Tag Archives: North Georgia Foodways

Fresh Air Barbecue, Jackson

Dr. Joel Watkins began selling barbecue here in 1929, making it the oldest pit-cooked barbecue establishment in Georgia still in its original location. Upon Dr. Watkins’ death in 1945, the business was purchased by longtime manager, George W. “Toots” Caston, who is credited with making Fresh Air Barbecue into the institution it is today. Caston made improvements to the cooking process, the sauce, and the Brunswick stew recipe and expanded the business from a drive-in to a dine-in. Even the coming of I-75 couldn’t keep people away from Fresh Air, with many travelers taking the exit just to experience the legendary fare of the “Barbecue Place”. Still boasting one of the shortest menus in the business, there are no frills here, just barbecue, Brunswick stew, pickles and potato chips, and pecan, lemon or Reese’s pie for desert if you need something sweet for the road. And you can buy a whole ham if you’d like.  There’s a Macon location today that has a few additional items, but you really should go to the original first.

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Filed under --BUTTS COUNTY GA--, Jackson GA

Fielder’s Mill, Junction City

Making Grits at Fielder's Mill Junction City GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2013

The historic Fielder’s Mill, one of the oldest continuous businesses in Talbot County, takes center stage at the annual Plantation Days in Talbot. It was built in 1930 on the site of the John Downs grist mill. There’s been a mill at this same location since the 1840s. The original mill was located on the far end of the present dam over the run of Patsiliga Creek. The timbers and foundation of the old site remain today.

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After a fire, the new mill was moved to the west end of the dam in 1930. The mill is powered by a Leffel-type turbine producing about 25 horsepower. Mike Buckner produces great cornmeal, grits, and flour at this water-powered mill.

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I believe my father began buying corn meal from Mike in the 1980s, when he was running to Manchester on the railroad. My family has used it ever since; it’s just not an option to run out as nothing comparable can be found in any grocery store.

Grinding Grits Junction City GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2013

Here’s something from the Fielder’s Mill Cookbook, compiled by Mike & Debbie Buckner in 1994.

Washing Grits

Measure the amount of grits you wish to cook. Put grits in a deep bowl (I use a deep Cool Whip bowl for as many as 4-6 servings) and add plenty of warm water. Stir grits. Bran and specks will float to the top of the water; tilt the bowl to one side and pour the water and bran off. Do this procedure several times, usually three times or until the grits are “clean”. Place grits in a boiler, adding enough water to cover well. Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes. The water will cook out soon after heating; add more water or for a creamier taste add milk. There is more involved in cooking the course ground grits; however, the taste and added advantage of more dietary fiber make them an excellent substitute for quick grits. It seems the longer grits are cooked, the better they are, but you will have to add more liquid and stir them to prevent sticking. There are a number of variables so you may have to experiment and try cooking these grits a couple of times before you master their creamy goodness.

For busy cooks, try the Crock Pot Grits:

Wash grits as described above and place in the crock pot with appropriate amount of water, salt and butter before retiring for the night. Turn the crock pot on low and allow the grits to cook about 10 hours. Wake up the next morning to creamy grits. (If the grits are too stiff add water or milk-stir).

Photographed at Harvest Days in Old Talbot, Patsiliga Plantation, 2013

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Filed under --TALBOT COUNTY GA--, Junction City GA

Syrup Making, Junction City

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The traditional way of grinding ribbon cane into the finished product of cane syrup is to “walk” a mule or horse (tethered to a large pole) around a drum as the syrup master feeds stalks into a rolling mill.

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The juice is pressed into a tub or keg covered with cheesecloth to catch the solid materials.

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The syrup master always keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings.

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After being collected, the juice is transferred to the “cooking pan” in a nearby shed. This “pan” is mounted on a rock or brick base with a fire underneath. Wood is added from holes on the side, and a chimney on one end keeps air flowing over the fire. The skill and discrimination of the syrup master determines when the final product is ready to be “poured up”. The final result is a staple of South Georgia cuisine: pure can syrup ready to dress up biscuits, cornbread, and almost anything else that requires a little sweetness.

Jesse Bookhardt wrote: It is great to see the old cane mill operation again. Back in the mid-1950’s, our neighbor, Mr. Ed Ray, of Denton, Georgia always invited some neighbors over to his farm when his family made syrup. The event was referred to as a “Cane Grinding” and was a favorite social event that enhanced friendships and made some sweet memories. In a sense, it served the same social purpose as a “Peanut Boiling.”
When folk arrived they were kindly greeted and invited to partake of some of the raw juice which was being squeezed from the cane stalks by the mill into a large drum. The juice was green in appearance and the barrel would always be covered with Yellow Jackets and Honey Bees trying to extract their share. We would removed a long necked gourd dipper from the mill’s frame and take a few slugs down. Careful to avoid trips to the outhouse, we only drank a moderate amount. As the juice was cooked over the old furnace kettle, it tuned dark amber and reduced in volume. The syrup maker was the one who determined when it was ready to be pour-up. Syrup making was an art and it took an experienced person to make good quality syrup. The boiling, rolling liquid was a sight to see and left impressions on most that have stayed with them a life time.
I have very fond memories of this operation and was always taken with the unique sweet smell that permeated a hazy mist that surrounded the mill. Brian thanks for sharing this historic scene. Lately I have grown a few stalks on our farm in Northeast Alabama just for the memories and to see if sugar cane will survive that far north. So far it has. Most people of the area are familiar with sorghum syrup.

Photographed at Harvest Days in Old Talbot, Patsiliga Plantation, 2013

For more on sugar cane and syrup making, visit Southern Matters.

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Filed under --TALBOT COUNTY GA--, Junction City GA