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Mr. Tourism

Lee Sentell, Director, Alabama Tourism Department, poses for a photo at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery houses over 35 showcases filled with personal artifacts of the country music icon, including his 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac, shown in the background of this photo. Photo by Alabama Department of Tourism

Lee Sentell has served as director of the Alabama Tourism Department since January 2003, and is the longest serving director in its history. His tourism career has spanned more than 30 years. After serving as city editor of The Decatur Daily, he became the first director of the Decatur Tourism Bureau. He was director of marketing at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville during the first decade of Space Camp and was director of tourism at the Huntsville Convention & Visitors Bureau. He serves on a number of tourism-related boards and authored a travel guide, “The Best of Alabama.” He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Alabama Living. – Lenore Vickrey

You worked in newspapers before you got into tourism marketing. How did your newspaper career prepare you for what you’re doing now?

My first boss at The Decatur Daily taught me, “Tell me a story.” Southerners are instinctively born storytellers. That’s why Kathryn Tucker Windham, Harper Lee and Rick Bragg have been so successful. Whether you’re talking about our annual Vacation Guide or a magazine ad, we try to lure people in by making them part of the narrative. We want them to picture themselves relaxing at the beach or visiting a state park or going fishing. 

You’ve come up with some great campaigns (Year of Alabama Food, Year of Alabama Makers, etc.) to promote our state. How do you get your ideas?

When Gov. Bob Riley appointed me to this job I wanted to do campaigns that newspapers would want to cover. I picked themes that corresponded to sections in daily newspapers: food, sports, gardens, sports and outdoors and so forth. Our most successful ones were “Small Towns and Downtowns” in 2010 and “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” One of my personal favorites is the Alabama Bass Trail. I’m from a small town and I’m happy when somebody tells me how fishing tournaments have helped their town. We’ve won a lot of national awards, but the important thing is we create jobs.

What’s your favorite place to visit in Alabama? (I know, they all are. But please try to narrow it down.)

I grew up in Ashland with a population of 1,500 so I love towns with strong local shopping. I love Cullman because of  the architectural antiques place. Mentone and Fort Payne have a relaxing mountain atmosphere. Baldwin County has a good collection of small towns. The building in Andalusia where Hank Williams married Audrey is still standing. We put up a historic marker there. 

Are you partial to any particular food that’s identified with, or made in, Alabama? Have you eaten all the foods on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama list?

Alabama grows better tomatoes than any other state. I love fried chicken, okra, black eyed peas, potato salad and sliced tomatoes. I doubt anybody has eaten everything on our 100 Dishes list because we update it every year. I’m proud of our Barbecue Hall of Fame. It includes all of the cafes that have been open 50 years.

What’s the one thing that sets Alabama apart from other parts of the U.S., as a unique place for visitors?

When people visit Alabama for the first time they always comment on two things. They remark on the beauty of our state’s landscape and the friendliness of the people. They say they’ve heard of Southern hospitality and now know that it is real.

WTD: The Copper Kettle is everyone’s cup of tea

The Copper Kettle Tea Bar is nestled in a shady spot in downtown Foley.

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Laid back, framed in shady oaks, beside an easy-on-the-eyes emerald green park is not what one expects on a road named “Chicago Street.” The Copper Kettle Tea Bar is here, too, and also unexpected – an unexpected delight.

At first glance, the little house appears to be a small working class home in downtown Foley, and indeed it was. In the 1930s, 106 N. Chicago served railroad workers, accommodating a nearby train station long since gone. Today “The Little Tea House with the Big Heart” serves sandwiches, soups, cakes, pies, and tea, lots of tea, over 130 versions.

An anonymous quote on the menu reads, “If asked, ‘How do you take your tea?’ I reply ‘seriously, very seriously.’”

I’ll say.

Susan Adams and Robin Peters, sisters and co-owners of the Copper Kettle Tea Bar, at the front counter.

Co-owners and sisters Robin Peters and Susan Adams are not new to the brew. Tea is their passion. Great tea, coupled with excellent food in a congenial setting, is their goal. Chicago Street is tea-topia.

Admittedly, the tea room experience is novel for most southerners. “But tea is our niche,” says Robin, about her popular spot across the street from a downtown park. “Lots of people make great food down here, but we are the ones for tea.

“First timers sometimes come in and often have no idea what they want,” she continues. “I will ask, ‘what do you like in fruit, flavor, or taste? Let me see what I can do.” And before you know it, it’s tea time.

Small glass bottles of tea leaves adorn dinner tables. Inhale the aroma, sense the flavor, imagine the taste and let Copper Kettle pour the dream. Both Robin and Susan are emphatic: If you don’t like it, they will pour you a different one. No one leaves unhappy.

There are black teas, originating far away from Foley. Blends like English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Russian Samovar, Yunnan/China, Assam/India. Fruity favorites include Hibiscus Raspberry Currant, Queen of Berries, Cranberry Harvest, Pomegranate Ginger Pear, and Bora Bora.

There are white teas: white peony, white monkey, indulgence tea, and fruit favorites such as the most excellent, strawberry ginger peppercorn that puts the feisty in Foley.

