Friday, December 21, 2012

Oysters for Christmas

My paternal grandmother used to make oyster stew every Christmas Eve.  Some years, my parents would follow suit.  My father associates this Southern tradition with his Tennessee boyhood.  I enjoyed it,too, but since my parents and I lived in Florida when I was a little girl, the oysters weren't such an exotic treat to me.  My grandmother would also put oysters in her stuffing.'s site not only gives a recipe for stewed oysters, but it also explains the connection between Christmas and oysters.  In the days before refrigeration, it was not safe to transport oysters from the coast until cold weather set in.  In most of the South, including Tennessee, the cold doesn't hit until Christmastime.  Thus, the first shipments of oysters inland would coincide with the holidays.

I imagine that this also explains the old saying that it was only safe to eat oysters in months that have the letter r in them.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"The Granny Woman"

Ferrous sulfate known to Mrs. Sutton, the Granny Woman, by the ancient name of copperas
In the history of Appalachian Tennessee, a granny woman was a mid-wife.  Aunt Zilphie Sutton was such a granny woman.  She lived in Chestnut Branch, which is near Mt. Cammerer in the northeastern section of what is now the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  She talked of her experiences to Joseph Hall, who interviewed many Smokies residents during the 1930's and published his recollections of them in 1960.

"I handled over two hundred babies," she told Hall.  "I commenced when I was young.  I was long-headed -- wasn't afraid of nothing'.  An' I never lost a woman in the whole boundary of 'em."

She also spoke of making cloth, as many mountain women needed to do in order to sew for their families.  "I've spun many a thread and wove many a cloth."

She noted that "Linsey" was used for underwear.

To dye the cloth, her family boiled walnut bark and put copperas (ferrous sulphate) in it.  The copperas was also used, she said, to de-worm hogs.   You can see from above that the copperas has a pretty color; I don't know whether or not that lovely shade transferred to the cloth.  I do know that copperas was thought to hold dye in cloth, or, in other words, to set a dye. 

She showed Hall how to card and bat cotton, and she boasted that she could "bat enough cotton in a day to quilt a quilt."  

She spoke of mountain medicine, and the remedies she ascribed were a mix of herbalism and
magic superstitions drawn from local folklore.  Below are two examples of her doctoring. 

"Indian physic tea is good to clean your stomach off.  Hit's good blood medicine, too," she said.

For croup and the phthisic, she prescribed this: "Take a sourwood switch, make a mark on it even with the top of the child's head, lay it over the door, and let it stay there."

Mrs. Sutton told Hall that the mountain people used to set fire to the forest underbrush every fall as a way of controlling insects.  She was upset that the practice had been outlawed. Shes said that she, herself, had "hopled set fire and fought fire, too".

Source:  Smoky Mountain Folks and Their Lore
Joseph S. Hall