THIS MONTH’S SPECIALS
My main offer this month, and is one any serious reader or sporting literature will want to check out, involves the first portion of an impressive collection formed by a discerning reader. You’ll fine classic items by the likes of Nash Buckingham and Havilah Babcock, a number of Derrydale Press items, signed copies, and even some Buckingham letters. Throw in a few really special items acquired from other sources and you have offerings to set the adrenaline of any reading hunter into overdrive. To check out the list, click this link.
The second offering is a book which I edited and for which I also provided an “Editor’s Note.” It is Facing the Charge: African Dangerous Game (by Michael J. Miller as told to Scott Longman). If you enjoy stirring tales of adventure in the “Dark Continent,” this book is an irresistible “must read.” It includes a Foreword by Fiona Capstick, lots of striking photos, and is beautifully laid out and designed. Copies of the folio-size book are $60 plus $5 shipping and can be ordered through my website or by sending a check or money order for $65 c/o Jim Casada, 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29730. I’ll gladly sign if you so desire.
I have been or will be on the road considerably more than normal over the next couple of months (see schedule below). Beyond that, I’ve had several stories appear recently in various publications. These include my latest profile, on Olive Tilford Dargan, who wrote From My Highest Hill, a delightful book on the area where I grew up, for Smoky Mountain Living. I will also have two pieces in the next issue of Carolina Mountain Life, one on persimmons for my “Mountain Wit and Wisdom” column and the second on the lovely balds found at various places along the main spine of the southern Appalachians. Recent pieces in “Sporting Classics Daily,” a blog which appears five times weekly and to which I contribute on a fairly regular basis, include a profile of the great outdoor writer Gene Hill and one on “How to Organize a Sporting Library.”
September 28—I’ll be at Western Carolina University speaking to that institution’s Friends of the Library group in the first of what is a planned annual event. It will celebrate the reprinting of Sam Hunnicutt’s rare book, Twenty Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains, for which I wrote a lengthy new Introduction (as covered in the June newsletter). I still have copies of the book available for $25 postage paid. It is my understanding this event is open to the public.
September 29-30, October 1—Attending the annual meeting of the South Carolina Outdoor Press Association in Florence, SC. This gathering enables me to see a lot of longtime friends, enjoy some grand company, and get my batteries recharged a bit through interaction with my peers. Private event.
October 16—In Bristol, TN to present a guest lecture to a group at King University, my undergraduate alma mater, and to attend an event honoring someone who was special in the formative stages of my life. Private events.
October 18-22—Attending the annual meeting of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) in Kentucky. I’ve been a member of this organization for well over three decades and twice have served as its president. Some of my best friends in the world, and a number of professionals to whom I look for advice and inspiration, are fellow members. In a jam-packed period of seminars, testing new products, interacting with editors, and having some wholesome fun (there’s always pickin’ and grinnin’ for an evening or two, and while my musical talents are non-existent I’m a world-class grinner), I’ll be uplifted and invigorated in a way that doesn’t happen any other time of the year. SEOPA is my organizational home and the fact that I’ve never missed a meeting since joining tells you something about how much I value my membership. Private event.
Nov. 11-12—I’ll be in Middleburgh, Virginia to give a talk in connection with a special hunt/fundraiser being sponsored by the National Sporting Library and Museum and hosted by some of the organization’s board members. As some of you may recall, I had a research fellowship at the NSLM a few years back and was so impressed that I’ve remained closely involved with them in a variety of ways. They are doing a splendid job in preserving essential aspects of our nation’s grand hunting heritage. Private event.
LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
For many years each issue of Reader’s Digest included a section with the title “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” It shared small slices of humor from everyday life that invariably tickled the funny bone and lifted one’s spirits. I’m at a point in my life where a bit of jollity is most welcome, and come to think of it, such has always been the case. Gatherings of my extended family have always featured hearty laughter, usually at the expense of one member or another, and for many years joke gifts at Christmas were part of the process. For example, one year I remember Daddy getting a pair of underwear decorated with Mickey Mouse or some Disney character, while on another occasion he received an audiotape of Sammy Davis, Jr., whom he disliked with considerable intensity. Mom was curious as a child at Christmas, and one year we hid all her presents. She didn’t say anything but for several days you could catch her poking around, a woebegone look on her face, as she tried to find something with her name on it.
