Heaven on Earth
by Sophia Raines (United States)
Audio: "Heaven on Earth," read by Sophia Raines
"No, you have to roll it like a jelly roll—you can't fold it up like that, the cheese will ooze out," my mom says, demonstrating with the sticky dough spread out on her cutting board. "And put a lot of pepperoni, last time you barely put any in yours." It's the Friday night before my older brother's birthday party and, like any other good old-fashioned Appalachian family, we're working hard on the main entrée—a West Virginian delicacy. My brother made the dough the night before and had set it out to rise before we commenced "the rolling." It's a family tradition. Families in other countries gather around the table to make pierogis or tamales; my family gathers around to make pepperoni rolls.
They're a simple dish, really. You don't need homemade dough—rolls from the frozen section in a grocery store work just fine—but my brother, who loves to feed people, feels that the homemade dough adds significance to the pepperoni roll. It feels more raw, more traditional. Our ancestors are coal miners, and this delicious little treat was invented as an easy hand-held lunch during their breaks. A mixture of Italian immigrants and Appalachian life led to, quite literally, the very best food I've ever eaten. The ingredients are cheap, it's quick, and it is very easy to transport.
My mom slaps down some more dough in front of me. To eat, you must create. I smooth it down with my hands, little bits of flour getting trapped between my fingers. It starts off kind of like you're making a miniature pizza. Grab a healthy handful of mozzarella and provolone and spread it evenly in a thin layer. The pepperoni, though, you try to keep more lined up in the center; it's better to have a concentrated bite of pure flavor combo when you sink your teeth in, rather than a thin layer of sadness. You roll it from the shorter sides, like a reverse Swiss Roll.
I place my completed rolls on the tray next to me. There they are, uniform and lined up close together, when my mom steps in to rearrange them. "They have to be evenly spread, in case the cheese leaks," she explains. I roll my eyes. Personally, that's my favorite part of the experience—you get a crunchy cheese treat in case of error. You can't lose when making them, since even mistakes are delicious little accidents. We pop them in and wait as the savory scent fills the room, wafting in under our noses and triggering the battalions in our stomachs.
"Can we have some for dinner?" I ask, counting to make sure we've made enough. It's hard to control yourself when tempted by the glistening exterior of a pepperoni roll. If my hunger was to manifest as a tangible entity, it would be cheesy, yeast risen, and have a little bit of spiced pork as its heart. My mom nods as she works on the next batch—cheese rolls only, for my brother's vegetarian friend. Another beautiful fact of "the roll": you can modify however you please and it will still sing of home.
The oven dings and I open the door, blasted with an inferno of tastiness. I pull them out and use a brush to butter the tops, sprinkling some herbs on if I'm feeling fancy. My mother sets the table as I bring over a tray. The rest of my family gathers around, happy and hungry as they each grab a little piece of heaven. I take one of the ones I made and go to my seat.
The best way to eat these is often debated. Some prefer them cooled down and easy to bite into, some like them hot and ready to scald their taste buds into Valhalla, and some like to savor the moment. I'm one of the latter group; I believe in living every moment to its fullness, regardless of the task at hand. I take my roll gently into my hands and break it open, watching hungrily as the cheese stretches between the two halves, building a bridge of tastiness for the pepperonis to slowly inch down. They glisten in the light, reflecting years of dough making and cheese spreading and pepperoni layering. My cheese snaps in half and I dangle one of the loose ends above my mouth.
Slowly, I lower it, eyes half-closed in anticipation and my stomach growling its consent. My teeth bite into the very tip of the open half of the roll, and I chew. It is hard to put into words the pinnacle of this experience if you've never had a pepperoni roll. Imagine the most euphoric moment of your life, when dopamine flooded all your neuron connectors, when you finally experienced complete satisfaction—and maybe you will come close to the West Virginian experience. "Almost Heaven, indeed," I think to myself, grinning with a mouthful of pepperonis and joy.
It may seem cheesy (both literally and figuratively), but for a moment I am transported back into my childhood, and I lose myself in the taste of home: the sounds of laughter and sighing after a long day at work, the singing of birds in the spring, the sound of cicadas in summer, the clacking of spoons and pots, and the musical notes of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver. I am lost to history with each mouthful.
Sophia Raines, age 17, is from southern West Virginia. She loves to cook, and enjoyed writing this piece about one of WV's favorite foods. Sophia looks forward to a future filled with poetry, prose and pepperoni rolls.
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11/24/23, 4:42 PM
I'm amazed by your deep perception towards little things of life! Keep glowing dear Taieba.
10/4/23, 10:28 AM
I'll like to see more of your writing
10/4/23, 10:26 AM
Gsk I love it!
10/3/23, 7:58 PM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
Wow..just wow. Ridiculous words I know. I just stumbled across your poem as this is my first time on the website and I landed this masterpiece. As an immigrant myself, I could relate to several aspects of this. Your use of imagery, symbolism, and allusion is outstanding
9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.