Museum at Mountain Home

October 26, 2006

While in Tennessee last week I got a chance to tour the Museum at Mountain Home, the name locals still use for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City. Located in a strikingly beautiful 1902 building with a tower, the Museum occupies some 9,000 square feet of what used to be the dining hall for 1,000 residents. I know of no other medical museum in the state of this size or having as large a collection.

The Museum has an ambitious goal: to illuminate the medical heritage of the Southern Appalachians. Exhibits range from Native American herbs up through Civil War and other military medicine and on to more modern displays. While signage, lighting, and other enhancements still need work, the Museum is off to a great start, and already attracts a stream of visitors. More will come when the Museum expands its hours, currently Tuesday 9 a.m. – 11 a.m, Wednesday 1:30 p.m. – 3:30, and Thursday 9 A.M – 11 a.m. Admission is free.

The Museum has been a long time coming, and is largely due to the efforts of an extraordinary woman. Martha Whaley has gathered the Museum’s collections, worked with an enthusiastic group of volunteers, and coordinated fundraising efforts–yet the Museum is not her main job. She is an associate professor, technical services coordinator, and history of medicine librarian at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.

Martha and her supporters deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the Museum, which takes its place as the focal point of anyone’s visit to Mountain Home. – Mountain Home

The Museum at Mountain Home – Welcome

Season Greenings

October 26, 2006

The Jackson Sun has a story today on turnip greens, and that took me back to the days when my Bradley grandparents raised turnips and gave bags of greens to anyone who came to their house. My people always ate greens with vinegar, which to my childhood palate placed them with buttermilk and cottage cheese on the list of Things I Will Not Eat.

Fortunately, when it comes to greens, I got older and wiser. When I lived in Massachusetts, I was taken to Bob the Chef’s, at that time the most famous “soul food” restaurant in Boston. I put soul food in quotation marks, for to anyone from rural Tennessee, “soul food” was just food–it was what we grew up on. We might have never fixed chittlins, but we knew all about fried chicken and sweet potatoes and okra.

It was at Bob the Chef’s that I first encountered collard greens, which immediately surpassed turnip and any other sort of greens in my kitchen. I cooked them with a recipe from the 12th edition of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, of all things–hardly a mainstay of Southern cooking.

I cut up a quarter pound of salt pork into quarter inch cubes and, using a deep cast iron skillet that has served five generations of my wife’s family, cooked the cubes until they were golden brown. Having washed the collards, I blanched them for about 10 minutes, drained them, and put them into the skillet. Putting the heavy lid on it, I simmered the collards for 20-30 minutes, then peppered to taste.

Lord, they are good that way! Collards can stand up to that kind of treatment and still have texture and taste. I once took collards cooked this way to a Unitarian church potluck, where a militant vegetarian swore they were the best thing she had ever eaten and pressed me for the recipe. I never told her about the salt pork, and I know she never got her collards to taste like mine.

Jackson Sun – – Jackson, TN

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