The old Southern Highlanders, those hearty pioneers who came to the Smoky Mountains in the 1800s, settled, and were promptly forgotten for about 100 years, called the most remote parts of the mountains – the places you could only get to on your own two feet – the back of beyond. These people, who retained the very old ways because they were unaware the rest of the country even existed, were written about eloquently in Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders. Last week, Terrell Jones, himself of Highlander stock, took my friend, Mary Ann, and I, to the back of beyond.
We started driving down a fairly good road from Clayton, Georgia, toward the Persimmon Community. Anyone who lives in the South knows when the word “community” is attached to a place it means there’s basically nothing there. Kephart describes the Highlanders as having “the charm of originality” and Terrell has that. A 70-something gentleman with a lilting Southern accent and volumes of knowledge on old Southern ways, Terrell kept up a narrative as we wound up the narrowing road.
I wish I was a better photographer, but I was trying to take a picture of Terrell and Mary Ann without them knowing it, which is why they might look slightly goofy. Terrell was pointing out pine trees that looked ten stories tall and rhododendron so thick you couldn’t cut through it with a machete. A river ran along the road and every once in awhile we spotted a fisherman dipping his line in the cold, clear water for trout. Terrell talked of his boyhood, when breakfast and supper were many times cornbread and molasses. Fall was hog killing time and the first special treat off the animal was brains cooked with eggs. The second was the tenderloin. Neither could be preserved like the hams and bacon. His mother made cornbread as a rule, because the corn was free. Biscuits were more high falutin’ because they were made with flour, which cost money.
Up the road we went, as it narrowed and became more of a dirt trail. We passed the Tate City Mall, it being neither a mall or in a city of any kind, of course. Terrell pointed out where he would have built a house if the time and circumstances had allowed. If he had, he would have given up the pizza delivery guy, the quick trip to the gas station, or satisfying that sudden urge for a latte (which Terrell would sniff at anyway). It would be an hour’s drive from the back of beyond for groceries.
The trip took us a couple hours and yet we probably traveled only twenty miles. The trip took Terrell back sixty years. We were privileged to be along for the ride.
A few days later, Terrell took his friends to breakfast at the Dillard House. The table was laden with sausage, bacon, pork tenderloin, scrambled eggs, biscuits, fried apples, fried potatoes, country ham with red-eye gravy and more. It was a feast a young Terrell would never have imagined. When it was done, Mary Ann and I hugged Terrell and bid him farewell, at least for awhile. But memories had been made. Yes, they had.
Streak O’ Lean
This is a recipe from Terrell that would never be imagined outside the South. Remember, when it was written, men worked hard in the fields and women worked hard at the homestead. Calories and fat were of no issue. Note his use of “receipt,” the old-fashioned word for recipe. By “side meat,” Terrell means a fatty part of the bacon area with a bit of meat running through the fat. I think the flour Terrell refers to is self-rising.
Select a firm piece of side meat with medium streak of lean. Slice very thin. THIS IS THE SECRET TO THIS RECEIPT. Cover meat with water and parboil for four minutes. Pour into colander, rince and drain. Make a very thin batter of flour and water. Dip meat in batter and fry in deep fat. Drain on brown paper. If plain flour is used, add 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.