There are a few things that just help define West Virginia for me: mountains, our coal-mining heritage and pepperoni rolls.
That’s right, pepperoni rolls. They were sold as fundraisers for my high school band. They were snacks on road trips. They were tailgating treats before Mountaineer football games. And they were the basis for so many memories for me and my fellow West Virginians.
Pepperoni rolls are a thick culinary fiber in our state’s cultural fabric. Much like our state’s history, the pepperoni roll has roots in coal mining and has even claimed the title as our unofficial state food.
“The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll,” my first book, which was released June 1, helps tell the story of the pepperoni roll — from its creation and all of the variations to recipes and favorite memories.
Through stories from bakery owners, laborers, immigrants and natives, the book traces the pepperoni roll’s impact on the state and documents its prevalence throughout West Virginia — from Weirton to Beckley, Parkersburg to Shepherdstown, and everywhere in between.
I fell in love with those stories around the state while working as a reporter at the then-Charleston Daily Mail. West Virginia University Press gave me the opportunity to explore them more in-depth and compile them in one comprehensive book that details this piece of our culinary culture.
I learned about the sticks versus sliced (versus ground) pepperoni debate. I learned about how these Italian communities embraced the pepperoni roll. I learned about the pride West Virginians feel when they have someone from out of state try a pepperoni roll — and then those people love them and become advocates themselves.
And, let me tell you, pepperoni roll research is the best kind of research. Everywhere I went, folks fed me pepperoni rolls so I could distinguish the minute intricacies in the types of pepperoni or what goes into the dough. I’ve had more pepperoni rolls in the last two years than I should publicly admit.
The pepperoni roll is something to be proud of, and it’s necessary to claim this food as ours. It’s the pepperoni roll’s time to shine.
I set out to tell a piece of West Virginia’s story and cement the pepperoni roll’s place in the Appalachian food community.
I hope I did it justice.
Come talk pepperoni rolls with me from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Taylor Books in Charleston. If you can’t make it, I have a bunch of events coming up you can check out at CandaceRoseNelson.com/Book.
You can buy “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll” online at http://wvupressonline.com/node/667, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or other bookstores statewide.
Candace Nelson is a marketing and public relations professional living in Morgantown. In her free time, Nelson blogs about West Virginia food culture at CandaceLately.com. Follow @Candace07 on Twitter or email Candace127@gmail.com.
Homemade Pepperoni Rolls
This recipe was submitted by Emily Hilliard, West Virginia state folklorist and author of the foreword in “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” This is a recipe she developed, which was adapted from Kendra Bailey Morris.
Makes about 20 rolls
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
½ cup plus ½ teaspoon sugar
1-2 white potatoes, peeling and cut into large pieces
½ cup unsalted butter, very soft
1 teaspoon salt
7-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ (about 1 pound) pepperoni stick, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large egg
Combine yeast, warm water, and ½ teaspoon sugar in a small bowl until yeast dissolves.
Let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes until foamy.
Place potatoes in a pot with at least 3 cups of water (enough to make approximately 2 ½ cups leftover potato water) and cook until tender.
Pulse cooked potatoes and 2 ½ cups potato water in a blender.
Add the ½ cup sugar, butter and salt, blending well.
Add the egg and blend 5 seconds more.
Let mixture cool to lukewarm.
Pour potato mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitting with the paddle attachment, mixing in the yeast.
Slowly add 4 cups of flour and beat until smooth.
Add 3-4 more cups of flour and knead until the dough is fairly stiff but still a little sticky.
Place dough in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. (Note: the dough will keep in the fridge for 5 to 6 days. Be sure to push down the dough at least once per day).
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Turn dough onto a floured board and cut into quarters.
Continue to cut into roughly 20 small pieces.
Take a piece of the dough and push it flat into a rectangle.
Place 2-3 slices of pepperoni in the middle (overlapping and not stacking) and roll, pinching the ends of the dough to hold the pepperoni inside.
Place on an ungreased baking sheet.
Repeat until you’ve used up all your dough and pepperoni.
Melt the butter and sugar in a small saucepan.
Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Add egg and mix well.
Brush tops of the rolls with this mixture, then bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Candace Nelson discusses her first book, “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll” WHEN: Thursday, June 15, 6-7 p.m.
WHERE: Taylor Books, 226 Capitol Street, Charleston
COST: Free INFO: www.taylorbooks.com