Tag Archives: Big Horse Creek Farm

Victuals

 For Americans of my generation, the word “victuals,” pronounced ‘vi-dls and sometimes spelled “vittles,” conjures up images of Granny Clampett of “The Beverly Hillbillies” cooking up something for Jed and the family. My own Grandmother Harbison occasionally used the word to refer to the scrumptious real food she was always preparing.

The word comes to us, after some alterations through French and English, from the Late Latin victualia meaning provisions for human consumption. My grandmother’s use of it probably harks to her Anglo-Saxon roots filtered through Appalachia. Those Anglo-Saxon roots are also likely the reason she sometimes still used the word “poke” to refer to a sack or bag.

These memories were conjured by the book I just read. I enjoy cookbooks that read like a narrative and few cookbooks fulfill that purpose as beautifully as Ronni Lundy’s Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes (New York: Clarkson Potter / Publishers, 2016) with photographs by Johnny Autry.

Victuals explores and extols the foodways of the Southern Appalachians. The book has agendas: sustainable farming and environmental concerns come through loud and clear. But ultimately it is a celebration and explanation of a part of the country and a way of living that is sometimes undervalued and marginalized.

It is ironic that the trendiest chefs and food styles are discovering a way of food and living that has never gone away in the southern tangents of the great eastern mountain range. John Stehling of Asheville’s Early Girl Eatery observes, about southern Appalachia, “This place and its food have never died off, and it inspires me.” Indeed, a 2011 study declared southern and central Appalachia “the most diverse foodshed in North America.”

Lundy is among the founding members of Southern Foodways Alliance and has written extensively on Southern food, culture, and roots music over the years. With Victuals she digs deep into Appalachian roots in eight distinct, beautifully written, and well-documented sections which present stories, recipes, and individuals as well as document the threats that menace the noble and well-established way of living in the region. The sociology of Victuals is as compelling as its culinary focus in sections with titles like “Roots and Seeds,” “Apple-achia,” “Preserving,’ and “Husbandry.”

Victuals introduces the reader to a variety of farmers and butchers, chefs and cooks, purveyors, environmentalists, and food experts throughout the region. Many faces are new and others are familiar names like Chefs Sean Brock and John Fleer, and Chef Erik Neil of Chattanooga’s Easy Bistro and Main Street Meats. I was pleased to see a mention of Big Horse Creek Farm in Lansing, North Carolina, where a few years ago Suzanne and Ron Joyner were able to hook me up with some of the Hackworth apples that my mother remembered from her youth in Cullman County, Alabama.

Johnny Autry’s enticing photographs set one’s mouth to watering even before the text can be read. Soon after I received the book I casually opened it to a photo of English Pea Salad with Cream Dressing; it made me long for a taste and brought up memories of a long-forgotten dish. The recipe for Spiced Pickled Peaches makes my longing for the start of the spring Chilton County peach crop in a couple of months even stronger. There is even a mouth-watering section about chili buns and slaw dogs.

Other recipes inspire new ideas, such as “Buttermilk Cabbage Soup with Black Walnut ‘Pesto’” or “Ginger Bean Chowchow.” There is a piece on greens that is as informative as anything I’ve ever read about those Southern standards.

Lundy’s exploration of Appalachia extends from southern Ohio and West Virginia to northern Georgia. She does not include the southernmost Appalachian regions of northwest and north central Alabama but much of her reportage rings familiar to what I know and other segments, going deeper into the heart of the region, hold surprises.

Lundy is confronted with and explores the idea of “aspirational eating” – a foodways theory that suggests that the move from home-grown foods to convenience foods and commercial products was fueled not by convenience, availability, and taste but by the “aspiration” of the region to be more like the mainstream families seen in print ads and on television. This is apparently a new concept to Lundy (as it was to me) when she is first asked about it by an oral historian, but as she encounters the idea more she feels compelled to consider and address it.

Her best response comes from one of her book’s subjects, Walter Harrill, who owns Imladris Farm, near Asheville, with his wife, Wendy. Lundy says the Harrills have become the Asheville area’s premium suppliers of locally crafted jams and preserves. When asked about “aspirational eating,” Harrill muses:

“See, I think assuming ‘aspirational’ for a motivation assumes that those of us living here, in the mountains, are trying to be a part of the world ‘out there’. But the truth of it is, we look ‘out there,’ at the rest of the world, and then we kind of shake our heads and say, ‘Well, I just hate it for them’.”