For my part, I received a primitive fire-starting apparatus (a stick-and-string friction device) from a nephew after a fiasco of a camping trip where I took two fellows into the back country only to discover I had no means of getting a fire going. That particular gift left Daddy absolutely convulsed in laughter.
Goodness knows any prowess I may possibly have as a writer falls well wide of being a humorist, although over the years I’ve been blessed to know a couple of wonderful humor writers, along with a cartoonist, the late Cliff Shelby, who could turn most any situation into one that tickled the funny bone.
Still, I’ve been involved in a fair share of funny situations over the years, and two recent developments started me thinking about such moments, along with youthful mischief and high jinks, from the past. One was a family member sharing a Dave Barry piece about a colonoscopy. The second involved reminiscences of college pranks. I thought I’d share a sampling with the hope that they will evoke some humorous recollections in your own life along with possibly providing a chuckle or two connected with things I’ve done, been involved with, or observed in the past.
As anyone who has endured the procedure knows, never mind that it’s an important precautionary health measure, a colonoscopy is no fun. Actually it isn’t that the procedure is so bad. It’s everything preceding it. Yet, as someone who has “enjoyed” multiple experiences in this realm of medicine, I’m not sure I don’t prefer it to a somewhat similar procedure, a sigmoidoscopy. I underwent a couple of these before every having the distinctly dubious pleasure of the full monte, a colonoscopy.
One definition I found stated that a sigmoidoscopy was “a procedure that allows your doctor to examine the rectum and the lower (sigmoid) colon. The flexible sigmoidoscope is a flexible tube 60 centimeters long and about the thickness of your little finger. It is inserted gently into the anus and advanced slowly into the rectum and the lower colon,” with a light attached to it helping in the examination of deep, dark places where no one in their right mind wants to go.
Maybe that’s the intention of this particular procedure and the piece of optical equipment used to perform it, but so help me the last one I had didn’t fit the definition I located. The device might have been described as “flexible,” but only if you consider an inch-wide section of rebar flexible. Likewise, the sole way it measured a mere 60 centimeters in length was if some kind of medical transposition in the metric system took place where a centimeter suddenly equated to six inches. As for being about the “thickness of your little finger,” the person writing the description evidently placed the tube alongside the pinkie finger of the world’s pudgiest man. As for gentle insertion and slow advancement, if that was so then General Sherman was the essence of gentleness and gentility in his march through Georgia and Stonewall Jackson’s troops advanced at a tortoise-like pace.
Those definitional parameters being duly established, let me tell you about my final sigmoidoscopy. It may well have made my physician and the poor nurse assisting him swear off such examinations. I strongly suspect, like Edgar Allen Poe’s raven, that their post-procedure conference involved frequent usage of the word “nevermore.” Here’s my recollection of how it went.
After a 24-hour “warm up” period which found me befriending the commode to an extent where I dared not stray more than five steps from it thanks to a purging of the innards which made a case of the tortilla trots look like constipation, I found myself sideways on a table in the doctor’s office. I was dressed in one of those sartorial inventions of Satan they call a hospital gown. What a device! They tie in the back where either you need three mirrors or the flexibility of a contortionist to get them on properly, and even then you are left in a state of sufficient undress where all you have to do to moon anyone within eyesight is to turn away from them.
After lying in cold discomfort for what seemed to me an inordinately long time, the doctor and his erstwhile nurse, a soft-spoken young thing who looked as if she was at least three years short of her majority, arrived. If it was her last day on the job I wouldn’t blame her. I was repeatedly assured of gentleness and that things would go nice and slow, though all the while those words were being completely belied by an invasion of my posterior that I can best equate to the work of a three-inch reamer. But the crowning indignity—and let me assure you there is absolutely no dignity in the entire undertaking—involved some kind of instrument of torture borrowed from the Inquisition which was a take-off on something I had often heard about in rougher circles but never experienced; namely, “blowing smoke up your a–.”
