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Jefferson farm cooks up old-time fare, Southern style

POSTED: November 2, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Photos by Katie Dunn/Times regional staff

John Mitchell cooks chicken over an open fire Saturday at the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm in Jefferson. The farm held a "Black Pot Cookin'" event that featured an assortment of Southern cuisine.

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The sweet, woodsy aroma of fire drifted across the historic Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm on Saturday, its flames helping cook an assortment of mouth-watering Southern fare.

Several small fires licked at cast-iron pots containing chicken and dumplings, sweet potatoes, collard and turnip greens, beans, cornbread and fruit cobblers.

The outdoor feast was part of the farm’s "Black Pot Cookin’" event, a three-hour celebration that also included tours of the farm’s historic buildings and a performance by the "Crystal River" Blue Grass Gospel Group.

"This is going to be an annual event," said Susan Chaisson, president of the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm Foundation, Inc. It was Chaisson’s family that settled the farm at the turn of the 19th century. The property is now an outdoor agricultural museum.

Chaisson hosted a similar event years ago and thought resurrecting it would be the perfect way to attract more visitors.

It also seemed the right time to introduce something new, said Burke Walker, one of the foundation’s board members. "It’s time to reach out to some new people and do something different," he said.

That decision seemed to be working out well. By noon, a steady stream of folks kept volunteers John Mitchell, Jefferson Boy Scout Troop No. 158 and Chaisson’s family and friends on their toes as they dished out generous helpings of the homemade grub.

Mitchell of Homer said he’s been blacksmithing at the farm for many years. He joked that Chaisson volunteered him for the event when she learned he had experience cooking with a Dutch oven.

Volunteers began cooking around 9:30 a.m. and were scrambling to keep up with the crowd by lunchtime. Mitchell said he expected to serve 250 people by the end of the three-hour event.

"This is the way they used to cook before they invented stoves," he explained. "They would have these cast iron pots and they’d put fire on the bottom, coals on the bottom and coals on the top, and bake. That’s what we’re doing. We’re baking it."

Grady Thrasher and wife Kathy Prescott of Athens attended with friends Ken and Ouida Williams. Ken Williams created signs for the farm’s buildings last year as part of a project that yielded a self-guided interpretative program and new website for the historic site.

"Ken did all of the design work on the signs and he said this was a beautiful place and we needed to come, and it is," said Thrasher. "The setting and the fall colors are just great; it’s perfect."

The couples had toured most of the farm’s buildings by the time they sat down to eat. Prescott said she found it refreshing that the historic spot was still intact.

"The wonderful thing is that all these buildings are here, they didn’t have to bring them from all over to make a congregation of buildings," she said. "They exist still, it’s a beautiful setting."

That sentiment is exactly what Chaisson hoped visitors would embrace after spending a few hours at the farm.

"This type of cooking goes back to the heyday of the farm, and I think that’s how we came up with it (the event) because people could enjoy doing it," she said. "What we always are trying to do here, too, is bring it back to what it was. This is just part of that."


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