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Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South

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With summer’s arrival may come the yen to travel somewhere, anywhere, for a day or two, for a change of scenery or a new experience.

Let Fred Sauceman be your guide for any number of delightful trips through the Appalachian Mountains in search of good food. The Place Setting: timeless tastes of the mountain South from Bright Hope to Frog Level, published in three volumes, is the Appalachian version of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the popular Food Network show.

Sauceman teaches a course in the foodways of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University, writes a food column for the Kingsport newspaper, and appears on local public radio talking about the delights of regional food traditions. This book collects his columns, taking the reader on a wide-ranging tour of our region’s eateries and home kitchens to sample mouth-watering fare.

Proffitt’s famous barbecue has been served at Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff City since 1938. The original recipe has been handed down verbally from the founding mother to her son, a pharmacist, and now from him to his daughter, a nurse. It is so good that they dare not write it down for fear of misappropriation so, once committed to memory, the written recipe is burned in the kitchen sink. Both son and granddaughter left their secure health care careers to preserve the very popular Ridgewood.

Sauceman writes about favorite drug store, drive-in, gas station, and short order eateries, including Broadwater Drug in Gate City, Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy, the Bean Barn in Greeneville, well-known for "Beans All the Way", a bowl of beef stew covered with beans and cornbread. The Burger Bar in Bristol says "Hank (Williams) was done in this way". The Cottage in Johnson City turns into a Hawaiian luau each June in order to celebrate King Kamehameha’s birthday.

Did you know there is a red hot dog corridor running along Interstate 81?  Try The Corner Dog House in Bristol, the Hi-Way Drive-In, home of the Dip Dog, in Marion, and Skeeter’s on Main Street in Wytheville (birthplace of Edith Bolling, Woodrow Wilson’s second wife).

Learn about foraging for ramps (‘they smell through the jar") and morels ("dry land fish"), making dried apple stack cake the authentic way, cooking down sorghum. The mountain region does not have molasses, which comes from sugarcane, which grows only in the deep South. We have sorghum cane here. Tennessee and Kentucky farmers produce more sorghum than any other state.

With Italian in-laws in my family, I enjoyed learning about the history of the pepperoni roll developed in West Virginia for miners’ lunches. Miners needed something they could eat with one hand while still working, that needed no refrigeration, and that was substantial enough to satisfy hunger, so the roll of dough surrounding a stick of pepperoni was born. Soutissa sausage came to western North Carolina with the Waldensians from northern Italy.

Sauceman’s account of 93-year-old Minnie Curtis’ annual redbud jelly inspired me to try making my first ever jelly (it’s a pretty pink, and tastes lovely). The book includes a number of recipes, all of which look tempting. Among them are Janette Carter’s chow chow and tomato dumplings, pimento cheese, corn gravy, Anthony Trigiani’s steak and onions, hot dog chili, chocolate gravy, and Midnight Sun Moonpie Madness.

And there is a charming piece about our own Frog Level Yacht Club and Service Station ("no yacht and no gasoline").

I didn’t know that Bristol is the home of any candy companies, much less that numerous candy makers are located there. You can find out why here. Fascinating stuff!

To plan your trip to experience mountain food traditions, visit or call 988-2541.

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