That build-up of air soon made me forget everything else. As the doctor and his nurse huddled close against my hinder parts, and as the air flow continued, I finally warned the pair of them that something was going to have to give and that it was going to happen soon. The only response I received was the pumping of more air. Alas, the result was exactly what I had predicted.
A veritable Vesuvius of vile air erupted from a prodigious poot; one you might possibly associate with a flatulent pachyderm but certainly not with a human being. While the room didn’t quite turn various shades of green from the gas, it was a near thing. I once watched a London theater performance of Geoffrey Chaucer’s story of “The Miller’s Tale” (from his wonderful “Canterbury Tales”) where such visual effects were employed when the cuckolded miller climbed a ladder to catch his wife in the act. The offending party broke wind in the poor miller’s face when he topped the ladder and peeked in the window. I n addition, the play offered sound effects as well in the form of a thunderous drum roll at the key moment. I can assure you my performance was far louder, the output quite possibly just as visible, and without question the smell was far fouler. Never have the senses of sight, sound, and smell been so assaulted. Once the doctor and an obviously shaken nurse recovered from the “blow,” and after opening the door and turning on a ceiling fan clear the air somewhat, the doctor muttered, “Well, better out than in, I guess.”
It was embarrassing but I did try to warn them. Also, I won’t deny that there was a degree of relief I don’t think I’ve matched over my entire life.
Then there were college acts of mischief. Looking back, it’s amazing what minds hovering between adolescence and adulthood and bodies driven by too much testosterone and too little judgment can produce. Had the energy, enthusiasm, and intellectual effort of some of the capers described below been directed towards academic achievements, I have little doubt that some buddies and yours truly would have graduated with highest honors, received multiple offers in support of postgraduate education, been awarded Fulbright Fellowships, and possibly even been Rhodes Scholarship nominees.
I need to set the stage a bit. My undergraduate education was at King College (now King University) in Bristol, TN. Then and now it was a Presbyterian-affiliated institution, and Presbyterians have a long, richly deserved reputation as fine educators. Some wonderful professors did their best in molding the poor piece of clay they had been given, and today I look back on those days with great fondness. I’m also actively involved with King in a variety of alumni-related capacities. In the early 1960s (I graduated in 1964) King was small, and as Dr. R. T. L. Liston, the president at the time, repeatedly stated, “a place of the mind.” Rules were strict, chapel attendance mandatory (and the roll was sometimes checked), and any sort of shenanigans or hanky-panky discouraged. Holding hands with a coed would bring frowns and maybe stronger disapproval, and more than once I heard Dr. Liston describe slow dancing as “a vertical position for horizontal desires.”
Hopefully that presents a bit of a picture—it was a highly moral, intensely conservative, and rigidly strict institution of higher education. Almost no student owned an automobile, freshmen were not allowed to go home until Thanksgiving, most of us were from poor families and more often than not first-generation college students, and we became a close, tight-knit community. There was none of today’s situation of mass exodus every weekend for what is known as a “suitcase campus.” We stayed on campus, participated in about every cultural event available, and since no one had much spending money our pleasures were simple ones.
There was one television set on the entire campus (it received three channels), dorms had a single pay phone each along with one local phone per floor, showers and bathroom facilities were communal (at each end of the hall), and almost everyone had some kind of workship requiring a minimum of ten hours work per week. Over my four years I washed dishes, worked on the ground crew, locked up academic buildings, and stoked coal-fired furnaces in a job that left me coated head-to-toe with coal dust.
Still, there was time aplenty for mischief, and what follows is but a sampling of some of the things which transpired during my four years at King. Since over half a century has passed, I’m pretty sure that the statute of limitations has long since run its course. Besides, I’m not saying I was involved in any of these episodes. I just happened to have “inside” knowledge.
*Volkswagen beetles were the car of choice for many faculty members, and a young math professor had one of which he was inordinately proud. One night a sizeable group of male students carried his vehicle a hundred yards or more and deposited it right in the middle of the floor of the only gym on campus. Since the gym floor was at the foot of several steps, getting the vehicle out was not a simple task. As was often said of Queen Victoria, he was not amused.
