A sweet family. A dog. Colorful Plants. Homegrown (and homemade) food. A beautiful day. What more could you want?
The leaves are just beginning to color in East Tennessee, soon to burst into those glorious, vibrant shades that make autumn so memorable here. The enduring heat and humidity are a little jarring, though — definitely not the cool, energizing weather I still associate with October in the mountains and foothills.
Despite the heat, it felt like an authentic fall day last week-end in the little town of Clinton, Tennessee as we joined hundreds of other festival-goers, stepping back in time on the grounds of the Museum of Appalachia. This is the thirty-fourth year the museum has welcomed visitors to its annual homecoming, a beloved celebration of pioneer life and Southern Appalachian culture. Historic buildings, artifacts, animals, and crafts evoke the past and help assure the old folk ways are not lost.
There was lots to appreciate last week-end: bluegrass music, homemade ice cream, buck dancing, antique farm equipment, women in long dresses, men with long beards and overalls, old-timey mountain crafts, the smell of food on the fire. There was a relaxed, content feeling in the air, as if people were connecting with deep memories, and yearnings for a time long past.
People brought their lawn chairs and set up in the field for a lazy afternoon with bluegrass/gospel band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Other bands were playing simultaneously at other places on the museum grounds. Nobody was in a hurry and there was plenty of neighborly conversation between strangers.
It’s hard to believe this dear little face started out as a new, shiny apple. Apple head dolls are classic examples of folk art in Appalachia.
Quilts and other fiber arts were on display or for sale in one of the museum’s many old cabins.
After buck dancing was over, some folks stayed around for the more sedate Tennessee Waltz.
All day, groups of (mostly) men stood around, reminiscing, and admiring old farm implements and equipment. Tractors are such iconic symbols of working life and culture on mountain farmsteads.
Polkberry and Virginia creeper grow on an old stacked wall.
Young meets old and the circle continues.
Old barns and other buildings dot the landscape throughout the sixty or so acres entrusted to the museum.
It was an all-around good day: meeting people, being outdoors, connecting with my rural, mountain heritage.
I’m overdue on a post about the 2013 Biscuit Festival in Knoxville. The event was several weeks ago and I’m still sorting through photos. Every image reminds me of intoxicating tastes and smells. I keep thinking I need a snack, when really I just need to get back to the blog.
The second day of the Festival was rainy, but thousands of people ignored the weather and came downtown anyway. Some spilled onto adjacent Krutch Park.
The idea was to get in line and buy a general ticket which would be shown to each of the twenty or so participating vendors. Then, you’d get a sample of the vendor’s interpretation of biscuit goodness. We didn’t want to wait in line, then stand in the middle of the street and eat biscuits for several hours, so we ducked into Tupelo Honey Cafe for brunch. After that, we did some people-watching on the festival end of the street, and shopped for herbs and vegetables on the farmers market end.
These biscuits, from the innovative and enduring Tomato Head Restaurant, were made with smoked cheddar and onion. They made me wish I had bought a ticket after all; maybe TH will publish their recipe someday!
Tupelo Honey, which originated in my hometown of Asheville, opened a Knoxville branch in 2012.
There were plenty of things to buy (or sample) besides biscuits. Moonshine cake was an example. Eat responsibly!
Vendors on the farmer’s market side of the mall had vibrant displays of vegetables. The grower of these luscious-looking radishes told me he likes the D’avignon variety (third from the left). He recommends slicing them thin (oblong side) and putting them on a buttered baguette. Real butter — not margarine, mind you.
Could you stop by this booth and not feel a surge of health and domesticity coming on?
I liked these t-shirts and graphics, displayed at the farmers market booth. If there was a sales/information booth dedicated to the Biscuit Festival organization, we didn’t see it.
These young women were happy to smile for a photograph and answer questions about Napping Cat Flower Farm, source for the gorgeous array of cut blossoms all around them. I bought a sweet mixed bouquet that was arranged in a simple tin can. Napping Cat has one of the prettiest Facebook sites I’ve seen. It’s full of flowers and nature photographs and, of course, cats. The owners say they’ve adopted a lot of cats over the years, but always spay or neuter them. In their words, they don’t grow kittens. Only flowers.
I think herbs are essential in a garden, even if you live in an apartment and have a tiny patio and a few pots. They’re great hosts and pollinators for butterflies and bees, they smell good, and — oh my — what they can do to jazz up a biscuit!
Dogs of every breed, mix, and size were at the festival. I loved seeing them, but don’t know how they withstood the olfactory overload from food in various stages of preparation: bacon and ham frying, cheese bubbling, biscuits baking, onions sizzling, and more — it must have set their canine mouths to frothing!
