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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Tennessee Sweet Potato Pumpkin

October 24, 2006

A piece in today’s op-ed section of The New York Times discusses how far the noble pumpkin has fallen as a source of good food. Seems that the ones for sale today are destined to become jack-o-lanterns, and, when cooked, taste about as good as their plastic counterparts.

The article spoke highly of Tennessee Sweet Potato Pumpkins, so I visited the website of The New Hope Seed Company, which sells 25 seeds for this variety of heirloom pumpkin for a mere $2.50.

New Hope also sells seeds for beans, cantaloupes, cow peas, and peppers, and offers six web pages of of tobacco seeds, with interesting names such as Connecticut Broadleaf, Frog Eye Orinoco, and Florida Sumatra.

The Company is located in Bon Aqua, but is not set up for retail operations–they don’t even list a phone number–so you have to deal with them by mail or on line. Bon Aqua is also home to Gusset Clothing Company ,which sells one of the few jeans still made in America.

Heirloom, Open Pollinated, Non-Hybrid Pumpkin Seeds from New Hope Seed Company

Chain restaurants put the bite on independent eateries

October 24, 2006

When I wrote Moon Handbooks: Tennessee, I would only list, as much as possible, locally owned restaurants.  A few chains, such as Corky’s and Buddy’s Barbecue and Pal’s got in there, but at least they were owned by Tennesseans.  This state has such wonderful food, I reasoned, that why would anyone want to come here and eat at Applebees?

Apparently locals and visitors alike are increasingly patronizing chain restaurants, to the detriment of locally owned and far more distinctive eateries. 

Today’s Tennessean addresses how Nashville’s independent restaurants are banding together as the local chapter of the Council of Independent Restaurants of America.  They call themselves The Nashville Originals, and consist of the following:

• Acorn Restaurant, 114 28th Ave. N.
• Bound’ry Restaurant, 911 20th Ave. S.
• Cabana, 1910 Belcourt Ave.
• Caffe Nonna, 4427 Murphy Road
• Cross Corner Bar & Grill, 330 Franklin Road, Brentwood
• Fido, 1812 21st Ave. S.
• Flying Horse, 230 Franklin Road, Franklin
• Germantown Café, 1200 Fifth Ave. N., Suite 100
• Jackson’s Bar & Bistro, 1800 21st Ave. S.
• Jimmy Kelly’s Restaurant, 217 Louise Ave.
• MAFIAoZA’S, 2400 12th Ave. S.
• Mambu Restaurant & Bar, 1806 Hayes St.
• Midtown Cafe, 102 19th Ave. S.
• Mirror Restaurant, 2317 12th Ave. S.
• Noshville Delicatessen, 1918 Broadway
• Noshville Delicatessen II, 4014 Hillsboro Circle
• Park Cafe, 4403 Murphy Road
• Provence Breads & Cafe, 1705 21st Ave. S.
• Provence Breads & Cafe II, 601 Church St.
• Red Restaurant, 1515 Church St.
• rumba, 3009 West End Ave.
• South Street, 907 20th Ave. S.
• Sunset Grill, 2001 Belcourt Ave.
• tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar, 2100 21st Ave. S.
• Tin Angel, 3201 West End Ave.
• Wild Iris, 127 Franklin Road, Brentwood
• Yellow Porch, 734 Thompson Lane
• ZOLA, 3001 West End Ave.

These are wonderful restaurants, and let’s wish them all success in banding together and staying strong.

Local eateries unite as chains invade – Nashville, Tennessee – Tuesday, 10/24/06 –

Governor Announces State Park Plans

October 18, 2006

Governor Phil Bredesen said today that he would like to build a new state park in Middle Tennessee, a rustic park lodge in the Ocoee area, and renovations for Reelfoot Lake and Pickwick Landing State Parks in the western part of the state.

The Middle Tennessee park would be somewhere south of Nashville. This is an excellent idea, for this area contains one of the nation’s best collection of antebellum mansions, much Civil War history, and plenty of natural beauty. The park cannot come to soon, for the Franklin and Maury County areas are growing rapidly.

East Tennessee has not seen many of the hotels/lodges that grace parks in Middle and West Tennessee, and the Ocoee River area would be a great location. “I believe a state parks lodge would enhance the exciting things
already taking place in this region and continue to boost the tourism
industry in southeast Tennessee,” Bredesen said. “This lodge could also
serve as a model for the development of future park inns and lodges
that are designed to take their inspiration from natural landscapes.”

As for West Tennessee, according the to governor’s website, “Bredesen has set a focus on Pickwick Landing
Reelfoot Lake State Parks. At Pickwick Landing, Bredesen plans to raze
an old and unused inn, whose attractiveness and safety has declined
over the years, replacing it with cabins designed to fit into the
natural landscape. At Reelfoot Lake, Bredesen plans to refurbish the
boardwalk and inn rooms located over the water for the future enjoyment
of Tennesseans.”

Phil Bredesen Governor, State of Tennessee

Governor wants to create new park in Midstate – Nashville, Tennessee – Wednesday, 10/18/06 –

Gray Fossil Site Museum Progresses

October 17, 2006

Gray, Tennessee, a hamlet between Kingsport and Johnson City, has become a very big deal in the world of paleontology with the discovery of one of the richest fossil sites in the world.It seems that 4.5-7 million years ago, a cave collapsed and created a sinkhole into which fell all manner of animals: rhinos, tapirs, pandas, and other mammals, large and small. Sorry kids, no dinosaurs. These animals became fossils and lay in situ until road construction revealed them. The site covers 4-5 acres and is up to 130 feet deep.