*King had a small dairy farm on land the college owned adjacent to the campus, and at one time I think the herd had supplied milk for the students. That was no longer the case but some of the maintenance staff kept milk cows there. One Saturday night a bunch of students freed a cow from the pasture, got a rope around her, and dragged her back to campus. “Daisy” was fairly compliant until the party reached one of the two men’s dorms and decided she needed to be three stories up on the top floor. Things changed then, but it’s amazing what enough manpower, with plenty of pushing and tugging, can accomplish. No calf with a chronic case of scours ever left more calling cards than that beleaguered bovine, and she bellowed every inch of the way. Somehow though, the work party got her to the top floor, tied her off to a railing, and then vanished like milkweed spores in a windstorm.
It was just as well, because some self-important snitch had alerted the dean and he soon showed up with the bursar in tow. Once they got over their collective shock, with the dean repeatedly muttering, “this is too much, this is just too much,” some maintenance workers were summoned and the cow was maneuvered back down the stairs. This proved an even more arduous task than the cow’s earlier ascension, and a congregation of gesticulating, laughing students didn’t help matters much.
*It was an unusually balmy day in late March of my sophomore year, and the warm weather was welcome since there had been a big snowstorm just a few days earlier. It was sufficiently pleasant for the windows of the college chapel to be open, and since chapel was mandatory most (but not all) students were in attendance. However, the open window and an absent student combined to create an opportunity for some major mischief. While the chapel service was in progress some miscreant fashioned a big snowball from vestiges from the snowstorm still lingering on the north side of the building. He then, with perfect aim, lobbed it through the open, beckoning window.
Some members of the college’s board of trustees were in attendance, probably in connection with one of their periodic meetings, and by sheer chance the icy missile caught elderly trustee squarely in the back of his bald head. If any of you have ever read the diary of Samuel Pepys, it records an episode where the end result was similar. Under the cover of prayer Pepys made unwanted advances on a young maiden seated next to him in the pew, and she retaliated by giving him a solid jab in the posterior with a hat pin. Pepys reacted with an oath and virtually leapt into the pew in front of him shouting “My God, my arse.” The trustee did much the same, shouting out utterances most inappropriate for the setting. That particular chapel session ended in disarray, and the next one brought a stern lecture from Dr. Liston.
*Another chapel-related incident came in early May of my junior year when, once again, the windows were open. One of the men’s dorms sat catty-corner to the chapel and not more than 30 or 40 yards away at the nearest point. It just so happened that one of the residents of a room in that closest corner owned a stereo equipped with two massive speakers. While chapel was in progress, some n’er-do-well jimmied the door to the room, placed Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” on the turntable, turned the volume up to maximum level, dropped the needle, and quickly exited the room while locking the door behind him.
The auditory effects, as far as decibel level was concerned, were worthy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in full voice. The dean arrived on the scene with a degree of alacrity no one who knew this normally plodding individual would have thought possible. He knocked loudly on the door, shouting “Open up! Open up!” Of course there was no one to open the door. He kicked it down and disengaged the needle on the record player. Once again there were stern words in chapel the next day, but the culprit remains unidentified yet.
*One memorable episode occurred in the women’s dorm. There was a coed who always waited until the absolute late possible moment before rushing to the toilet to do her business. This habit and her haste on such occasions were apparently sufficiently obvious for others to observe. One day she rushed down the hall only to find every stall but one locked. Of course she entered it but when taking the throne discovered that it had been coated with a whole jar of Vaseline. According to those within earshot, her utterances were a joy to hear. “Whoops! “Whoops!” was followed by a loud crash as she slid from the seat.
*In the autumn of my senior year a student who lived within 30 or 40 miles of King had his parents come to pick him up and take him home on weekends on a regular basis. He managed to raise the ire of a whole bunch of the guys living in his dorm by coming back from home with a half bushel of fine apples (the family apparently owned an orchard) and then showing them off without sharing. Eventually several of us had had enough of this variation on the Garden of Eden temptation. One Saturday we managed to open the locked door to his dorm room and, with a great deal of effort requiring several hours of labor, hauled load after load of leaves up flights of steps to his third floor room. As the room drew near being packed with leaves from floor to ceiling, we closed the door but left a transom over the door open. Through it we dumped a final few loads of leaves, closed the door, carefully swept up every vestige of anything being amiss, and waited for the apple king’s return. His reaction when he opened the door only to be swamped by an outflow of leaves was priceless, and there was a second round of widespread joy at his dismay when he eventually dug his way in far enough to discover a sign on his bed which read: “It doesn’t pay to be so stingy with your apples.”
