Oh my biscuits: Mountain comfort food found at the school cafeteria

By Candace Nelson - 3:00 PM


There was one school day in Brooke County each month where everyone chose hot lunch: Creamed Turkey Day.

And, I mean everyone: students, staff, faculty, custodial staff. Everyone.

Students slipped out of a class a few minutes early to get in the lunch line, and teachers left their lunchboxes at home in favor of this homecooked meal from the high school kitchen.

If you’re from Brooke County, you’re nodding in agreement. If you’re not, you’re wondering what the heck creamed turkey is.

Well, dear reader, allow me to enlighten you: This dish comprises a fluffy, flaky biscuit split open, topped with scoops of creamy mashed potatoes and covered in a turkey gravy with chunks of turkey. Mmmm.

And people loved it. Football players would get double servings. Some vegetarians would have a cheat day. And I would eschew my “too cool for school lunch” attitude and hand over a buck and some change for a lunch ticket.

To illustrate: Brooke High School had two cafeterias, which served a few options for lunch daily. But, on creamed turkey day, every line served creamed turkey.

It was a piece of culinary gold churned out from the hands of high school cooks. It was never high-end, fine dining, topped with microgreens or tweezered to perfection. Instead, it was straightforward, filling and comforting cafeteria food.

This dish is something that I recall fondly — and not just because it was delicious, but because it also created this sort of community among a bunch of teenagers that is difficult to find in high school.

We all bonded over this high school dish that was created from leftovers and topped on a starchy base to create a meal that would stick to your ribs. The dish was born out of frugality — using up the last bits from a turkey — and creativity.

My parents, who also reminisce about creamed turkey day when they were in school, recreate this dish each Thanksgiving to stretch that bird a little further. This dish, while not unique to just my neck of the woods, speaks to a larger quality of Appalachian cuisine: resourcefulness.

Appalachians work with what they have available and are able to create incredible meals — whether that’s in a high school cafeteria or a home kitchen. These dishes with underpinnings of history, heritage and culture are the ones that help craft the narrative of this place that we call home.

Whenever we make this dish at home, we recall those lunch days in high school and share our memories through generations. And, those stories are priceless — about the same as a high school lunch ticket on creamed turkey day.

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