2017-07-12 / Entertainment

Pepperoni rolls are tied to coal mining

By JENNIFER GARDNER
The Charleston Gazette-Mail


Each pizza roll sold by Home Industry Bakery, located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, has about 23 slices of pepperoni. The bakery has been through a number of name changes since its opening some 100 years ago, but its current name reflects a time when people could sell their baked goods on a consignment basis at the shop. This photo appears in the new book, “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” Each pizza roll sold by Home Industry Bakery, located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, has about 23 slices of pepperoni. The bakery has been through a number of name changes since its opening some 100 years ago, but its current name reflects a time when people could sell their baked goods on a consignment basis at the shop. This photo appears in the new book, “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” CHARLESTON, W.Va.

Few foods, if any, tell the story of Appalachia the way the pepperoni roll does.

Italian immigrants invented the beloved snack because it could be easily eaten underground in coal mines. Eventually, it made its way into bakeries, bread companies, restaurants and event venues around the state.

“The cool thing about the pepperoni roll is that it has roots similar to our state’s in that they both have coal-mining backgrounds,” said Candace Nelson, author of “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll,” a new book released in June.

After signing a contract for the book in February 2015 with West Virginia University Press, Nelson spent a year traveling the state to learn about the pepperoni roll’s deep Appalachian roots.

“The best kind of research is pepperoni roll research, because everybody wants to feed you,” Nelson said.

However, she explained, getting to the bottom of exactly where the pepperoni roll originated was a difficult task.

Country Club Bakery in Fairmont is often credited with commercializing the pepperoni roll, though Tomaro’s bakery in Clarksburg has a stake in the claim, too.

“There’s little bit of back-and forth about who necessarily created it, but in reality, it was likely the wives of coal miners in home kitchens,” Nelson said.

While traveling the state and writing her book, Nelson tasted and learned to make several variations of the snack food.

“People get very passionate about what kind of pepperoni roll they prefer, whether it’s stick pepperoni or slice pepperoni,” Nelson said. “There’s The Donut Shop in Buckhannon, which is a super crowd favorite, and they have ground pepperoni in their pepperoni roll, which adds a whole new argument to the sticks versus slices.”

While visiting Abruzzino Italian Bakery in Gypsy, West Virginia, Nelson learned the taste wasn’t all about sticks and slices. Locals measure the quality by how much the oils and spices have seeped through the bread to give it the most flavor.

“It’s pretty simple. The bread, the pepperoni, together, but there’s something unique and special that happens when it bakes and the oils and the spices absorb into the bread,” Nelson explained. “That’s a big part of why people love the pepperoni roll. It’s not just the two elements together. It’s like, when they bake together it creates a whole new experience.”

Nelson also traveled to Starling’s on Charleston’s East End to try its vegetarian version of the pepperoni roll. A section of her book includes information for people with dietary restrictions.

The book includes more than 100 pictures and a variety of recipes. It tells stories of immigrants, business owners, laborers and citizens who developed and enjoyed the snack food since its invention.

Nelson first became interested in the story of the pepperoni roll while she was a writer for the Charleston Daily Mail.

She was reporting on a legislative effort to make the pepperoni roll the official state food. While the bill did not pass, her articles garnered attention.

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.

Homemade
Pepperoni Rolls
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
1 egg
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°.
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.

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