Wild Berries in Appalachia

Wild berries in western nc

This time of the year, I start checking on the blackberries that grow wild around my house. The berries are just now beginning to ripen. A recent email from a Blind Pig reader got me to thinking about the other wild berries that grow here.


Dewberries are similar to blackberries in appearance and in taste. Dewberry brambles are smaller than their cousin the blackberry. Dewberries also have more of a twining vine look to them. 

Around my house dewberries grow in the same areas blackberries do, as in across the road from each other. Although dewberries are just as tasty as blackberries they don't usually bear the same quantity of fruit that blackberries do.

Wild blueberries 

Of all the berries blueberries are hands down my favorite. If nothing happens the ones I have planted in my yard look to hold the biggest harvest I've ever gotten. I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed the birds don't find them.

Lucky for me wild blueberries also grow around my mountain holler and they're already ripe. I found the little patch above growing along the bank of Steve's (my brother) driveway. Kinda selfish, but I haven't told anyone else because I'm eating them all by myself. And I'm hoping by next year the wild blueberry bushes will multiply...then maybe I'll share my secret.


Huckleberries are similar in taste to blueberries, but they are much smaller and don't get ripe till later in the season. Huckleberries grow all around my holler, but especially up on the ridge behind my house. The little patch in the photo is growing along the trail leading from Pap and Granny's house to ours. When Chitter and Chatter were younger I used to watch for them when it was time for the school bus. They had a pretty far piece to walk. During the first weeks of school I knew they'd make pit stops at the huckleberry bushes that grow along the trail-eating their way home.

Another common berry around my house are gooseberries or at least they used to be common. I went to the bush I remembered being near Pap's garage to get a picture, but it's no where to be seen. I believe the last time the EMC trimmed they must have gotten it. Gooseberries are a greenish color and are shaped like blueberries. They have a sweet taste, but not as sweet as blueberries.

The season for wild strawberries has passed. Unfortunately I've never found many growing around our place or Pap and Granny's. There used to be a wild raspberry down below Pap's but it's been gone for years, mowed down for new driveways and homes. 

Lot's of folks gather elderberries, but I wouldn't know one if I seen one! I do wonder if they grow close by. Pap told me he was sure I could find some along the creek between here and the folk school, but I've never looked. 

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me about the wild berries around your place. Oh and be sure to drop back by in a few days for some berry picking tips from Blind Pig readers.


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Blacksnakes 1893

Snake sightings in western north carolina

"Now, there's blacksnakes around here. One morning I went into the kitchen and opened a door to come into the room there. And when I opened that door, there was a big old blacksnake a-layin' right on top of the door and it fell down on top of my head! I had an old mop a-settin' there, and there was little back porch there, and I opened the door and got the mop and just mopped him right out into the yard! He crawled off. I didn't kill him. One time we had a springhouse out there. Shady. Had two spring-run troughs in there. And we'd milk the cows and skim the milk and make butter and sell it. And so one day my mother told me to do something here at the house, and she'd go churn. She always sat on the nail keg. So when she got done churnin', she moved the keg and there was a big blacksnake under it. She'd been settin' on that snake all the time. I heard her hollerin' for me to come and bring the hoe. Well, I went down there, but we never got the snake."

Hazel Campbell, 1893 Ashe County - Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie by Patsy Moore Ginns


I've heard more snake stories this summer than I ever have. Having a boss who is deathly afraid of them might have something to do with it, but still lots of snake stories around Cherokee County NC this year. Including two incidents of blacksnakes getting in buildings at work. 

The most recent blacksnake incident at work happened when a maintenance man found a six-foot long snake in a bathroom. How did he find it? When he entered the room to check the trash it struck at him! Much like Ms. Campbell above he ushered the snake out the door and down into the drainage ditch where the snake politely took off straight back to the building and tried to squeeze under the front door! I hate to think about what sort of tasty snack the snake was after inside the building.


