Window shopping on Main Street of a small southern town last summer, I spied a small plaque with a poem entitled The South. It naturally caught my eye. Enchanted by the words, it triggered many memories of my childhood growing up on Shades Mountain. You may have seen it yourself – you know, the one about the days being long and the summers longer. Where sweet tea is served on porches surrounded by Gardenias and Snap Dragons. Where chicken is always fried, and macaroni is a vegetable. Barefoot summers are spent wading in cold mountain streams, and pails of wild blackberries are picked to be made into cobbler and jam. Idyllic.
After the last day of school, my friends and I dutifully removed our shoes (not to be worn again except for Sunday) and gathered in the yard for a barefoot game of kickball. Our property had a large space covered in Bermuda grass that was thick and cool. How we loved to run and play games. We’d stay out all day, and as soon as supper was over, gather again to catch fireflies in mason jars. It probably sounds corny now, but those were really fun times.
In those days it was safe to wander, and with few distractions, my friends and I would go exploring. Down the road from out houses the woods beckoned. Thick mountain forests, alive with critters and birds, awaited our imagination, and we’d go deeper and deeper into the thick growth, and scare ourselves silly with the idea that we’d never find our way out.
We climbed huge boulders, covered with scratchy lichen, and talked about anything that struck our fancy. When it got too hot, we’d listen for the sound of rushing water and find our way to the nearest stream. There was always a good place to wade and
cool our feet. To my way of thinking, it was as good as any swimming pool – unless of course, you took a fall on a slippery rock.
Sundays were spent at the Baptist church, and afternoons at Nanny’s, my paternal grandmother and the world’s best cook. There wasn’t anything that woman couldn’t make, and it all tasted delicious. She raised her own chickens (which she and I often prepared together, if you get my drift) and fried them on an old gas stove that created the most mouthwatering delicacies. “The secret,” she said, “is to get the grease really hot. You dip the piece of chicken in flour, a beaten egg, and back in the flour, and shake it in a paper bag. Then you brown it up, turn down the heat, and cover the iron skillet with a tight-fitting lid. It’s done when it’s tender.” My mouth waters just thinking about it!
The room would be hot as you-know-what, but the smells were heavenly.
At her hands, I learned to cook. We made buttermilk cornbread, fried corn, fried okra, fried summer squash (are you getting the theme? We fry a lot in southern cuisine!) Deliciously seasoned green beans, and melt-in-your-mouth apple dumplings, and a recipe her mother brought over from the old country for a dish she called Kooka. That’s spelled phonetically, of course. It was a yeasty dough filled with sliced apples and lots of cinnamon and sugar.
She taught me to prepare meals, bake a cake from scratch, and keep a mean house. I swear a person could eat off her floors and never get sick.
By the time I’d explore the mountain, played games with my friends, spent time with my grandmother and learned to cook the summer was over and ti was time to head back to school.
It was great to see the friends from the other side of the mountain, but the worst thing about it? Putting on my shoes!
Hungry yet? Let’s start… Click Here to get Nanny’s Secret Recipe