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The foods Kentuckians love to eat today—biscuits and gravy, country ham and eggs, soup beans and cornbread, fried chicken and shucky beans, and fried apple pie and boiled custard—all were staples on the Kentucky family farms in the early twentieth century. Each of these dishes has evolved as part of the farming lifestyle of a particular time and place, utilizing available ingredients and complementing busy daily schedules. Though the way of life associated with these farms in the first half of the twentieth century has mostly disappeared, the foodways have become a key part of Kentucky’s cultural identity.

In this book, John van Willigen and Anne van Willigen examine the foodways—the practices, knowledge, and traditions found in a community regarding the planting, preparation, consumption, and preservation—of Kentucky family farms in the first half of the last century. This was an era marked by significant changes in the farming industry and un rural communities, including the introduction of the New Deal market quota system, the creation of the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service, the expansion of basic infrastructures into rural areas, the increased availability of new technologies, and the massive migration from rural to urban areas. The result was a revolutionary change from family-based subsistence farming to market-based agricultural production, which altered not only farmers’ relationships to food in Kentucky but the social relations within the state’s rural communities.

Based on interviews conducted by the University of Kentucky’s Family Farm Project and supplemented by archival research, photographs, and recipes, Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920–1950 recalls a vanishing way of life in rural Kentucky. By documenting the lives and experiences of Kentucky farmers, the book ensures that traditional folk and foodways in Kentucky’s most important industry will be remembered.

Finalist for the Governor's Award given by the Kentucky Historical Society.

"This book admirably details the round of daily life on Kentucky family farms from 1920 to 1950, a transformative era in agriculture. The authors' accounts of daily work and play... offer a valuable record of what life was like on family farms in this region; they invite comparison to other regions as well as consideration of the forces that effected profound changes in the texture of society. Recommended."—Choice

"This is a readable story about foodways and folkways, but, most of all, it is a story of a people. Their voices recall a way of life that, though past, is certainly not forgotten, nor should it ever be."—James C. Klotter, State Historian of Kentucky

"Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950, vividly recounts the story of this era and the changes it wrought through the voices of those who lived it. . . . John and Anne van Willigen have made a lasting contribution to the collective memory of Kentucky, and for that we should all be grateful."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"What makes this book outstanding and essential is the clarity of the voices of the individuals. The authors are to be commended for allowing those voices to ring strong and clear."—Ronni Lundy, author of Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken

“Food and Everyday Life. . . gives a strong flavor of how life was for individuals on Kentucky farms before mid-century.”—Agricultural History

"Basing their writing on interviews conducted by the University of Kentucky’s Family Farm Project along with archival research, photographs, and recipes, the authors have produces a very readable and insightful history of what Kentuckians ate and what they did during that period. Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms is one of the kinds of books that can help you ‘flesh out’ your family’s heritage and lifestyle and gain a much better understanding of what their lives were like during that trying period in our nation’s history."—Kentucky Ancestors

"One could easily read selected chapters of interest and still gain great insight, especially in combination with the first and last chapters. This feature makes it useful for academic scholars, preservationists interested in a particular type of material culture, and students."—Elizabeth J. Leppman, Material Culture

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Kentucky, Farm life, Food, Food life


Cultural History

Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950
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