Monday, August 29, 2016

Graham County/Bear Creek Scenic Railroad

My great-grandfather, Gordon "Frog Eye" Wilson.

My Granny Janice gave this picture of her dad to me several years ago. I found myself drawn to it and began imagining what it must have been like for my great grandfather to work on the train line that traveled from Robbinsville, NC to Topton, NC.

I asked my Granny if she remembered anything about the time her dad spent working for the railroad. Most of her memories come from the time he spent as engineer when the train served as a tourist attraction. She remembers taking my dad and his brothers on a train ride with their grandfather. He was referred to as "Frog Eye Wilson" by most people who knew him. The train's announcer, Jim Wood, also referred to him as such as he introduced him to the passengers. Granny told me that Mr.Wood would sing Life's Railway to Heaven as the train traveled along those winding tracks. There are a few versions of this song but I like Johnny Cash's the best. 

I came across this 1970 Chicago Tribune article as I was looking for information about the Bear Creek Scenic Railroad. I'm sure that it was a pretty big deal to have an article written about the little town of Robbinsville all the way up in the big city of Chicago! 

"Brand new Graham County Railroad Company's Shay/ Number 1925 stands outside the Lima Locomotive Works/ factory in Lima, Ohio in February, 1925." Image available from the North Carolina Historic Sites.

"Brand new Graham County Railroad Company's Shay/Number 1925 stands outside the Lima Locomotive Works factory in Lima, Ohio - February, 1925." Image available from the NC Historic Sites. 

The Graham County Railroad Company was chartered in 1905 but because of some problems, didn't become operational until 1925. This line peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s, taking sawed lumber out of the mountains and bringing fresh produce, general merchandise, hardware, and household goods into Robbinsville. The company continued to haul freight until late 1970 when service was discontinued until a larger amount of freight could be developed and assured. The original steam Shay locomotive was still in operation and the Graham County Railroad became famous all over the United States as the last steam freight line in the country. In 1966, Bear Creek Junction was organized and a scenic steam train took tourists on a 12 1/2 mile ride through the mountains. It remained successful for several years before closing in the late 70s.

Graham County's No. 1925 Shay is currently at the NC Transportation Museum.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Boiled Peanuts Ahead

I woke up this morning with boiled peanuts on my mind. While there are dozens of roadside stands in our area, we usually get a scoop from a produce stand down the road from our house (Peachtree Produce) or at one of the local flea markets. Today was a flea market day. 

The perfect Saturday lunch: "Caviar of the South" with some "Nectar of North Carolina".

I still remember the first time I ever tried them. My Pa Glenn brought some home with him from work and said that he had something for me. I was a little apprehensive after one glance of those slimy lookin' peanut shells but decided to give them a try. I thought, "They taste a lot like pinto beans. I LOVE pintos!" I've been hooked ever since. 

We will occasionally buy a mess of raw peanuts and boil them in our slow cooker all day but they just don't taste the same as those you buy from a roadside stand. If you would like to try making your own at home or would like to read about the history of boiled peanuts, go here: Boiled Peanuts Recipe & History- Whats Cooking America.

Have you ever tried boiled peanuts? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Please pass the Chicken n' Dumplins...

I spent a lot of time with my Pa & Granny Holloway (paternal grandparents) as I was growing up and lived with them after my mom died, a couple of months before I turned 15, until I got married. My Granny Janice taught me how to cook & I couldn't have asked for a better southern teacher. That woman can cook and if you ever leave her house hungry, it's your own dadburned fault!

One of my favorite things she taught me to cook is chicken and dumplings (we say chicken n' dumplins). I can't think of a more perfect, southern comfort food.

I now know that chicken n' dumplins isn't something that photographs well 
but I never claimed to be a food photographer! 

"Chicken and dumplings is one of the primary main dishes of the Appalachian kitchen, and most regional cookbooks contain recipes for it. Until the 1950s, rural families commonly killed, cleaned, and dressed their own chickens and cooked them on wood-burning stoves in cast-iron cookware.

For chicken and dumplings, the bird is stewed, cooled, deboned, and returned to the broth. While the chicken and broth simmer, the dumplings, colloquially known as dough balls, slipperies, or slickums, are prepared. Neither a biscuit nor a bread, dumplings are pieces of dough made with a base of flour or cornmeal mixed with varying amounts of milk, baking powder, and shortening. The most common dumplings eaten with chicken in the manner are drop, or slick dumplings, dropped by the spoonful into the broth and cooked until they are light, tender, and biscuitlike. Some Appalachian cooks add butter and chopped giblets as well as boiled eggs to the mixture; others add one or more additional ingredients such as sherry, lemon peel, parsley, or pepper." Encyclopedia of Appalachia

About a year ago, I posted a question on Facebook asking my friends and family if they rolled or dropped their dumplings. The majority drop, as do I. The only time that I remember having any that were rolled was at a Cracker Barrel while I was in college & in desperate need of some home cooking. I've seen some Pinterest recipes calling for canned biscuits *gasp*.  I can see how that would be a bit of a time saver but it just seems so wrong! Trust me, take the extra 3 minutes and mix up a little flour, shortening and milk. Your belly will thank you.