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Cake Making on Peeks Creek

Cake folklore from appalachia

"Grandma even baked cakes on the fireplace. She baked them in this oven I've got here. It came down to her from her grandmother. And when Grandma was married in 1888, her wedding cake was baked in it. It was a yellow pound cake and my great-aunt Annie Strain, who used to stay with us a lot, helped make it. When I was growing up, Mama always told me when I made a cake never to let anybody else stir the cake batter. She said it would cause it to fall. She never would let anybody stir the batter. Neither would my grandmother nor my great-grandmother. And I won't either. There's another thing too. In mixing a cake by hand, you never stir it two ways. You always stir it one way. I stir mine clockwise. Even with a mixer, I never switch it from one side to the other. I keep it going in one direction. Mother always said a cake would fall if you stirred it two ways. She said you had to stir cake batter like you stir lye soap, one way."

Excerpt from Pothooks and Spiders - Peeks Creek - Mountain Cooking written by John Parris


Now that you know how to stir your cake the right way, here's a few of my favorite cake recipes from the Blind Pig and The Acorn archives.


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Ragtime Annie

The Pressley Girls Music

Ragtime Annie is a fairly common fiddle tune-its catchy beat makes it easy to see why the tune has stood the test of time. Not to mention the fact that it's rhythm is perfect for the feet on the dance floor. 

The Fiddler's Companion website has some interesting information about the song's history:

  • The earliest appearance of “Ragtime Annie” that can be documented, in print or otherwise, is the recording by Texas fiddler Eck Robertson (along with Henry C. Gilliland) in 1923, and a few years later by the Texas duo Solomon and Hughes. Robertson’s release was backed with “Turkey in the Straw.” “Ragtime Annie” was later recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph from Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940's.
  • “Ragtime Annie” was the first tune learned by itinerant West Virginia fiddler John Johnson (1916-1996), originally from Clay County, from fiddler Dorvel Hill who lived in a coal-mining town called Pigtown, not far from Clay, W.Va. Left handed fiddler Walter Melton played all three parts at square dances around Dunbar, W.Va., in the 1930s.
    "I was bashful back then and wouldn’t go in anybody’s house hardly. I’d sit on the railroad and listen to Dorvel play the fiddle at night. And I learned most all of Dorvel’s tunes. I just set down there and listened to all his tunes and then go home and play them." (Michael Kline, Mountains of Music, John Lilly ed. 1999).

The Fiddler's Companion website also discusses all the various ways and parts to play the song-and let me tell you they are varied! Take a listen to our version.


We recently added Ragtime Annie to our line-up for performances. We've been playing the song for several years, but it was one that Chitter sometimes wanted to play and sometimes claimed she wasn't a good enough fiddler to figure it out. We'd always tell her that was hogwash, but she had to gain her own confidence on playing the song. 

I actually wrote about her frustration over the song a few years back. I'll always remember the way Pap encouraged her on the day we filmed that version. If I had to make a wager, I'd say she hears his encouraging words in her head on a regular basis. I know I do.


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How Does My Garden Grow?

How does my garden grow June 2017
Our garden is lush and beautiful. Everything is thriving and things are beginning to produce. Fresh veggies = the best eating of the year if you ask me.

Yonce beans

Our Yonce Beans have been picked once and are almost ready for another go around.

Sow true Seed Garden
Cucumbers and squash are beginning to come in and tomatoes are green and growing. My candyroaster in the backyard may reach you folks in TN before the summer is over-its monstrous! Pumpkins and zucchini are coming along too. 

Grapes and apples in appalachia
Looks like our grape harvest will be our best ever. Apples are looking good too, although both trees have many brown leaves from the last hard freeze of spring. Hopefully we can do some pruning before next year's fruit sets.

Hope you'll tell me how your garden is fairing so far this summer. 