*There was more fun, most of it pretty innocent as I look back, although anyone who got caught would have been in serious trouble with a non-nonsense administration. There were a couple of abortive panty raids that produced nothing more than a worn out bra or two and some panties that had seen better days. Streaking was all the rage at the time, although Ray Stevens’s hilarious song “The Streak” would not be released for another decade, and there were two or three male races across the campus oval with the participants bare as Lady Godiva. Once the campus awoke on morning to find that the air had been let out of every tire on every car (there weren’t that many) on campus. I think the powers in charge hired someone with a compressor to come out and take care of matters. Then there were midnight excursions into the dining hall through a window conveniently left unlocked after supper. The target of those raids was a special cache of food kept in a refrigerator and used to feed the ground crew (they ate better than the students).
Ah, those were the days!
RECIPES AND REMEMBRANCES: THE COOKING CORNER
Since this regular section of the newsletter is about as much involved in fond culinary recollections as it is the simple listing of specific recipes, I’ve decided to give it the name you see above. This month I want to focus on what was, without much question, THE staple of mountain life in days of old long ago, corn. If I could somehow only have a dollar for every hill of corn I’ve hoed, every hill I’ve thinned when the sprouts were about six inches high, every time I’ve savored a handful of ground cherries while walking down rows of corn after it had been laid by, or every meal I’ve sample and savored in which corn in some fashion figured prominently, I would be wealthy indeed. If you added in a $100 dollar bill for every painful encounter with packsaddles and another $10 for each time the razor-like edge of dried corn foliage sliced my hide, I’d be looking for some kind of fancy-dancy investment advisor.
Come to think of it though, I’m rich beyond monetary measure for all my involvement with corn. After all, I’ve eaten it on the cob, straight from the pot and with the milk still in it, slathered with real butter and dusted with salt and pepper, time without number. There’s been stewed corn, soup mix with kernels of corn as a key ingredient, gritted corn after it had begun to go to starch but still was delicious, corn and crowder peas or green beans mixed together for a vegetable dish, and so much more. Then there are all the delights provided by mature corn dried and processed—corn bread, cracklin’ corn bread, corn dodgers, hushpuppies, hoe cakes, corn flapjacks, cornbread and sweet milk, cornbread and buttermilk, cornbread dressing and stuffing, grits, cold grits cut into squares and fried (or grilled), and cornbread salad (see recipe below).
Then too, there’s the way corn served as a key factor in getting meat and protein on the mountain table. Hog meat, in a wide variety of forms, was the basis of “meat on the table” in most mountain homes, and good bacon, streaked meat, side meat, and the like came from hogs properly fattened and finished on corn. Similarly, free-range chickens had their diet regularly supplemented with cracked corn and leftover cornbread, and the difference between a baking hen that has been ranging on its own with corn supplementing what nature can offer or eggs from similar circumstances differ so dramatically from grocery stores offer that they aren’t in the same universe.
CORNBREAD MY WAY
“My way” simply means cornbread as it has long been made in my family, and with slight variations I think you’ll find the recipe which follows is pretty standard among the folks of southern Appalachia. The three key points, before we even get to the recipe, are: (1) Cook in a well-greased cast-iron skillet. (2) Grease the skillet with a piece of streaked meat or bacon before you pour in the batter. (3) Use stone-ground cornmeal. Store-bought stuff is ground at too high a rate and heat hurts flavor. Also, if you like a bit of crunch in your cornbread, and I do, stone-ground meal, even if sifted has more “body” to it.
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons grease from streaked meat or bacon
Prepare your skilled with fat meat. Mix the buttermilk, salt, baking soda, and egg with the cornmeal and stir thoroughly. Pour grease into the batter and stir well. Pre-heat skillet to 425 degrees and cook for a half hour or until the top crust is golden brown. The bottom crust should be dark brown and the entire pone perfect for slicing or crumbling in a bowl of pot likker. You can sop with cornbread if you wish, but for the perfect marriage of pot likker and cornpone, a soup bowl is the way to go.
