I sat down with the country legend to discuss her new album, but the conversation naturally veered towards food. Loretta Lynn gave me tips on how to kill and fry a chicken, and what forced her to learn how to become a quality cook.
Illustration by Keara McGraw
Loretta Lynn wasn't always a good cook. When she first got married at the tender age of fifteen, she was used to making the dishes that kept her and her family full—potatoes, beans, cornbread, and starchy Appalachian staples that were cheap and easy to throw together in between minding the babies and doing the chores and carving out a living amidst grinding poverty. Her husband wasn't exactly grateful, and it took years for her to find her footing in the kitchen.
Of course, now Lynn is a world-famous country music icon; a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor, a Grammy winner, the songwriter behind some of country's most beloved anthems, and the most awarded female country singer in history—but she was born a coal miner's daughter, one of eight children raised in the remote backwater of Butcher Holler, Kentucky. They were poor, but they had love—and lots of canned green beans.
She was born in 1932, as the United States limped through a devastating Depression and starving Kentucky coal miners warred against greedy coal barons. Times were lean, and bellies were empty. Lynn made it out of Butcher Holler thanks to an inimitable combination of grit, determination, a fiery spirit, songwriting prowess, and that voice. She's never forgotten where she comes from, and, as she says herself, is still "as country as cornbread."
In 2004, right around the time she graced us with her Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose album, Loretta Lynn published a cookbook packed with over a hundred of her favorite recipes. As you might imagine, You're Cookin' It Country: My Favorite Recipes and Memories is heavy on old Southern favorites—comfort food, fried chicken, grits, gravy—as well as a few backcountry Butcher Holler exclusives, like country-fried venison and kentucky frog legs. I'm sure you can find more than a few of them on the menu if you're ever in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee and start feeling peckish enough to check out her restaurant, Loretta Lynn's Kitchen, too.
I sat down with her earlier this week to talk about her stunning new album, Full Circle, and her new American Masters documentary. You can read the rest of our conversation on Noisey, but of course, the conversation turned towards cooking, too.
MUNCHIES: Who taught you how to cook? Because I remember when you were first married, all you could do what cornbread and potatoes— and that didn't work out too well. Loretta Lynn: And beans. It didn't work out, that's right. He came home from work one night and kicked me out! I walked up Butcher Holler in the dark, and me four or five months pregnant. I had made my mind up to never go back to him because he hadn't really been that good to me when we first got married. I went and mommy made me a new dress, made out of colored feed sack. It was real pretty and mommy let me to go see a show in Paintsville, Kentucky. And it was called I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now. I'll never forget the movie. And he was in the movie theater, and on the way home he kept hollerin' at me to stop and talk to him, because I decided I wasn't gonna go back to him. Finally, he just kept on and kept on and he said, "Loretta, just stop for a minute," Finally, I stopped and the other girls stopped with me. He said "Let them go on, I'll take you home." So, I went back with him.
And you learned how to cook, eventually. Yeah, but not right then because I went home with him. And it was a bad deal. But he went to the state of Washington, and a month later, he sent for me. I went to Washington State and I learned to cook out there from a lady that was 86 years old. I worked with her, cleaning house and she learned me how to cook.
What's your favorite thing to make? I can make anything. I can cook about anything. It doesn't matter, I can cook from beans on. Fried potatoes and beans just right on. I mean, I can fix anything.
What's the easiest way to get a chicken ready for eating? Well, first you gotta kill the chicken. They you gotta take the feathers off of it. Then you gotta singe the little tiny hairs and stuff, singe it to get all that off. And then you clean it, you gut it, get it all done, then you cut it up!
Then you fry it in some Crisco, right? Then you fry 'er up! Or cook it in one. I like to make chicken and dumplings.
I know you're a hell of a shot, too. I can shoot it, I can gut it, you got it. [My husband] would go shootin' and kill the deer. He'd send down the head with whoever was huntin' with him, and he'd stay and hunt some more. And I would have the deer and whatever else he would send home hung, skinned, and cut up, and put in the freezer by the time he got home.
There's nothing like fresh venison. Yeah! But I can do it all. I had to learn good. Had to! I started having kids one right after the other, I had four by the time I was twenty. You have to learn to do everything.
What was their favorite snack when they were little? They couldn't be choosy. I mean, we just eat what we had. Whatever was left over for dinner, that's what we would have. Suppertime I'd usually try to fix some kinda meat and vegetable, you know. I raised a garden, I canned everything. Canned everything there was.
Do you still can stuff? I still can, yeah, I do. I got a cellar full of stuff now. I still can, it's fun.
Do you make pickles? Oh yeah, I love dill pickles, sweet pickles.
They're my favorite. I'll come get some next time. OK, you know where I live.
Yeah, everybody else does too. But they don't come up to my house. You can come visit me.
Thanks for talking to me.