My Granny Janice has been ailing as of late (she just turned 79) and we've all been taking turns making some meals for her to warm up. I decided to make her a few plates of chicken n' dumplins, green beans & honey glazed carrots (I used some of my father in-law's sourwood honey...have mercy!). My uncle happened to be up there when I called to tell her I was on my way so I fixed an extra one for him. He told me that my chicken n' dumplins were as good as Granny's. I couldn't have asked for a better compliment.

How do y'all make your dumplins? Dropped or rolled? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Canning & Preserving

A few things that I've worked on putting away this summer: strung up green beans 
for drying (leather britches), grape juice, peaches, salsa, and vegetable soup. 

One of my favorite things about Appalachia is the FOOD. Most southerners equate food for love. I've been a foodie long before that was ever a term and you can tell by looking at me that I am well loved. Ahem. We tend to show up with a casserole dish for every kind of occasion: births, baptisms, graduations, reunions, engagements, weddings and even deaths. 

The story of how we obtain and prepare food, like most of Appalachian culture, is a saga of change. The region has evolved from simple self-sufficiency to more of a Wal-Mart, Ingles, fast food culture. 

"Traditional food and cooking in the Appalachian highlands have a strong association with self-sufficiency and hard times. Families in isolated areas were obliged to grow most of what they ate, buying only those products they could not raise, such as coffee and baking soda. Before the advent of food preservation technologies such as canning and freezing, mountaineers had to depend on root cellars or trenches for storing potatoes and cabbage, and the diet in winter could become seriously deficient in vegetables and fruits, leading in the worst cases to scurvy and other nutrient-deficiency diseases."
Encyclopedia of Appalachia

When my Granny was my age, the majority of women she knew canned vegetables, fruits, jellies, etc. I only know a handful of people my age who do. The most common reasons are the lack of time and the belief that it's cheaper just to buy it at the grocery store. I assure you that your time invested will not be in vain and in this case, as in most, cheaper is not better. There is nothing better than opening and cooking a jar of home canned green beans, or anything really, on a cold winter day. It's like a spoonful of summer right there on your plate. 

Of all the things that make up our cultural identities, people seem to cling to food the most. I have recently been more interested in learning to cook and preserve food the way my family has for dozens of years. This summer, I have canned more food from our family garden than I have in the past 16 years that I've been married. It is a lot of work but so rewarding to see those jars fill up and know that my family will eat well after the garden has withered away. 

Do you or anyone you know enjoy canning? What kind of things to you put up for the winter? I look forward to sharing some of the recipes and methods that I've learned this summer!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why I started this blog & a little of my history...

Blogging is something that I've thought about doing for a couple of years.  My husband encouraged me to do it & write about what I love....and one of the things I love most is Appalachia!  I love the mountains, the people, THE FOOD, the traditions... I love it ALL! 

Part of my family has lived in Cherokee County, NC for close to 200 years or that's as far back as I've been able to track it. I have also discovered that I am of Scots-Irish & Cherokee descent.  A large portion of Appalachia is made up of people that share this background.  According to the Encyclopedia of Appalachia"The Scots-Irish were so influential in shaping Appalachia's settlement process that they have become an essential part of regional stereotypes.  They have been characterized as independent, resourceful, family-oriented, deeply religious, and skilled in woodcraft, as well as indolent, belligerent, violent, and unduly bound by tradition.  Regardless of their relevance, these stereotypes continue to shape the image of Appalachia.  Estimates of population are difficult to verify, but in areas of significant Scots-Irish settlement such as western NC it has been estimated that 30-35% of settlers before 1840 were Scots-Irish.  While it is unlikely that they compromised a majority of settlers in most places, they exerted a powerful influence in shaping the development of Appalachian culture." 

I can agree that most of that description still rings true.  The people of Appalachia are, for the most part, a "salt of the earth" kind of people.  I have grown up and live in an area where people are willing to help each other.  Faith, family, and friends are everything.  I am blessed to know that I can always find someone to lend a hand whenever I may need it and I hope that my family and friends can include me on their go-to list of people that are willing to extend a hand to them.  While things in this area are changing daily, it still has that down home, small town feel.  I can't imagine living in a place where I couldn't see my mountains. This has and always will be home. 

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 
Psalm 121:1