The biscuit festival has ended, and I’ve decided to try my hand at making biscuits again. I’ve never been much good at it — mine always have that hockey puck quality. You have to make them regularly to get those light and fluffy ones, I think. At any rate, I’m dragging out my tattered recipes, with an eye to jazzing them up with some fancy, special ingredient. We’ll see how it goes. Old dogs can learn new tricks, right?
A few weeks ago, word got out in my mom’s community that there would be a “potato drop” at a church near my old high school in Asheville. I happened to be home then, so Mom and I decided to go check out the “drop”. When we arrived, we saw people down on their knees, sorting through several mounds of spuds that had been loaded directly onto the grass. Some people wore rubber boots and gloves — it had rained that morning, and bits of debris clung to the grass and the wet potatoes.
Volunteers at the church were having a great time, welcoming everyone and giving away what remained of the original 40,000 pound load of potatoes. They had pre-filled dozens of produce boxes and were passing out pages of recipes for all-things-sweet-potato. When I asked about the organization behind the drop, I was introduced to a representative from a non-profit organization called Society of St. Andrews. He gave me one of their brochures and told me they had recently distributed an overage of crops grown on the Biltmore estate. (I can’t remember what type of crop, as I was distracted by all the activity and the pungent smells of wet potatoes, rain, and newly-trampled grass). He said the sweet potatoes at the church had been grown on the coast of North Carolina and brought in for distribution by SoSA. Later on, I wished I had asked why the potatoes had to travel such a great distance rather than be distributed in areas closer to the coast. Since transportation/energy cost is a major concern of advocates for food from local sources, there was a probably a logical reason for this particular long-distance transport. I need to follow up with SoSA for more information.
Later in the day, after we left the church, I looked at the Society of St. Andrews brochure and website. I learned that SoSA has two primary objectives: to feed hungry people and to minimize food waste. Every year, as part of their “gleaning network”, thousands of volunteers distribute 20-25 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks, churches, homeless shelters, and other organizations across the nation. This is food that would otherwise go to waste because of size or minor blemishes. (You know how everything has to be perfect and uniform at the grocery store).
So, yes, I brought a few potatoes home. The volunteers encouraged me to take them, although I don’t meet the criteria of need. I remember this — and am thankful for my blessings — every time I open the refrigerator or pantry door.
Old barns are disappearing from the fields and mountains of Appalachia and from rural landscapes across the country. Sometimes these venerable structures collapse from the unintentional neglect of their caretakers, who become physically or financially unable to maintain them. In other cases, the boards and rafters just give out after decades of adapting to weather extremes. Sometimes, barns are torn down; developers, businesses, or new landowners believe they no longer serve a purpose.
I can’t imagine a more functional category of buildings, yet barns are more than utilitarian. They proudly reflect the identity and architecture, as well as the agriculture, of their region. A cross-country drive through any state will tell you that. Some barns are round, some cantilevered; some are for curing tobacco, while others serve as cribs for housing livestock. Barns are different colors, and construction can be of stone, wood, or metal.
Whatever the material, I’m always touched by the eloquence of old barns. I wonder who worked there and what kind of animals were sheltered from the wind and rain. I try to imagine the farm equipment and the tools that are rusting inside. Most of all, I think about how important barns have been to farm families over the past century. Will a new generation of communities and landowners commit to preserving this cultural asset? I hope so.
I love old farm tractors. To me, they are symbols of hard work and oneness with the earth. Sometimes I see an old tractor and sense the spirit of its owner. I visualize the day-in, day-out partnership ….. farmer and iconic farm machine.
This tractor belonged to Dock, an old friend of my dad’s. Dock is gone now, but his tractor sits outside his house, blue as ever.
To all those who work….
to plow their fields,
to keep their children well — or alive,
to find a job,
to keep the job they have.
Once in a while, on my trips back home, I run into Annie, an old friend from our summer jobs as teacher’s aides with the Headstart program. When I see her, we reminisce about our six-year-old charges – Horace and Bobby and the others – and the endearing traits that make each child memorable after all these years.
Several times during those Headstart summers, Annie invited me to her family’s historic farm and former inn just outside Asheville. After dinner, everybody gathered in a room just off the parlor to play violins (or fiddles, depending on your point of view) or whatever instrument was at hand. Not being proficient in that area, I just listened and took in the gently-worn antique furniture and hand-painted wall murals that depicted a bygone era in the mountains.
A few Sundays ago, I went back to the farm to see Annie. Her parents are gone now and she, her husband, and a new generation oversee a herd of cattle, hundreds of chickens, thirty or forty horses, student interns, a large garden, and assorted domesticated animals. Annie’s no armchair farmer either: it’s not unusual to see her driving a big truck and trailer, grading the dozens of chicken eggs bound for local restaurants and markets each day, or doing any of the myriad tasks it takes to keep a farm going.
With so many family farms struggling now, it’s good to see one so dedicated to keeping community and agricultural traditions alive. Thanks for the visit, Annie.