Laura Dean Bennett
Pepperoni rolls are an original culinary treasure of West Virginia. These delicious creations are said to have originated with Frank Argiro, an Italian coal miner, who, after he quit the mines, opened up the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont in the 1920s.
The original pepperoni roll was a six-to-ten inch loaf of crusty Italian bread with sticks of pepperoni stretching end to end, but there are lots of variations of it, many featuring pepperoni slices rather than sticks.
For a hundred years, the unbeatable combination of pepperoni and homemade bread has kept pepperoni rolls front and center in bakeries and family kitchens throughout the state.
Just this year, the pepperoni roll was officially declared the official state food by the West Virginia legislature.
It kept well in a lunch bucket and could be eaten out of hand, making it perfect for taking down into a mine, but according to Tammy Hively, whether he’s a miner or not, pepperoni rolls are still the perfect accompaniment for a husband’s lunch.
Tammy Armstrong Hively and her husband, heavy equipment operator, Curtis Hively, have a lovely home in Green Bank.
Although she was technically born across the state line in Maryland, and moved to Elk Mountain when she was four years old, Tammy considers herself a Pocahontas County native.
Her father, Dale Armstrong, who was from Elk Mountain, went to work as a bookkeeper for Island Coal Company. He and Tammy’s mother, Linda Bleigh, met at the ice skating rink in Craigsville.
“My mother was a really good cook,” Hively recalled. “My family practically lived on bread. Every Monday morning, Mom made nine loaves of light bread.
“We loved it, and we still do.
“I bake bread, but probably not as often as I should.
“The recipe I use for these pepperoni rolls is my regular old roll recipe.
“It was a recipe for school lunch rolls.”
Tammy makes 76 pepperoni rolls and eight dinner rolls from the recipe, and Curtis will eat the rolls either way.
“Curtis loves these rolls – the regular way or as pepperoni rolls,” Tammy said. “He likes to take them in his lunch for work and often shares them with co-workers.
“They make great sliders and I especially like to lightly toast them, spread them with some pimiento cheese then pop them back in the toaster [oven] for another few seconds to warm up the cheese,” she added.
Tammy and Curtis met in 1994 and were married in 1998. He is the son of Don and Manota Hively, of Dunmore.
Is she a good cook?
“I guess people might say I’m a good cook,” Tammy answered, modestly.
And what does her husband think?
“Well, I know the answer to this,” she said, laughing.
“Curtis sits back in his chair, rubs his belly and says, ‘What do you think?’”
I discover that Curtis has been listening to our telephone interview when I ask Tammy how often she makes pepperoni rolls and I can hear his reply in the background.
As I was speaking with Tammy over the phone, I asked her how often she made pepperoni rolls, and in the background Curtis called out, “Not often enough.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. I make them every few months,” Tammy retorts.
“Then you must be making them for someone else!” Curtis calls back.
This couple obviously shares a good sense of humor.
Curtis is a fan of Tammy’s cooking.
“I think Curtis’s favorite dish that I make this time of year would definitely be Beef Burgundy Stew,” she said.
“Years ago, Dr. Elier’s wife, Hayes, gave me a couple of cookbooks from Southern Living’s 5-Star Cookbooks collection, and that recipe was in one of them.”
Like many great cooks, Tammy is also a gardener.
It’s hard to have a garden because of the deer and the other animals, but Curtis built a seven-foot fence out of cattle panels to protect the space from invaders.
In addition to baking, Tammy also loves to make soup – tomato, chicken stew and chili.
Tammy took home the first place prize at the Chili Cook-off in Snowshoe in 1994.
Tammy graduated from Pocahontas County High School in 1983 and spent the next four years at West Virginia University.
In the ensuing years, she worked all over Pocahontas County in a variety of interesting jobs.
“I’ve always been one of those people who doesn’t want to be defined by my job,” she offered.
She started as a front desk clerk at the Motor Inn, did a seven-year stint as manager of a construction company before going back to the Motor Inn to manage the restaurant and lounge.
In another complete departure, Tammy worked for Drs. John Sharp and John Eilers for 11 years when they had an office together and, afterward, continued working for Dr. Eilers in Slaty Fork.
She then took a job as scheduler for Snowshoe’s Outdoor Adventures and worked as a traveling teller for First Citizens Bank.
But, perhaps her most important – or most appreciated job – is putting good food on the table.
“It seems lots of people just don’t cook anymore and that’s a huge shame,” Tammy asserted. “I think cooking is a dying art.”
“I’ve always liked cooking. I get so much pleasure out of it, and so does Curtis.
“I get huge satisfaction seeing people’s reaction to what I create,” she said.
School Cafeteria Rolls
3 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. white sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
3 (.25 oz.) envelopes active dry yeast
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp. salt
10 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter, melted
In a large bowl, mix together the warm water and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let stand for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
Mix the milk, eggs and salt into the yeast. Measure the flour in separate bowl, add 2/3 cup sugar and crumble the shortening into it using your fingers until it is barely noticeable. Gradually stir the flour into the wet ingredients using a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball around the spoon. Cover with hot, wet towel that has been wrung out, and set in warm place to rise about double in bulk. This should take about 45 minutes.
After the dough rises, pour the melted butter over it and knead for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then roll out to 1-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Use a knife to cut into 2” squares. Roll squares into balls and place in greased round pans, spacing about an inch apart.
For pepperoni rolls, separate and tuck two slices of pepperoni roll inside each ball of dough, then gently fold the dough back over the pepperoni and place each roll in the baking pan.
Let rise again until doubled in size. You could also refrigerate the dough and let it rise overnight, making the rolls the next day.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the rolls for about 12 minutes, until golden brown.
“I sometimes put in a little cheese of choice and, after baking, I brush with a little butter and sprinkle on a little garlic powder or Italian seasoning – whatever I am in the mood for.”
Makes 45 rolls.