Victuals is full of that kind of true and direct mountain wisdom.

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Hackworths!

IMG_1901  Finally my years-long search for Hackworth apples took me to this entry on the website for Big Horse Creek Farm in Lansing, North Carolina (www.bighorsecreekfarm.com):

HACKWORTH: A long-time popular variety that most likely originated with Dr. Nichodemus Hackworth (1816-1893) of Morgan County, Alabama. A letter sent to the USDA by T.W. Dermington of Lavonia, Georgia, in 1907 stated that the apple arose as a chance seedling on a creek bank from seeds washed down from an old orchard upstream. It is believed that Dr. Nichodemus obtained starts from this original tree. As described in an old nursery catalog, it was a great summer apple which “bears fruit every day in August.” Fruit medium with yellow skin overlaid with a few red stripes and splashes. Flesh is yellow, granular, and aromatic. Ripens July to August.

Hackworth is an heirloom variety of apple that my mother remembers from her days as a child in Cullman County, Alabama. She speaks fondly of one particular place that her family lived in the community of Jones Chapel. This was in the days when my grandfather was farming in Cullman County, before the family moved to Birmingham and he began factory work. Mother often talks about the fruit orchards and grapevines on this particular property. They took such a place for granted back then; it sounds paradisiacal to me.

A few years ago when we were at the Saturday morning Pepper Place Market in Birmingham, Mother was excited to see Hackworths at one of the stands. She bought some and said they had been a favorite of hers as a child. She told me to get her some Hackworths if ever I happened to run across them.

Since that one time at Pepper Place I have looked for but have never been able to find Hackworths again. Over the years I inquired about Hackworths at Pepper Place and other farmers’ markets and farm stands, did searches, and called places that might be able to help me. I’ve even driven the back roads a few times seeking out orchards that I was told about that might have potential. Each path was a dead end.

Over time I gave up. I would occasionally ask somebody if they knew anything about Hackworths and was generally met with blank stares.

A few weeks ago after a trip to Birmingham I remembered that Hackworths had been a summer apple and did one more half-hearted on-line search, not really expecting anything of substance to pop up. That’s when I found the website for Big Horse Creek Farm in North Carolina, in high country near the place where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee meet. I did a search for Hackworths and ran across the entry that begins this essay. The site indicated that Big Horse Creek Farm specializes in antique and heirloom apple trees and provides specialty services to graft trees for customers looking for specific heirloom varieties.

Finally, a ray of hope. I sent an email to the nursery, told them of Mother’s fondness for Hackworths and how I had been trying to track some down for years, and asked if they might know where I could find Hackworth apples for purchase. I received a nice reply from the nursery’’s owners, Suzanne and Ron Joyner, telling me that they had just picked a couple of bushels from their one Hackworth tree on the previous day and would be selling them at a farmers market the following day.

Since I was in Alabama I would not be able to get to their farmers market but I thanked them for their reply. Almost as an afterthought, I added “Do you ship?” Based on the nature of their business, I was certain that they did not ship fresh apples, only trees.

A couple of days later I received a reply. It began “We are a small specialty nursery operation and don’t normally ship fresh apples but here’s what we can do…” They had been touched by my mother’s request and suddenly, after years of searching, I arranged to have ten pounds of the elusive Hackworth apple shipped to my parents’ house.

The shipment arrived on Friday. I traveled down to Birmingham the next day and was eager to bite into one of the long sought-after apples. The Joyners included a note to Mother explaining that they sent some slightly underripe fruits to ensure safer shipping and longevity. The apples are small to medium-sized, ruddy, and randomly marked with green and gold accents; they have a firm fresh real apple taste with a semi-tart bite. They’re full of possibilities. It’s easy to see how one would remember them all of her life.

I always feel fortunate when I discover kind-hearted and caring people like the Joyners who are truly and quietly making a difference. Their mission is to preserve a part of our horticultural heritage. In so doing, I think they plant hope.

In the case of my mother, they made a distant memory real again. IMG_1903