Labor Needs You!

[NOTE: This post falls under the blog’s subtitle I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID THIS!]

I have shelves of cookbooks running up one kitchen wall then marching high across the cabinets and stove, ending above the sink. Among the usual suspects are a few oddities I picked up for research or because I’m odd myself. Others were given to me by well meaning friends. There’s a tiny book from 1878 on cooking for the lower class, consisting of recipes heavy on dishes containing offal and bone marrow. Here’s one about canning with a forward explaining that it’s likely you’ll kill your family with botulism. I also have a lot of church cookbooks and a few personal pamphlets I picked up at town fairs, the recipes written in scrawled handwriting I can’t understand but I bought anyway because they sometimes locks of hair and pressed flowers.


Just in time for Labor Day I rediscovers “Favorite Recipes of the U.M.W.A. Unemployment Assistance Fund’s Families and Friends,” complied to raise funds for out-of-work miners, with recipes from 1930 on up to 2005. The miner families and friend in present day Cumberland, Kentucky could use a fund raising effort like this now. It’s been more than a month since they were kicked out in mid-shift from one of the Blackjewel mines (note: I honestly can’t believe this company did this–oh, wait, I do). The bankrupt company owes all of them at least three weeks pay–including one covering the moment they were told to drop their tools and get out. The town of Cumberland is in Harlan County which has a legendary history of miners protesting working conditions and standing up to greedy owners. Considering that many of the workers in the current protest grew up with fathers and grandfathers who were part of the series of bloody strikes in the 1930s and ‘70s their confiscation of a train full of coal that they dug out themselves is tame.

For weeks now, the miners have taken turns guarding the shipment, their best hope of being paid. A community has formed around the train supplying everything from a nursery to hot showers. Neighbors and local restaurants drop off trays of food. Musicians and preachers stop by. A couple of weeks after the protest began Bernie Sanders bought them pizza from the local Pizza Hut. Activist from all over are beginning to join them. Everyone seems to be settling in for the long haul.

The Blackjewel miners are not part of the United Mine Workers Union. A strong solidarity has formed around them but their bills are mounting and there’s no sign help is coming, especially from the White House whose often repeated refrain of being on the miners’ side is beginning to ring hollow. So to honor the true spirit of Labor Day think about making a contribution to support the miners with what they need most right now. The Harlan County Community Action Partnership has set up a GoFundMe account to receive your help.

In between the recipes in my U.M.W.A. cook book there is a reprint of a letter from the great activist Mother Jones from 1921 to struggling Pennsylvania miners. “The story of coal is always the same. It is a dark story. The battle royal is on between labor and the class who exploit.”

A Recipe from the U.M.W.A. Unemployment Assistant Fund’s Cookbook–1938

Sausage, Apples and Sweet Potato Casserole

4 large sweet potatoes

4 large apples, peeled and sliced medium thick

1 pound sausage meat

salt, brown sugar and water

Boil sweet potatoes. Peel them and cut them into thin slices. Grease a baking dish. Cover the bottom with half the sweet potatoes. Shape sausage meat into four flat cakes and brown lightly in a skillet. Place them over the potatoes. Cover meat with the apple slices. Sprinkle over them lightly sat and brown sugar. Place the remaining sweet potatoes over the apples. Brush with water and sprinkle with a little more brown sugar. Bake in moderate (350 degree) over for about an hour. Makes a hearty cheap meal in the fall and winter.

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