But for the moment we were content to marinate in the garden's glorious golden light, listening to the gentle clucking of hens, the chattering of pecan fattened squirrels and a host of songbirds. I collected fallen pecans from the mushroom studded grass, cracking them with the assistance of two concrete pavers and sharing the reward with my wife until breakfast was served. If we had asked, I'm sure our hostess would have had no trouble with us sampling some of her swiss chard or garlic chives. Does it get any better than a readymade breakfast, right in the backyard?
We were happy to see Carolyn wake up from a good night's rest, but also a tad reluctant to leave our wistful garden reverie. That is, until the bacon and eggs hit the cast iron skillet, so to speak. Plumes of steam caught the morning light through Carolyn's wide kitchen window with a smoky savory aroma that teased our nostrils and filled us with joy. We spread homemade spiced peach jam and melted butter atop our English muffins and planned our next move; the Brooks County Skillet Festival.
Carolyn's makeshift taxi threaded through cotton fields, pecan groves, old homesteads and wildflower strewn clay hill forests - a welcome change of scenery compared to the flat monotony the endless stretches of planted pine we've grown accustomed to in Jacksonville. Prior to our arrival at Cowlick Cottage Farm, Jennifer and I indulged in a brief stopover at Suwanee River State Park to marvel at the mossy limestone flanked riverbanks, frothing springs and wildflower meadows. Our morning drive was similar to the photos above, minus the river itself, so these photos should suffice as a representation of the natural scenery.
The Brooks County Skillet Festival
Quitman instantly evoked memories of the Midwestern towns in which my wife and I spent time growing up, from the Flinthills of Kansas to the border of Texas and Arkansas, with a distinctly Southern twist. The most notable differences lay in the details: Wide porches and balconies, a bandstand and pergola, all embellished with a gingerbread decoration of ornate balustrades, brackets and columns.
|A juxtaposition of old and new - this was a pecan grading facility.|
Skilled artisans proudly displayed the finest products the region had to offer. From muscadine preserves and peach jam to organic grits and homegrown cheeses; pickled okra and green beans to Georgia grown olive oil, pecans and locally roasted coffee. Luckily, everything was available for sampling. Pickled green tomatoes and okra might seem downright weird to most, but a quick sampling made me thrilled to discover that Carolyn had posted a recipe for pickled okra herself.
A young girl confidently explained the benefits and pricing of her mother's selection of homemade soaps with a smile, earning her my sincerest compliments and an E for effort. At a nearby booth we browsed antique furniture and I sought out containers to use for my houseplant combinations. Suddenly I found the perfect white lidded pot at a bargain, and then the seller delivered the perfect irony. It was the original portapotty from days long gone; a chamberpot. Wouldn't that make a perfect container for steeping compost tea?
|Photo by Carolyn Binder|
The Dreaming Cow Creamery was our next stop on the farm tour, but hunger prevented us from sampling their artisan yogurts. Instead, we were off to Sweet Grass Dairy in the surprisingly chic Thomasville Georgia. After all, what better fodder for a farm tour than locally crafted artisan cheeses and cured meats?
Our appetizer was the "Taste of Thomasville" - a spread of creamy 'Little Moo' cheese alongside strawberry fig preserves, local pecans drizzled with their homemade wildflower honey and slices of Thomasville Thomme and Asher Blue cheeses. My lunch was the Barcelona sandwich - Salame Gentile, Salami Calabrese, Idiazabal, dijon mustard, and smoky mayonnaise, all spicily mingling together between halves of ciabatta bread. I rarely drink beer, but the Pumpkinfest ale on tap reminded me of another chapter of my childhood in Germany. And that was just what I ordered. Carolyn's and Jennifer's sandwiches were every bit as incredible.
Lunch was followed by shopping at a few of Thomasville's premier boutiques. One shop was nice enough to give Anthropologie a run for its money, but the prices were also out of my budget. On the way out, I watched as the attendant carefully tucked stems of freshly cut cotton into the bows of gift wrapped packages. I meekly asked her if they were for sale, but she just smiled and asked how much I needed before handing them to me, free of charge, just like that.
After giving it some thought, I couldn't think of a single encounter with rudeness throughout our entire stay in that strange region, and I was beginning to worry that I would begin hearing narration and realize that I was in fact another victim of the Twilight Zone. We've traveled all over the Florida peninsula, yet never before have we seen such friendliness. It was as if we were actually welcome, and it was no wonder that Carolyn and her family felt right at home in this idyllic countryside. Southern hospitality must be contagious.
I was born in Alabama and though raised as an Army brat around the country, I still spent the greater part of my life in the South. But never before have I been this excited to proudly declare myself a Southerner.