing how she cut, and stirred, and rolled. “Mom, Mom, let me do it!”
And let me do it, she did. Alongside my Mom and her Mom, my Nana, I learned to knead dough for homemade bread, chop and cook vegetables for mustard chow-chow, peel and can baskets of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and pints of homemade chili sauce. I grated and squeezed dry potatoes for bleenies (potato pancakes), rolled, stuffed, and pinched closed tender pierogi, cored and cooked cabbage for halupki, and learned that scrapple cut thin and fried to a crisp, golden brown was nothing to fear.
I had seen requests for recipes from The Coal region on Facebook pages and realized others shared my love of these foods and that there might be a lot of ex-pats who could no longer get their childhood favorites easily or those who would make them in their own kitchen if they could, but either lost the written recipe or never had it. “My Gram never wrote it down – she made it by memory!”
In an effort to nurture the connection to home I so desperately needed and to reach out to fellow “coalcrackers” to share some favorite foods, I set up a section for recipes on an existing site I had been running, “Tribute To The Anthracite Miners” – a site dedicated to my Dad and Grandfathers along with all the other Anthracite miners and their families in The Coal Region. I started to receive email requests for Coal Region recipes and decided to dedicate a site just to the comfort foods of the area — “A Coalcracker in The Kitchen” was born!
The recipes section is no longer part of the “Tribute To The Anthracite Miners” page, but a handy link is provided on that site to this one. “Tribute To The Anthracite Miners” contains a wealth of information, much of it Schuylkill County centric, focusing on mining and area and Anthracite history.
To reach even more Coal Region folks and those searching for their own connection to “home”, I set up a corresponding Facebook Page on which to share recipes. The response has been amazing! Currently over 10,000 people follow the page. I often receive a request for a particular recipe and do my best to fulfill it either by a reply in a message/email, or more often, posting the recipe on here and Facebook.
One of the more popular aspects has been the accompanying memories that I post with many of the recipes; so many tell much more of a story than just the food itself does in my life and I enjoy sharing those with my readers. I often receive heart-warming messages from fellow “coalcrackers” who connected with a particular food, recipe, or memory in their own life. Those make me smile, make my day, and make the work that goes into maintaining this and the Facebook page worthwhile.
Sometimes in life, we do get what we long for.
In mid-2018, fate allowed us to move back to Pennsylvania. But this time, I traded the hard coal region for the soft coal (bituminous) region – Johnstown, Pa. I feel very much at home here. The city offers me the ability to access many of the services and amenities I now need that were not easily available (if available at all) in rural New Hampshire and the people, sights, and foods mimic those of northeast Pennsylvania very closely. Johnstown faces much the same issues as do the towns in the coal region that were built on a single industry then suffered when that industry failed or moved away.
Johnstown still has many activities for its residents (and those who complain “there’s nothing to do…” but would rather stay home than make the effort to join in) and forward thinking people have taken the reins. The city welcomes new businesses on a regular basis, the Inclined Plane attracts a plethora of tourists and every summer, events like Thunder in the Valley and the Johnstown Music Festival take place downtown.
The Inclined Plane
Ever since its creation in 1890, the Johnstown Inclined Plane has proven to be a vital part of Johnstown’s history, heritage, and economic success. Many citizens owe their lives to the engineering wonder of its time. The Inclined Plane still proudly stands at the top of Yoder Hill. Visible to all people entering the city, it is a proud landmark for everyone born and raised in Johnstown, PA.
Johnstown is in Cambria County and lies 43 miles west-southwest of Altoona and 67 miles east of Pittsburgh. The city is nestled in a valley at the juncture of three rivers; The Conemaugh River and its tributaries, the Stonycreek River and the Little Conemaugh.
The Great Flood
The first Johnstown flood occurred on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, located on the south fork of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water. The flood killed more than 2,200 people and accounted for $17 million of damage (about $474 million in 2018 dollars).
When I’m Not In My Coalcracker Kitchen
The other things in life that pique my interest.
Cooking serves many purposes for me; it comforts me to create dishes with a connection to memories, it soothes my angst when something is on my mind, it helps pass the time at 3 a.m. when a “just can’t sleep” night is at hand.
As much time as I spend cooking, baking, and developing, I still manage to fit in other activities and interests. Physically, much has changed for me; the amputation of my leg coupled with some other health issues means that I either skip some activities now, or more importantly, have adjusted how I tackle them. The one thing I do not do is curl up and hide!
I truly enjoy pets; “animal lover” is at the top of the list when I am asked to describe myself. At one time in NH, we had 4 miniature horses and three Nigerian Dwarf Goats along with several adopted Siberian Huskies and, after the Huskies passed away, rescued/adopted Pomeranians! Now, our “fur-kids consist solely of a bunch of spoiled Pommies, several of who are aging and the reality of their loss is never far from the surface in my mind. But my philosophy is to enjoy the time you can.
My Nana (grandmother) worked in a clothing factory like so many women of the time did in the Coal Region during my childhood in the 60s. She taught my Mom to sew who in turn, taught me. My Barbies were the best dressed in the neighborhood! For many years, I created clothing and accessories for our home using a trusty straight-stitch only Singer. Once I was able to treat myself to a “new fangled” machine that did decorative stitching AND one-step buttonholes, there was no holding me back! But my most extensive project – and the one I am proudest of – was my handmade wedding gown and headpiece. I lost track of the hours that went into it, but it was all worth it. Today, a case of Rheumatoid Arthritis limits the detail work I can do, but I still enjoy dreaming about new designs for the art quilts and painting projects I am convinced I will be able to coax these fussy fingers into completing someday.
I always loved muscle cars (Okay, no surprise there, you saw my Mustang earlier), so I really enjoy summer car shows. It is nice to dream…! Having lived just 50 miles from Weirs Beach, visiting Laconia Bike Week to check out the sights and sounds became an annual ritual. Luckily for me, Johnstown hosts Thunder in The Valley the third weekend in June every year and, let’s just say, I do not miss Laconia one bit. Downtown is in my backyard and the streets are filled with bikes, bikers, vendors and food. Live bands play free concerts throughout each of the four days of the event and everything is easily accessible to us on the mobility scooters – no need to load up the mini van and drive!
One of the things I enjoy most in life is the ability to get out and around. Although the loss of my leg means I have a “new normal” where much is concerned. I detest sitting around not being productive – I always did – and immediately searched for mobility solutions when I came home after my amputation. Enter the mobility scooter! This baby became my legs and allowed me to go long distances I otherwise would not be able to handle. My husband has one, too, because he finds himself in the same situation regarding issues with walking any dstance and they have been a godsend. Thanks to Craigslist, we were able to find a “set of wheels” for both of us and we haven’t looked back. Much of the city of Johnstown is accessible to us via scooter, including the entire downtown. There are well maintained trails throughout the city where we can ride and explore.
And there you have it, more about me (although by now you might be wishing you didn’t know. TMI anyone??)