Part of the Gray Fossil Site
This is a stupendous find, one that will be studied for decades. In the meantime, final touches are being put on a combination museum and visitors center. I saw the site for the first time today, and happened to run into the architect, Shawn T. Benson. He reports that the building will be complete by early 2007, and then the exhibit people take over. He estimated that the center will be open to the public during the summer of 2007.

A Man and his Museum

This museum and visitors center should give a shot in the arm to Washington County tourism, as this site is just a couple of miles off I-26. It may be more interesting to see how it plays with the locals.

One of the issues in opening a museum such as this in the Buckle of the Bible Belt is that any talk of fossils makes it hard to avoid the “E” word: evolution. East Tennessee State University, which manages the site, takes the bull by the horns and contains a link on the page below saying “Learn About Evolution.

For fire-breathing fundamentalists, however, no amount of science–no matter if there is 130 feet of it–can get around this oft-heard argument: Fossils were put there by the devil to confuse people. As Humphrey Bogart said to a fellow character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “If you think like that there’s nothing to do but tie you up at night.”

Gray Fossil Site

Flying High for 30 Years

October 16, 2006

Today’s Chattanooga newspaper (subscription required at link below) announces the 30th anniversary of Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding. While actually in Georgia, this is close enough to Tennessee for inclusion on this website.

The school, if one can call it that, claims to be the largest such enterprise in the country, producing five times more pilots than any other school. (The word “dropout,” in this context, takes on new meaning.)

The 30th Anniversary Celebration takes place October 26-28. Want to give this sport a try? During the Celebration, introductory flight packages for two cost $199–a 50 percent discount.

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Electioneering = Hamboning

October 15, 2006

I heard a political ad on the radio today, and for some reason it made me think of “eefing,” a most peculiar form of vocalizing done in Tennessee and other Southern states. It’s very hard to describe; the best thing to do is watch it on a YouTube clip.

Eefing here is combined with “hamboning,” a kind of percussion accomplished by using one’s hand, leg, and chest. The best-known version of eefing took place on the “Hee Haw” television show, as done by Jimmy Riddle. In this clip, he is accompanied on hambone by Jackie Phelps.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Wonderful photos of country music greats in Vanity Fair

October 11, 2006

Whatever you think about the politics of Vanity Fair, it is the hands down best magazine for photographs of famous people. The November issue focuses on country music, and of the 23 photos in the spread, nine were taken in Tennessee by ace photographer Mark Seliger, who has shot over 100 covers for Rolling Stone.

The Tennessee locations include Porter Wagoner–where else?–at the Opry; Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley at Hatch Show Print; and Dwight Yoakam, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett in Memphis’s Sun Studios. Gretchen Wilson appears in a low-rent looking Nashville kitchen with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jack Daniels on the chrome table.


Making the charts in Vanity Fair

October 11, 2006

The November issue of Vanity Fair arrived today, with a couple of Tennessee topics.  Amid the ads showing sullen-faced young people wearing expensive clothes, writer James Wolcott fires repeated volleys at politicians who claim that red state inhabitants are paragons of virtue while residents of blue states might as well have license tags reading Sodom or Gomorrah. 

He then trots out ten sets of lists showing the top states in various onerous categories such as highest incarceration rates, suicide rates, and number of executions.  I stopped reading the piece and began flipping through the numbers to see how Tennessee fared.

Actually, not too bad.  Tennessee shows up in only three of the ten lists.  We are Number 12 with a bullet in the highest rates of death by firearms in 2003, Number Nine in highest divorce rates, and –pass the gravy–Number Four in rates of obesity.

Once again, everyone in Tennessee should thank God for Mississippi, which shows up on six lists, and heads two of them–highest rate of female incarceration and of highest rate of obesity. 

Cue Elvis singing “Mean Woman Blues.” 

YouTube – Mean Woman Blues [1957]


Elephants in Tennessee

October 10, 2006

Southerners, especially when gathering in places far from their birth, like to see who can out-Flannery O’Connor each other by telling tales about weird people we have known or bizarre events that took place where we grew up.

My show-stopper for years was the tale of “Murderous Mary,” a traveling circus elephant that came to Kingsport in 1916 and killed a man. My paternal grandmother was at the circus parade but did not witness the attack. The owner of the circus decided to execute Mary by hanging, and dispatched her to the town of Erwin, headquarters of the local railroad and home to a large crane.  There, while thousands gawked, poor Mary was executed, but not before the first chain around her neck broke and had to be replaced. 

The New York Times Magazine has a cover story on how human atrocities to elephants, among the most social of beasts, has led to all manner deviant behavior up to and including killing human beings. Can’t say as I blame the pachyderms at all, given what people have done to them.  

Down in the depths of the article, writer Charles Siebert tells the story of Mary, then segues to what happened to another elephant who killed a handler.  This one, Misty, was sent to The Elephant Sanctuary : Hohenwald, Tennessee , where one of the founders, Carol Buckley, says that with good and loving care, Misty “is as sweet as can be. You’d never know that this elephant killed anybody.’’

The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald is a wonderful place.  It does not encourage visitors, but you can see the elephants from a webcam at this link:  The Elephant Sanctuary, Hohenwald, Tennessee.

An Elephant Crackup? – New York Times