By Robin Caldwell in partnership with Fresh & Fried Hard
Like many Black families, Ronnie Marie Tartt’s family traveled some 700 miles north from Uniontown in the Blackbelt region of Alabama to find work in the coal mines of West Virginia during the early 1900s. The Blackbelt (or Black Belt) had coal mines too. In fact, there were other mines: salt, iron ore, and lime. But with labor no longer being free or cheap, manufacturers were suffering, some closing and the economy changed. For the Tartts and others, life changed though in some ways it remained the same. Southern discomfort was a very real thing. The challenge to survive was coupled with the desire to stay alive and thrive in a sometimes hostile environment. So they packed it up and migrated north for a new beginning.
Ronnie Marie’s family brought something extra and special with them, and it came with a reputation. It began in the late 1800s with Tartt’s Grandma Penny, who created a sauce using available ingredients to infuse “flavor and love” into inexpensive, lesser cuts of meat she cooked for her family. Soon “Mama’s meat sauce” became a family staple, sojourning to West Virginia and handed over to the next Mama in line, Ms. Alberta.
Ms. Alberta used it on the dishes she served as a boarding house cook. Family lore has it that she kept two guns in the pockets of her apron for protection; evidence that she not only inherited a recipe but also Grandma Penny’s no-nonsense sensibility. Word about the sauce spread around the community, and it became sought-after for events and in large quantities for visiting family and friends.
In the late 1960s, Ms. Alberta raised Ronnie Marie to make Grandma Penny’s sauce with no measuring or cooking utensils in that magical way most Black home cooks can co-sign. In turn, Ronnie Marie has lovingly shared the recipe with her daughter and granddaughters. The difference being the measurements and utensils required to bring Mama’s Meat Sauce to market.
And now, the Alabama-born and West Virginia raised liquid gold – the sauce with a reputation – is part of a catalog of hand-crafted, small-batch products by Appalachian makers, curated by Appalachian Gold. Mama’s Meat Sauce, just like the original, is still in-demand and made from produce and spices sourced in West Virginia.
Mama’s Meat Sauce, the family legacy, is low in sodium and carbohydrates with a meager 40 calories per serving. It can be purchased as a single 12 oz bottle, a six-pack, and in a gallon size. You can purchase it directly from the Appalachian Gold site along with AG swag by visiting AppalachianGold (dot) com or by following @appalachiangoldfoods on Instagram to find featured stockists.
When you’re finished, follow Grandma Penny’s granddaughter, Ronnie Marie, on Instagram too: @ronniemarietartt and you can tell her she’s her ancestor’s wildest dream. She’d appreciate hearing from you.
Appalachian Gold, a majority Black-owned West Virginia brand, whose product proudly showcase and reflect the prosperous potential of our region while honoring the invaluable contributions of African Americans in shaping and enriching the cultural fabric of Appalachia.