Her simple, classic Southern recipes exemplified her working class roots as much as her songs did
On October 4, the world of country music lost one of the brightest stars in its history, the legendary Loretta Lynn, at age 90. Since news of Lynn’s death broke, fans and critics alike have gushed over her immeasurable contributions to the genre — namely, singing about orgasms, her distinct brand of women’s liberation, and birth control in the depths of the misogynistic 1970s — and her incredible body of work as a songwriter, author, and performer. But it’s also important to remember that, alongside all that musical genius, Loretta Lynn was one hell of a home cook.
In 2004, Lynn published a compendium of comforting recipes from her Appalachian childhood, cheekily named You’re Cookin’ It Country, a riff on Lynn’s 1971 hit “You’re Lookin’ At Country.” The book is as much an exemplification of Lynn’s hard-scrabble, working class identity as her songs, full of the simple, hearty recipes that have affordably nourished families for generations.
Lynn was born in Kentucky in the midst of the Great Depression, and has spoken extensively about the poverty that her family experienced as her father toiled away in the Van Lear coal mine while her mother raised eight children. After marrying her longtime husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn in 1948, she gave birth to six of her own children, all of whom had to be fed. This meant that Loretta, a teen bride, had to learn how to cook. In the beginning, she admits that things didn’t go well. In one interview, Lynn told a reporter that her husband threw out every meal she made for the first three months that they were married because they were inedible. But like many cooks of her era, she made do, learning how to make inexpensive meals like vegetable soup and fried catfish that could nourish her growing family without being too costly.
For anyone who grew up in Appalachia or the American South, Lynn’s recipes feel a whole lot like getting hugged — and fed —¸ by your grandma. These recipes are pure comfort food and don’t shy away from the addition of lard or sugar or salt. There’s an excellent chicken and dumplings recipe, made super-rich thanks to the addition of a roasting hen (which is fattier than the typical grocery store chicken) and a heavy pour of cream. In the book, we learn that White Stripes frontman (and Lynn collaborator) Jack White made a special trip to Nashville just to eat those dumplings. Her buttermilk biscuit recipe looks near identical to my own grandmother’s, complete with a couple tablespoons of shortening to ensure a perfectly tender crumb. The desserts — a banana pudding topped with oven-browned meringue and peach cobbler — are also a worthy addition to any home cook’s repertoire.
At the end of her 50-plus year career, Loretta Lynn will be remembered as many things: a trailblazer for women in country music, a champion for the working class, someone who really appreciated a beautiful bejeweled gown. She wrote best-selling books, continued to make critically-acclaimed music well into her twilight years, and was adored deeply by her fans. But as we remember Lynn, absolutely no one should forget that as she conquered a male-dominated music industry and scraped her way out of poverty, she was making — and sharing the wisdom behind — some really great meals.