Food & Drink

Hatfield-McCoy feud was never a food fight

Benita McCoy Lyons, a descendant of the feuding McCoys, has written her third cookbook, which includes a family recipe for sourdough bread.
Benita McCoy Lyons, a descendant of the feuding McCoys, has written her third cookbook, which includes a family recipe for sourdough bread.

It's been said the legendary feud between the Hatfields and McCoys was sparked by any of several events — a stolen hog, a star-crossed romance, a Southerner who dared fight for the Union during the Civil War or even a heated election-day brawl drenched with alcohol.

As the story is dramatized in a three-part miniseries on the cable TV channel History beginning at 9 p.m. Memorial Day, there's one thing we know for sure: The families ate many of the same foods.

Benita McCoy Lyons of Lexington has compiled recipes that have been handed down through generations of McCoys. She's a descendant of Harmon McCoy, brother of patriarch Randall McCoy, who ruled the family during the most heated years of the feud.

Lyons' father, Leonard, is the great-grandson of Asa Harmon McCoy. According to History, "One of the first harbingers of the feud to come took place in 1865, when Asa Harmon McCoy was murdered by the Logan Wildcats after he returned from the Civil War. Asa Harmon had served in the Union Army and came home branded as a traitor.

"According to most accounts, members of the Logan Wildcats paid Asa Harmon a visit upon his return, warning him that he was in jeopardy. Later, they tracked him down in a cave where he was hiding and killed him.

"While some have surmised that his murder set the stage for the feud, most historians now see this incident as a stand-alone event. There was consensus in the community that Asa Harmon was an outcast even amongst his own family because of his Union sympathies."

The story line of the miniseries will focus on the deep resentments between the two families who lived along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, the dividing line between Kentucky and West Virginia.

"I am looking forward to watching because this is my family heritage, not a lone American history," Lyons said. "Also to watch a big screen icon like Kevin Costner portray someone like Devil Anse Hatfield will be interesting, but mostly what I wish to walk away with, after watching, is seeing how close to the truth this History channel docudrama will be."

Like everyone who lived in mountain communities at that time, the Hatfields and the McCoys survived on large crops of corn, shucky beans, onions, potatoes and fruit from the orchards. Meat was whatever the hunter brought home.

In her third cookbook, Scratch Cooking 2: It's the Real McCoy, Lyons includes recipes that her grandmother and great-grandmother cooked. Since the publication of her first cookbook more than 20 years ago, Lyons has turned her home-style cooking into a full-time business. Her company, The Real McCoy Catering, focuses on fresh-from-scratch Kentucky Proud foods. The menu is available at

Lyons was influenced by her paternal grandmother, Ollie Jane McCoy. "She even made wedding cakes and the sugar flowers; everything was handmade," she said.

"My granny taught me to make apple butter when I was 9," said Lyons, who has tweaked the recipe and is marketing it under The Real McCoy label. She also sells strawberry jam, salad dressings and syrups.

Lyons also teaches from-scratch cooking classes. She is joining the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center to offer a cooking class at 10 a.m. June 16 for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.


Homemade bread was a mainstay for the early McCoy families. This dough also can be made into sweet rolls and hamburger buns.

Idy Mae's sour dough bread


1 cup warm water

1 cup flour

1/2 cup potato flakes

1/2 cup sugar


1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup oil

2 teaspoons salt

6 to 71/2 cups flour

To make starter: Combine warm water, flour, potato flakes and sugar in large jar. Cover tightly and let sit in warm place overnight. In the morning, save 1 generous cup starter. Place in a jar and cover tightly. Refrigerate. Put remaining starter in large bowl and add ingredients for bread. Mix until stiff. Let rise 6 to 8 hours. Knead lightly. Shape into loaves or rolls, and place in a greased pan.

■ To make bread, let rise 4 more hours, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

■ To make rolls, let rise an additional 2 to 4 hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

■ To make whole-wheat bread, use 1/2 cup wheat germ for 1/4 cup flour, or 1 cup wheat flour in place of 1 cup white flour.

■ To make sweet rolls, press dough onto cookie sheet. Combine sugar and cinnamon to taste; sprinkle lightly over dough. Roll up and cut into desired size.

■ To make hamburger buns, make rolls extra large, and bake on cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

■ To feed starter, add starter ingredients (water, flour, potato flakes and sugar) to jar and stir. Starter must be fed every 3 to 9 days to keep it alive.

This is Leonard McCoy's recipe for strawberry shortcake.

Strawberry shortcake

3 cups fresh strawberries, sliced into halves

2 cups sugar

Yellow cake:

21/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped cream for topping

In small bowl, stir together strawberries and sugar. Refrigerate.

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour mixture into a 9- by 13-inch aluminum cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool cake and split in half lengthwise. Cut into squares. Layer cake and strawberries; top with whipped cream.

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