I’m Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The Kitchen! I was born in 1960 and raised in Schuylkill County outside Tremont. I was surrounded by some truly great cooks throughout my life. I have been cooking and baking Coal Region comfort foods since 1965 when I could reach the stove top alongside my Nana (grandmother) and Mom.
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!
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.
My 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.
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 Hampshire (having gotten married in 1997 then relocated shortly thereafter when my husband accepted a job offer there). I was struggling to come to terms with both the loss of my best friend/second Mom/big sister of 30 years in early 2013 (she 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 2015.
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.
Sometimes in life, we do get what we long for.
In mid-2018, fate allowed us to move back to Pennsylvania — I was going HOME!. 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.
Sadly, my world was rocked when I lost my husband/best friend/love of my life and sole caregiver unexpectedly to heart failure in late January 2021. My heart is broken, life will never be the same, and I don’t know how to heal. James was my biggest fan. He would encourage me to continue to reach out to my readers and “coalcracker” family through my writing, blog, and Facebook page. For now, I plan to continue to do so.
In my own words
Share a cup of coffee around the Coal Region Campfire as I chat with podcast host Alfredo Mercuri about my background, history, and how A Coalcracker in the Kitchen came about. Yes, there is a coal miner’s daughter behind it all…