So What's a Packsaddle?

Packsaddles hide in the corn and sting you

pack saddle noun A large caterpillar (Sibine stimulea) having a poisonous sting. 
1999 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell).

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Packsaddles sting

A few weeks ago Bill Burnett mentioned packsaddles in a comment he left. In another comment, Quinn said she sure would like to know more about packsaddles since she had never even heard of one.

So I decided to find a packsaddle.

I went out to the corn patch with camera in hand, but as you can see from the photos, I didn't find a packsaddle. The only things I found were some beans that had been hiding from me way over in the corn, a stink bug, and a couple of bean bugs.

Some folks call packsaddles saddlebacks

Packsaddles are stinging caterpillars and are often found in the corn patch, although the last time I was stung by one it was while I was picking blueberries.

The sting from a packsaddle is different from a bee sting. A packsaddle sting seems to last longer-I mean the initial sting seems to keep on stinging at the same level. Whereas a bee sting seems to sting like fire and then retreat to a dull throb. 

If you'd like to see a packsaddle go here.


p.s. Christmas is just around the corner-check out the great sale Chitter is having in her Etsy Shop ALL sale items are under $20 AND have FREE Shipping - Visit this link to view the sale items. And while you're on Etsy, visit Chatter's new shop of all natural skincare Apothecopie

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Black Racers and Hoop Snakes

King Snake in Appalachia

Last weekend Miss Cindy came over to visit, as she was leaving she found a snake on our front porch. We all ran out to see it and by then it had wedged itself between the stair runner and the wall. I said I bet it's after the baby birds. The Deer Hunter said it's just a King Snake leave it alone. Miss Cindy went on her way and we all went back the house. 

A few hours later Chitter discovered the snake was indeed after the baby birds. A few sprays from the water hose sent the snake off the porch into the yard and over the bank. 

I couldn't resist telling the girls "You better watch out it might be a hoop snake or a black racer." 

As long as I can remember I've heard stories about hoop snakes and black racers.

The gist of the hoop snake stories: a black snake loops itself into a hoop and then goes rolling after whoever disturbed it. Some versions claim hoop snakes have stingers on their tails to sting you.

The gist of black racer stories: a black snake races or chases you once its disturbed. Every time I think about a black racer I see a field of tall lush green grass with a jet black snake slithering through it at break neck speed. (break neck speed: is that a phrase you ever use?)

Along with hoop snakes and black racers, Appalachia also has stories about joint snakes. Although the stories aren't as common, the gist behind them is a joint snake can break itself into pieces and then put itself back together again. I guess the breaking of joints is a defense mechanism of sorts. 


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Do You Know What the Word Make Means?

Use of the word make in appalachia

Jan Sullivan left the following comment on yesterday's April in Pigeon Roost Post:

"I love the Foxfire books, and I got them for my mother as presents as she got very old. She enjoyed them also. Sassafras had to be had in early spring because it was a blood tonic to build up your blood for all the work to be done according to my grandmother. I also remember making lye soap and helping my grandmother wash clothes in a big iron pot in the back yard. Papa's flannel's in the spring turned the water all red. It was a hot job. We used a washboard, and carried water from a creek. Hard job then, but good memories now! The other day, at the doctor, I mentioned I was concerned with all the weather change, warm and then freeze, that my garden plants might not "make". Then I had to explain what make meant to the doctor. Anyone else use that word? Everyone have a wonderful spring with all the birds, flowers, crops, kids, and families. Jan"

After reading her comment, I thought the usage of the word make in Appalachia would make a great post. A little later in the day Ed Ammons summoned up the word usage for me in another comment:

In reference to the use of the word "make" in Jan's comment, I have heard and used it all my life. You don't grow a garden you make it. If your peppers grow pretty plants, like mine did last year, but nothing grew on them, your peppers didn't make. If your corn makes but the stink bugs get more than you do that's a different story.
The same usage applies in putting up food. If your jelly don't set, you say it didn't make. If your kraut smells like feet, it didn't make. You have to shake the jar forever before the butter makes.

"Ain't you gonna make a garden this year?"
"I tried last year but the only thing that made was the weeds."
"I know what you mean. I planted some late beans but the frost got them before they could make."

I'm very familiar with all the the uses for the word make that Jan and Ed describe. Here a few more common usages:

make - train to be or become. "I'd like to see my boy make a teacher. All the kids round here just love him."

make - to use in place of. "I'd make that old bowl for a flower pot if I was you."

make - to determine in one's mind. "She said she made it in her mind that she would finish school no matter what come along."

make up - to collect an item. "They're going to try and make up the money to fix the roof at next week's benefit."


p.s. The winner for the dvd of my favorite Blind Pig videos is...Cullen in Clyde who said:

"Seems the more water over the dam, the more things seem to be connected; more things AND more connected. Thanks for sharing these."

Cullen send me your mailing address and I'll send you the dvd!

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Thanksgiving Memories 2 and a Giveaway

Thanksgiving memories from southern appalachia

"My Mama worked as a nurse. On her Thanksgivings off, she spent the day cooking a feast. Our dinner menu never varied. I recall home-canned green beans, mashed taters, sweet taters, dressing, turkey, and cranberry relish. Her parents lived with us from the time I was six until their deaths, but I don't recall other family members joining us that day. Aunt Katy, who was no kin, but a retired nurse in our town always ate with us. My daughter and I still make Mama's cranberry relish recipe every year. Our meal would be incomplete without it even though it never tastes as good as Mama's did."

Gina - November 2012


It's time for another Thankful November Giveaway. I'm hosting the giveaways as a way of saying THANK YOU to Blind Pig and The Acorn readers so be on the lookout for more giveaways throughout the month. Today's item is...

2015 fall etsy giveaways 024

A Blind Pig and the Acorn ball cap. Paul got a couple of freebie hats made a couple of years ago and somehow I never did anything with them. If you'd like a chance to win this one-leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends Friday November 27.

I hope you enjoyed Gina's memories of Thanksgiving. I'll be sharing more giveaways in the next few days so be sure to drop back by, and hey tell your friends to come too!


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Appalachian Sayings - Not Fit For Man Nor Beast

Western nc weather not fit for man nor beast

I've heard the saying not fit for man nor beast used to describe bad weather-both the cold and the wet variety. Interestingly, while googling around I found that the saying comes from an old W.C. Fields comedy skit and was originally slightly different than the version I've heard. You can read more about it here.

The weather in the mountains of Western North Carolina is definitely not fit for man nor beast this weekend. The photo above is of the small pond that's developed at the greenhouse door. It's similar to the one in the middle of the chicken lot. The hens can stay dry under their house or in their house but apparently they like rain.

In other exciting news the Blind Pig family learned how fast water can flow into a basement when the gutters are stopped up. I'm thankful we noticed the issue almost the instant it started. A quick run up a ladder, a hastily dug trench to divert the water, and some furious broom sweeping had things fixed just in time for the next downpour. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks who are suffering from the flooding and to those dear souls who are working in this weather not fit for man nor beast for the good of others. 


p.s. The John C. Campbell Folk School has cancelled the fall festival scheduled for today and tomorrow due to the weather.

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The Pickle Along is Complete!

Pickles in a crock

Today is the final day of the Blind Pig and The Acorn Pickle Along. Finally, we get to put those cucumbers in a jar and admire our hard work.

Drain the syrup into a large stock pot and bring to a boil.

Discard cinnamon sticks-don't worry about the other spices they can go right in the jars along with the cucumbers.

Place cucumbers in a large bowl or something handy to carry them in.

Sterilizing jars for canning

While the syrup is heating start sterilizing your jars and rings. Some folks do this in the oven or their dishwasher. Others, like me, sterilize in a pot of boiling water. 

I keep a pot of hot water simmering along on the back of the stove. I get a jar when I need one and replace it with a clean one. 

The JCCFS has a handy dandy sterilizer in their awesome kitchen-it makes canning anything a breeze!

I like to use pint jars for these pickles but any size jar will work just fine.

Canning 14 day pickles

After the jars are sterilized and the syrup is boiling, pack cucumbers into hot jars.

Ladle hot syrup in the jars leaving 1/2 inch of head space.

Place a lid on the jar and screw the ring on tightly.

We place a towel on the counter or table, then set each finished jar on it. We cover the jars with a another towel to help hold the heat in-this aides in sealing the jar.

14 day pickles completed

The method I just described to you is called the open kettle method of canning. Canning books and experts will tell you it is dangerous. We feel comfortable canning the pickles this way because we always have as have our parents and grandparents. 

If you'd feel better going the water bath route-by all means do so!! Water bath the jars of pickles for 5 to 10 minutes. 

After you set your jars aside to cool you'll begin to hear the jars 'pop' as they seal. I usually leave mine sitting overnight-making sure each jar has sealed the following day. I store the pickles in my basement-and they keep very well. If you have a jar that doesn't seal put it in the refrigerator and eat it first. 

If today is a super busy day and you wish you didn't have to can the pickles-just repeat the step from yesterday (boiling the syrup and pouring it back on the cucumbers in the crock) and can them tomorrow.

I'm sending a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the Pickle Along. Please let me know what you think about the 14 Day Pickles. They add the perfect sweet crunch to potato salad and tuna salad and chicken salad and soup beans get the point they are really tasty!


p.s. Questions? Leave me a comment or email me at

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My Father's Day post about Pap swarping the car over into the briars brought more than a few comments and emails about the word swarp.

I could have sworn I used the word in one of my Appalachian Vocabulary Tests but can't find it. I did use the word in this post about Woody Frankum Ceilings

I checked out my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English to see what it had to say about the word swarp.

A verb to beat, strike; to move about unsteadily. Cf swap B, warp 2.
1982 Maples Memories 29 We would take an old cane pole, swarp [a bat] down, hold him by the wings, and see his little snapping teeth. 1989 Oliver Hazel Creek 31 He cut a large pole and when they would get too close to him he would lash out at them ("swarp" the ground) with the pole to drive them away. 1993 Ison and Ison Whole Nuther Lg 66 = move about unsteadily, from one side to another.
B noun A blow, hit.
1982 Maples Memories 32 Dad said that he and a friend were riding one day, and the friend, acting smart, reached over and gave Dad's mule a swarp across the back.


I've heard swarp used all my life and use it myself in 2 distinct meanings.

  1. As the dictionary pointed out-a blow or a hit. You can swarp someone with a belt or other item and you can also be swarped by a cow tail, a limb, or other item.
  2. The other usage is like what I was trying to describe about Pap. Pap was driving the car and he swarped (swerved) out of the road and then pulled the car right back into the road. You might say something like: "He was out there mowing the grass and accidentally made one good swarp through his mama's flowers."

The second usage I shared may have come from the first usage from the dictionary: to move about unsteadily. Or it could have come from a corruption of the word "swarth: a row of mown hay or grass, the space covered by a sweep of the scythe" (Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English). 

After I started thinking about the word I did a little googling around. I found an interesting and totally ridiculous piece about the word swarp and it's usage in the book Appalachia Inside Out Volume 2 Culture and Custom. The book is basically a collection of different writings about or related to Appalachia. I happen to have the book on my bookshelf-but you can read the piece in its entirety here.

The outright ugliness in the writing makes me want to try to weave swarp into every last conversation I have!

Appalachia Inside Out Volume 2 Culture and Custom - An Appalachian Relic: Notes on "Swarp"

Not to be outdone, Professor Pissel Bush, in his work Why We Don't Use Words We Never Use, a popular revision of the earlier Wamblies, Git-Fidgets, and Poltroons, by Asa Middlehigh, the famous rival of Noah Webster, states:

Though not a popular word, swarp nevertheless has enjoyed occasional currency in the isolated coves of Eastern Kentucky, where wild groups of snake-handlers, ginseng-hunters, and gum-cutters, as well as other unsavory types such as versifiers, prevaricators, and the inventors of riddles, use it as a euphemism for being "shitte [sic] drunk."