Down home Southern flavors abound, such as strawberry sparkling wine to the more exotic Feng Shui/dragon fruit. Herbals, organics, every tea imaginable is available except grocery store stuff. This is no place for Milo’s on the rocks.

Hummus and chips with vegetables.

Robin’s first encounter with Foley was from vacationing at nearby Gulf Shores. “After days on the beach we came to town looking for something different, and discovered 2 Sassy Cups Tea Room in Foley and loved it,” she recalls. 

The Michigan sisters moved here in 2003. They reopened 2 Sassy’s in 2005 but the run was short. In 2014 the duo opened The Copper Kettle Tea Bar, moving it to the current location in 2015.

The little diner is off the main road, which is according to plan.

“We are like a secret right in the middle of town,” Robin says. “That’s part of the charm. We are right here but you have to find us. It’s like a treasure hunt.”

Off the beaten path is part of the experience. It fits their environment. “Having tea is a slowing down and stopping process rather than hurry up, quick cup of coffee to go thing,” she says. “In fact, Starbucks employees come here on coffee breaks.”

“We don’t do a food menu,” adds Susan, who supervises all cooking. “I usually know what we are serving the night before. Everyone else finds out in the morning.”

Homemade soup is available every day – tomato, potato, carrot, broccoli, and dozens more, depending on Susan’s daily decision. On today’s visit, a homemade apple-pear pie is out of the oven. It won’t be here long. Sandwiches, cookies, brownies, and more round out the list.

Katy Herndon visits often, driving in from Mobile. “I go to Foley just for the Copper Kettle,” she says. “Robin and Sue are just good people and the tea is always great. I love the huge selection and usually tell Robin to just surprise me. It’s always good and their soups are spectacular.”

The dining room seats 20 but plenty of space is available in the backyard, around tables under oaks. Regular customers including locals, snowbirds, and the beach bound are there any time, for a great time, at tea time.


 

Electric utility linemen to be honored on June 4

Seth Hammett, chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama, addresses those gathered to celebrate Lineman Appreciation Day in 2017.

Lineman Appreciation Day has a special meaning for Tracy Riddle.

Riddle’s father, Ricky Sybert, worked for Joe Wheeler EMC from about 1968 until 1992. “He loved his job and he loved his co-workers,” Riddle recalls.

“I can remember him being on ‘trouble’ and getting a trouble call at night, or when it was storming. Even as a child, it worried me for him to go out, but it never seemed to bother him.”

Riddle was moved to contact Alabama Living when she saw a notification about the national Lineman Appreciation Day, which was in mid-April.

“He has gone to be with the Lord now, but every year (that) I see Lineman Appreciation Day, I wish he was here for me to tell him how much I appreciate how hard he worked,” Riddle says.

In Alabama, the Legislature passed a formal resolution in 2014 designating the first Monday in June as Lineman Appreciation Day, ensuring that linemen are formally recognized in our state every year.

Linemen are often first responders during storms and other catastrophic events, working in brutal weather conditions to ensure we all have safe and reliable power. They work with thousands of volts of electricity on power lines at any time of day or night, 365 days a year, sometimes far from their families.

Tracy Riddle’s father, Ricky Sybert, is on the far right in the front row in this photo taken around 1970. Sybert and the others graduated from lineman school together.

This year’s statewide Lineman Appreciation Day commemoration will be June 4 in Montgomery, and will involve personnel from Alabama’s electric utility industry, including linemen from the state’s rural electric cooperatives. The event, which will include the presentation of an outstanding service award to a utility team member, will feature several speakers as well as a catered meal and gifts for the linemen.

The event is being coordinated by the Energy Institute of Alabama, which works to build public support for Alabama’s energy industry.

On social media, you may see the #ThankALineman hashtag. It’s an important part of increasing awareness of Lineman Appreciation Day.

Even if you’re not on social media, you can do your part. If you see a line crew from your rural electric cooperative out working in your area, stop and say “thank you” to them for all they do to keep the lights on for all of us.

Linemen serve on the frontlines of our nation’s energy needs. There are about 18,000 full-time linemen in the electric cooperative program, making up nearly one-third of all distribution cooperative employees. Together, they maintain more than 2.5 million miles of distribution line for 850 systems across the country.

Alabama’s not-for-profit electric cooperatives employ some 600 linemen who help keep the lights on for more than 1 million Alabamians in 64 counties.

Allison Law

Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.

Recycle

Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.

Reuse

Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)

Repurpose

Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Set to trap a catfish

Eugene Hendrick displays some of the catfish traps he’s built.

When this Brantley, Alabama native wants a fish fry, he grabs one of his fish traps and heads to the river.

Story and photo by Ben Norman

Several years ago, Eugene Hendrick decided he would try his hand at fishing with wire fish baskets.  But he had very little luck.

“One day I was checking my wire fish basket and when I pulled one up, someone had thrown a wooden slat box trap over my basket and they had become entangled,” says Hendrick. “His trap was full of fish and I had nothing in mine.  I had my measuring tape on my belt and so I measured the dimensions and decided I would build one of my own.  The first box I built was the same dimensions as the one tangled in mine.  I soon realized that this box was too big and bulky and I could catch just as many fish in a smaller scaled down version.”