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June in Pigeon Roost

June in Pigeon Roost 2

The 1974 Winter Edition of the Foxfire Magazine contains a compilation of newspaper articles written by Harvey Miller. At the time of the magazine's publication Miller's weekly column had been around for sixty years and was till being published in the Tri-County News located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.


A white bird, observed a few weeks ago about one mile up Byrd Creek on Pigeon Roost, was identified as a robin. The bird, a female, is white except its breast, which is the color of all common robins. It associates with the robin family. Its song and hop are similar to the common robin. Harvey James Miller said he had learned there was a tendency among bird families to change color just as plants, insects and other living things do. Occasionally an albino bird can be found. Some birds, he said, have a tendency to be black, some melon color, and some red. He said there are also a few white quail, a few red and a few that are very dark in color. He said the changing of color also applies to other birds. The nest of the white robin has been found. It contained four eggs.


The Rev. J.H. Arrowood of Pigeon Roost area, recalls seeing and hearing a crowing red bird in the Pigeon Roost area about 60 years ago, but does not recall ever seeing a white robin, recently discovered inhabiting the area. Arrowood said the red bird would alight on a hill near his home and crow like a bantam rooster. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Bennett who lived only a few hours after bein born, was buried Thursday in the cemetery at Grove Byrd's farm.




Some old timers said there is the heaviest poplar bloom that they had seen in several years and it is an old timey sign that when there is a big poplar bloom, there will be plenty of rain while the bloom stays on the trees. It did get real dry and no rain for several days until the poplars did begin to bloom. We had a heavy rain here last Friday and some tobacco patches were damaged by silt and washings. Mrs. Seth Hughes of Byrd Creek section at Pigeon Roost had the misfortune to have ten chickens killed in her chicken house Friday night by black rats. The chickens weighed about a pound apiece.




Lester Johnson, who lives on Pate Creek at Pigeon Roost, reported to the writer that he gave a white and blue colored pigeon that he owned to Loretta Johnson, a daughter of his brother Lennie Johnson, who lives in Erwin, Tenn. and it was took down there on May 15th. But to his great surprise the pigeon returned back home within about one week's time. The exact direction the way the pigeon traveled back home from Erwin no one knows, but it's about thirty miles anyway you can go as the saying goes, "as the crow flies." After the pigeon came back home, it became a bigger pet than it ever was. It now follows Johnson to the mail box which is about a half mile. It flies along the country road and lights on the fence here and there and waits for him. 



Always interesting to pay a visit to Pigeon Roost. Makes me wish I had a pigeon to follow me around everywhere I go and sure makes me glad I've never seen any black rats in the chicken coop-YIKES!

Jump over to the Foxfire website and visit. If you haven't been there in a while, they have a brand new site that is great fun to poke around and they are still publishing the magazine and those wonderful Foxfire Books too.


p.s. I said I wished I had a pigeon to follow me around what I would really want is a crow. It's been a long time since I had The Week of the Crow here on the Blind Pig maybe I need to bring it back from the archives. 

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The Rosebud Orchid in my Backyard - WOW!

Rosebud Orchid in Brasstown NC

This year I have made a conscious effort to try and be in the woods more. I wish that meant I had been on long hikes to the top of the mountain and beyond, but mostly what I've managed to do is take one of the trails that lead off behind the chicken coop and go a few hundred yards into the woods or up towards the ridge. 

On one of my short trips I noticed a strange looking plant that I had never seen before. It was thin and tapered. I could tell it's length was about to burst open with leaves and hopefully a bloom. 

A few weeks later I suddenly remembered the plant and ran out to see if it had indeed opened up into a flower-it had!

The bloom was so pretty and I didn't think I had ever seen one like it. I racked my brain thinking maybe it was something I had once planted in the yard that had somehow migrated to the woods, but decided I would certainly have remembered having a flower that pretty in my collection.

Rosebud Orchid in Western NC Cherokee County

I got Chatter to post a picture to a plant group that she's a member of and someone quickly identified the plant as a Rosebud Orchid.