And in a footnote, Bush adds, somewhat moralistically:

The word, with its sweet sibilant beginning, promising ease and beauty and grace, yet ends with one of the harshest sounds available in English: so too do the practitioners of swarping descend from the deceptive silken heights of their drunkenness to the foul charnel-house cellar of despair and crapulous degradation. "Swarping" is, indeed, a devil's word, and as such belongs in no polite vocabulary.

Geesh! He doesn't even like the letters in the word! And who wouldn't want to be an inventor of riddles or a versifier or spend their days in the woods hunting ginseng!

The piece goes on with much of the same insanity. But ends with a fictional story that I like:

Young Josiah Leathers, the first Kentuckian to graduate from Heidelberg University in Germany with a Ph.D., was apparently a troublesome chap in his youth. Sneaking from the dormitory one frosty night, he made his way down the right fork of Hardscrabble to the Drought County Courthouse. No one was about, and the boy eager to express his disdain towards those who supported the dismantling of his vocabulary, took from his slingpoke a cold chisel and hammer. Working swiftly, he carved the word "swarp" into the soft sandstone of the Court House steps. 

Confronted the next morning by the director of the Settlement School, a sour-spittled woman with a long habit of chastity Leathers defiantly cried, "I'll not unswarp myself for no quare woman, nor for the Lord God Hisself of these hills."

His recalcitrance won for Leathers the dubious distinction of being thrown into a sticker bush just outside the dining hall by a group of reactionary scholars led by a noxious youth named Dewars.

The Settlement School's campaign against "swarp" was, despite Leather's considerable efforts, mostly successful. In most parts of eastern Kentucky today, the word is no longer heard, retired at last as a quaint archaism in the works of local yarn-spinners. 

Well I certainly don't consider myself a lower class of people, nor does any of that drivel about drunkenness and cellar of despair fit my persona. I guess I could be consider a yarn-spinner with a mighty big stretch, but that's not really me either.

I believe like Young Josiah, I'll disregard their silly line of thinking and take a vow to never unswarp myself. 


*Source: Appalachia Inside Out Volume 2 Culture and Custom - An Appalachian Relic: Notes on "Swarp"

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Appalachia Through My Eyes - Be Your Ownself

My life in appalachia be your ownself

Chatter and Chitter have always danced to the beat of their own drum. I wish I could take credit for their strong sense of self, but I can't. 

Even as small children the girls seemed to forge their own way-even when it wasn't popular with their peers. Preferring to run wild in the woods, they left the popular video games and tv shows behind in favor of making mud pies or damming up the creek with their cousin. I sometimes wished they were couch potato kids just so I could have a break from their constant movement, their constant need to be 'doing'. 

Many of you have made kind remarks about the girls' talent for music making and dancing. Their musical pursuits-whether it be clogging, contra dancing, or performing as The Pressley Girls haven't ever made them the 'cool kids' when it comes to impressing their peers. All you need to do is flip the channel to MTV or even CMT to see what Chatter and Chitter do isn't remotely mainstream. Yet, listening to their own internal rhythm they continue to do the traditional dances, songs, and tunes that have been performed in Appalachia for generations.

Me-I followed the crowd. I wanted to wear what all my friends wore-I wanted to listen to the latest music and be in the popular line of kids who walked the school hallway. Looking back, I guess I succeeded in my endeavor, but I clearly see the error of my ways from this vantage point.

Pap used to tell me "Be your ownself and don't worry about what other people are doing or not doing. You'll never be happy in this world till you realize you've gotta be who you are."


Appalachia Through My Eyes - A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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Courting In Appalachia

Courting in appalachia

In Appalachia... 

Courting = dating

sparking = dating

sweet on = means you like someone

he-ing and she-ing = hugging and kissing

slip off = elope

serenade or shivaree = a loud noisy celebration
occurring after a wedding

courts like a stick of wood = a person who is awkward
when courting

jump the broom = get married

took up = 2 people who start courting


When I was young someone was always asking me if I was courting yet. Granny and Pap slipped off from Granny Gazzie and got married without her knowing it. But it seems to have worked out for them since they're still married all these years later.

Along with courting and slip off I still hear: took up, jump the broom, he-ing and she-ing, and sweet on in my part of Appalachia. The other words/sayings-have faded away. 

For more about courting in Appalachia-visit Dave Tabler's Appalachian History site

I'm sure I left some courting sayings out-if you think of one leave it in a comment!


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On Flying Turtles

Today's guest post was written by Ed Myers.

Catching turtles in appalachia 


Ed Myers (Bryson City, NC)

My Papaw was an average grandparent from rural East Tennessee, meaning he could spin a tale or two (perhaps even some that were true), chewed tobacco from a pressed plug and steak with a toothless mouth, enjoyed a swing or three on the blue-flaked porch of his modest home…and loved his grandkids without reservation.

He did the usual things such grandpas do. He slipped us pin-knives just about every time we visited (which our mother promptly confiscated and flushed down the toilet). He gave us four brothers a taste of his chaw…ah, the poisonous medicine of childhood. And, he let us sample his once a month veteran’s disability ‘shine…another poisonous medicine not soon to be retaken, thank God!

He shared-cropped an experimental farm for the University of Tennessee on the banks of the Tennessee River, not far from his home on what is now the edge of the swankier part of inner Knoxville. He, or rather my Granny, raised eight kids, him being the ninth. And, among other hobbies of necessity to a poor and rich, close and extended family, he, along with my uncles, caught turtles in nearby Tyson Creek. 

They did this by screwing eye bolts spaced about a foot apart into whatever log happened to be laying about, tying strong cord to them along with good stout hooks, and baiting each with chicken necks or other rough meat. They then laid the log across the creek and waited a day to see what came to dinner (ours). Sometimes, their bait would snag a good sized flathead cat, but most of the time, it was turtles, mud or snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles being what the creek had to offer in abundance.

When the harvest was good, they lay the turtles on their backs, poured scalding water on them to loosen their flesh, chopped off their heads (or was that before the dousing?), and deep fried the meat (yes, it does taste somewhat like chicken, as do many deep fried meats; that is, they taste deep fried). Served alongside boiled corn, homemade yeast-risen dinner rolls, ice-cold watermelon, tart summer pie made from apples picked right off the trees, and other sundries, it made for a fine meal on many a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes, however, when my Papaw was feeling particularly impish and had a new grandkid/niece/nephew/cousin/what-have-you to impress, he would put back the largest turtle and teach them how to pilot it and fly.

I remember my initiation well.

Again, it was a sunny day, as it always seemed to be when we were with him. The sacrificial turtle was a true monster to a six-year-old’s eyes. 25 pounds of pre-historic fury encased in a huge, rough overlapping shell, dragging a long, scaly dinosaur tale and clawing with claws that would make a bad witch cringe. To complete the picture, add flaming red eyes, a long neck as thick as a small fist that could twist ‘round to the middle of its back and a sneering beak so sharp it could and did break slender sticks like, well, six-year-old little boy bones.

When all this terror could be fully appreciated by his tiny audience, my Papaw began to lie and lie some more, telling us that if a little boy or girl could perch on the turtle’s back, just shy of its snapping head, and hold on for dear life, it could be made to do his or her bidding, including, but not limited to, taking wing (where those were, I never could tell) and flying, carrying its passenger to far off lands (at least as far as the neighbor’s yard, three houses down). All you had to do was reach back and grab that thrashing tail to guide your flight and away you’d go.

Now, even at six, I was not so gullible as to think a turtle could fly, let alone with a boy on its back. But, when I looked into my grandfather’s weathered, sky-blue eyes and heard only his voice guiding me through my fear, I’ll be damned if I didn’t take off and soar.

The ride didn’t last long. The turtle soon tired of digging in the grass and snapping at its burden. The little boy woke from his grandpa’s enchantment, stepped back into the shade of a flowering mimosa and returned to earth.

To this day, I have to ask myself whether it did or didn’t happen, just like I’ve said. To this day, I know it did, and I know it didn’t.

But, Lord, what a wonderful ride!


I hope you enjoyed Ed's story as much as I did-it reminded me of my own Papaw and Uncles teasing me when I was a kid. Like Ed-I knew I shouldn't believe their tall tales but at the same time I couldn't not believe them either.

Leave Ed a comment and I'll make sure he reads it.


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