In essence you make cornbread the same way as in the previous recipe but add a liberal handful or two (or a cup) of cracklin’s. You won’t get them to match the canned ones covered with hot grease which came from the same cauldron which had produced the cracklin’s I knew when we raised hogs in my youth, but you can get somewhat acceptable substitutes in grocery stores.
I have to give a tip of the hat to my webmaster, Tipper Pressley, for this simple and scrumptious idea. When she mentioned cornbread salad it was one of those “How in the world have I managed to miss that all these years?” moments. Grandpa regularly would crumble cornbread in field peas and pot liquor of several kinds (he was especially partial to that of greens and cabbage), not to mention in a glass of milk, and in a sense cornbread salad is just another way of using leftover cornbread just like he was doing.
Take leftover cornbread, crumble it up, and mix with whatever vegetables you happen to have available or particularly enjoy. My personal top choices include tomatoes chopped up fine, onions prepared the same way, diced cucumbers, cooked crowder peas (drain them) and raw corn cut straight from the cob. Bell pepper is another possibility, although my stomach unfortunately allows me to “enjoy” green pepper more than once anytime I consume it. If you want a bit of “heat” crumble in a few flakes of dried hot peppers or chop one or two fresh ones and add to the mix. Stir and top with ranch dressing or oil and vinegar. Alternatively, mix in some sour cream. Once gently stirred, I find it best to let the bowl sit in the refrigerator for a few hours so the ingredients can mix, mingle, and marry.
Make cornbread using the recipe above. Save broth from a baked turkey or chicken (or use purchased broth) and to it added finely chopped celery and onions, chopped pecans or chopped, boiled chestnuts (the latter have long been traditional in my family), and your choice of spices. I like a lot of black pepper and do not use sage, but many folks like the special taste sage imparts. Use a blender to turn your cornbread into crumbs. Add enough broth, with the other ingredients mixed in, to make a batter of about the same consistency as cornmeal batter. Pour batter into a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until the top browns and a toothpick inserted in the dressing comes away clean. The dressing should still be moist, although if it gets a bit dry the answer is to adorn it with gravy.
GRITS AND REDEYE GRAVY
Prepare grits as you normally do (quick grits are acceptable but for taste and texture you want stone-ground grits that are slow cooked) and adorn with redeye gravy. My preference is to serve the grits in a bowl and hollow out a crater in the middle of the grits to fill with gravy. Eat outward from the middle and each spoonful will bring a fine mix of grits and gravy.
To make redeye gravy, fry slices of country ham on both sides and remove from pan. Use the drippings with water (and a small amount of coffee if desired—I don’t like coffee so I don’t use it) to make the gravy. Just add the water and let sizzle. Serve piping hot (and it goes mighty well with eggs, biscuits, or crumbled cornbread as well as grits).
SMOKY MOUNTAIN SALSA
I’ve eaten in some Mexican restaurants that featured salsa made with tomatillos (Moe’s Southwest Grill features it regularly). The tomatillo is little more than a ground cherry on steroids, and oddly enough both are in the same family as deadly nightshade (so too, I believe, are tomatoes and eggplants). At any rate, eating the salsa and realizing I had an abundance of volunteer ground cherries in my garden—once you get them started they’ll come back year after year whether you want ‘em or not—turning them into something other than a casual snack when doing late summer and early fall garden work seemed logical. Also, it meant not having to worry quite so much whether a ground cherry was ready to be eaten. If they’ve dropped from the plant, whether yellow (an indication they’ll be sweet) or not, they are ready for salsa.
Just mix them with your salsa ingredients of choice—tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and the like—and either run through a blender on a coarse setting or, to avoid quite as much mushiness, chop fine. Incidentally, an ulu is a great tool for this, and if you don’t own one of these Eskimo or Inuit type knives I highly recommend acquiring one. Served with chips, bugles, or even toast points the salsa is scrumptious and oh so easy to make. Incidentally, mixed with some crowder peas or pinto beans, maybe with some corn cut from the corn thrown in for good measure, it would work perfectly well with cornbread salad (see above).