The book Native Orchids of the Southern Appalachian Mountains has this to say about the flower:

"The smaller rosebud orchid blooms in early June in the southern part of the mountains but can be fresh in northern West Virginia as late as the first part of July. Restricted to the southeastern United States, smaller rosebud orchid is very sparse throughout the southern Appalachians. It occurs at a few sites in eastern Kentucky as well as some scattered locations on the Cumberland Plateau and in the eastern mountains of Tennessee. It is infrequent in the North Carolina and Virginia mountains. And there are only two recorded sites for smaller rosebud orchid in the area of West Virginia covered by this book, one in Barbour County and one dating from 1968 in McDowell County."

After reading that I knew I had never seen the flower before. Have you?


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A Body

Its got to where a bodys got to lock the door

"It's got to where a body can't even leave the house without locking the door behind him."


body noun Someone, a person (often with reference to oneself), a term in common use among older speakers observed by Joseph Hall in the 1930s. (Note: the combining form -body is more prevalent than -one to form indefinite pronouns, thus anybody, everybody, somebody).

1895 Edson and Fairchild Tenn Mts 370 A body can't git along here. 1924 Spring Lydia Whaley 2 To know when soap is finished you cool it 'till a body can keep a finger in it. 1937 Hall Coll. Upper Cosby Creek TN Fever weed breaks the fever on a body. (Veenie Ramsey) 1939 Hall Coll. One-armed Jim is right feeble. I reckon a body'll find him dead somewheres. 1940 Haun Hawk's Done 48 There wasn't anything a body could say to Barshia that would do him any good 1962 Dykeman Tall Woman 93 When I brush his hair just right, a body would hardly notice. 1969 GSMNP-25:1:30 A body thought about it back then. 1989 Smith Flyin' Bullets 40 "A body never knowed when they just might come in the middle of the night," Delia said, "and drag ye out of bed, and take ye out to kill ye, fer no reason a'tall." 1997 Montgomery Coll. Could a body buy that there dog? How can a body live on such piddlin's? (Brown)
[cf Scottish usage: "If a body meet a body coming through the Rye"; DARE esp Midland]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


The usage of the word body described in the dictionary entry is still alive and well in my part of Appalachia. 


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Aunt Faye's Pound Cake

Old Fashioned Pound Cake easy recipe

We've add two more laying hens to our small flock of backyard chickens and the extra eggs have me trying to come up with recipes to use them in. I got to thinking a pound cake would be good and immediately thought of Aunt Faye's Pound Cake. I've told you about Aunt Faye before-she was Granny's oldest sister. 

I thought I had her pound cake recipe, but couldn't find it so I asked Granny to borrow hers. You'd have thought I ask her for a million dollars. She said "Can you take a picture of it with your phone so you don't have to take it with you?" I said "No not to where I could see it good. Can't I take it? Or would you rather me sit down and copy it off?" Granny said "Well I'm pretty sure you've got my original recipe that she gave me." I admitted that I thought I did too but couldn't find it. 

I think the fact that I had just took her to get groceries, carried them all in the house, and helped her put them up made her give in and say that I could take the recipe with me, but I better bring it back...like tomorrow. 

Aunt Fayes Pound Cake
Granny said Aunt Faye was such a good cook that she was always tinkering with recipes trying to make them better. According to Granny Aunt Faye came up with the idea of mixing plain flour and self-rising flour to make the cake easier to whip up as well as have a better density. 

Aunt Faye's Pound Cake

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cup plain flour (all-purpose)
  • ½ cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar together until thoroughly mixed. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each.

Combine flours.

Alternately add flour and milk mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

Pour batter into a well-greased Bundt pan.

Bake in a 325˚ oven for 1 hour or until done.

Print Aunt Faye's Pound Cake (right click on the link to print the recipe)

In case you're wondering, I delivered Granny's recipe right back to her the next day...and she was right I later found her original recipe for Aunt Faye's Pound Cake. 


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