Hillbilly Cuisine: Killed Lettuce (or "Kilt Lettuce")


Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia listening to the stories of Ma's sister, two brothers and their families, I thought I'd learned everything there was to know about Frog Pond Holler. When we moved here 15 years ago, I soon discovered there was a lot more to life in the Southern Appalachians than I'd been told.

Most of the food you can order down at the Grab n' Go (and go and go) is your standard Southern fare. Fried chicken, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, collards.. the same items you can find at any roadside diner outside of Atlanta. There are, however, some recipes which I believe are unique to the hillfolk who reside in those remote areas, where you can still see outhouses and go for miles without seeing a satellite dish as you bump along uneven dirt roads.

I've never tried the dish known here as "Killed Lettuce" and it's a pretty safe bet that I never will. With the Hee-Haw Clinic here in the holler preaching the sins of cholesterol and the evils of pork fat, chances are slim that you'll find anyone who still prepares it.

If you are lucky enough to find someone who wasn't "reared up" here in town, someone who spent their early years "back up on the mountain," they might tell you how their Mamaw used to send them down to the creek to pick some branch lettuce, which would be washed and drained while the frying pan full of bacon grease got hot on the stove.

Onions or ramps (ramps are a topic for another post entirely) would be added to the hot oil and allowed to cook, leaving them slightly crisp. Season the onions with salt and pepper, add the lettuce to a bowl, pour the pan of hot pork fat and onions over it, causing it to wilt (or "killing" it) and there ya go.

I've heard of it being served with the bacon, but I think this is a later development. Back in the day, cooks always saved a can of bacon drippings on the stove to cook with. I've also heard of it being seasoned with vinegar, but only rarely. Usually eaten with a meal of pinto beans, cornbread and fried potatoes, Killed Lettuce is one of those delicacies I'll leave to the real mountain folks.

For more about how we cook here in the hills, check out: