Column: Appalachia’s tomato gravy a savory surprise

By Candace Nelson - 10:00 AM

Tomto Gravy

Here is my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

The list of gravies in Appalachia is never-ending.

There’s chocolate gravy — made with sugar, flour, cocoa, butter, milk and vanilla, which likely had Mexican influence in Appalachia.

And sausage gravy — made with sausage pan drippings, flour, milk, salt and pepper to create a creamy white gravy.

Red eye gravy — made with grease from ham or bacon cooking in the skillet and deglazed with black coffee.

Poor man’s gravy — My grandma described this as using the grease from ham or bacon, adding flour to make a roux and adding water, salt and pepper. She would put this over mashed potatoes or toast.

And that brings me to tomato gravy, which consists of a fat, flour, stock, salt, pepper and tomatoes.

In a region where tomato gardens are plentiful, and the fruits of which are often canned and put up for the winter, it is only fitting to incorporate those tomatoes into a hearty gravy that can be enjoyed year-round.

According to Southern Living, tomato gravy’s Appalachian roots may have started “as a delicious solution when a cook had no milk on hand, but had a glut of supple, juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes in the garden.”

Tomato gravy can be served over biscuits, on top of meatloaf or even alongside grits. That little taste of summertime over fresh, buttery biscuits is a welcome respite on a cold January day.

This Appalachian delicacy is only something I’ve come across in recent years at restaurants focusing on farm-to-table cuisine. Though my grandma didn’t make this version growing up, she said she imagined many did so with stewed tomatoes or any left over from the garden.

Like many Appalachian dishes, tomato gravy was likely created to help stretch every dollar and make ingredients go further. It’s one more testament to the innovation and steadfastness of Appalachia.

Even if the weather was harsh or ingredients were nowhere to be found, those in Appalachia found creative avenues to adapt meals and develop new ones — often more delicious, too.

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