After much experimenting, Hendrick settled on a box 14 inches square and 4 feet long with a built-in bait box with double throats or muzzles.  “These are what the catfish go in to get into the box but the limber slats close up and prevent the fish from getting out,” he says. “I build all of my traps with either red oak or white oak strips.  I actually like red oak better because it is tougher wood and retains the bait odor longer.  I use galvanized staples, as I found they are better than nails or screws.”

Hendrick is a well-known sign painter in Crenshaw, Covington and Coffee counties area. Those who know him well know that he is quite a perfectionist especially when it comes to painting signs or building fish traps.  Hendrick says when he sells someone a fish trap he likes to give them a lesson on where to place them and how to use them before they leave. 

“I like to use an old head from a V8 motor for an anchor and about 50 feet of green nylon cord attached to the trap,” he says.  “I construct a simple three-prong grab hook that I can throw out and draw across to snag the line so I can retrieve and pull the trap up to the boat.  I like to fish my traps in water that is 10 to 12 feet deep.” 

Hendrick says it is a fallacy that you can’t put them on sandy bottoms, but you do have to check them more often to make sure they don’t sand in. “For bait, I recommend spoiled cheese that I purchase at Ron Smitherman’s Bait Shop in Clanton.  Although I think cheese is by far the best, some people have good luck with cotton seed meal cake, rotten cabbage, lettuce, bananas and other produce.”

Hendrick says after much experimentation, he builds a small bait box to put his cheese in that slowly oozes downstream and attracts the fish.  He also says rather than having a small door, he builds his traps so that one complete side can be removed to facilitate baiting and fish removal.

“I fish my traps year-round but the best time I have found for catching catfish in a trap is October to April.  If you fish them in the summertime, you need to check them every day, but you can get by checking them once or twice a week in the winter.”

Most Alabama counties permit the use of wire fish baskets after you purchase a tag for each basket.  But state law requires you to have a commercial fishing license to use a slat basket in the public waters of the state.

“I keep my muzzle tapered down to 4 inches and I have caught fish that would weigh seven pounds that were able to get through the muzzle,” says Hendrick.  “I have caught close to 100 pounds in my traps on occasion.  They are constructed in a way that game fish can escape through the required one and one eighth-inch gap between the slats.  I recommend being a good conservationist and if you catch more fish than you can use, release them back into the river and catch them again another day.  And everyone knows a needy family that can use catfish.”

Hendrick invites anyone interested in purchasing his traps to contact him at 334-303-9389 or at Hendrick Signs, 673 Elba Highway, Brantley.  He charges $60 for a single trap and $50 for two or more traps. Contact your local game warden if you have questions about fishing with fish traps.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Food for thought

We Southerners love our food.

But now, according to recent studies, it seems that the cuisine for which the South is famous is leading Southerners to an early grave.

Not long ago it was reported that anyone who wants diabetes should move South and start eating. According to a 2017 study, the highest adult obesity rates are in the South, with Alabama and Arkansas tied for third place (West Virginia and Mississippi were one and two, respectively). And in another study, Alabama ranked right up there with West Virginia with the highest percentage of folks with diabetes.

Like so much that is Southern, our eating habits can be traced to our history. For about as long as there has been a South, culinarily speaking, a good part of the population has had to get by on the poorest cuts of meat and the most forlorn vegetables.

So Southern cooks set out to make the bad at least taste better. What they accomplished has been nothing short of miraculous.

For proof, I refer you to the late Ernest Matthew Mickler’s 1986 classic book, White Trash Cooking, a loving tribute to what southerners can do with traditional staples like fat pork, corn meal, molasses, garden greens, Ritz crackers, Cool Whip, Velveeta and whatever else happens to be handy.

This sort of cooking and this sort of eating has survived almost intact in the rural South or among rural Southerners who moved to cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. But rather than take our eating habits as an indication of how isolated and unsophisticated the deep South remains, I contend that what we cook and consume is just one more bit of evidence of just how cosmopolitan southerners actually are.     

Consider my buddy Jim, who taught Southern history at one of our fine Southern Universities. A scholar recognized both at home and abroad, Jim was invited to lecture at the University of Vienna.

As a gift for his hosts, Jim carried cans of Vienna Sausage to pass around. The sausages were a big hit, as was Jim’s explanation of how Vienna was properly pronounced (“Vi – eeee – nah”).

Now I don’t know, or really care, how Vienna would rank among healthy cities in Europe. And from what Jim tells me, the Viennese don’t know or care either. They enjoy food fixed the way they like it fixed.

Same as down in Dixie.

“Foodies” in places like New York City and San Francisco can go on about experimenting with ingredients and approaches, but we can match ‘em with dishes like “Uncle Willie’s Swamp Cabbage Stew,” “Freda’s Five-Can Casserole,” and a “Kiss Me Not Sandwich” (White Trash Cooking, pp. 11, 41, 73).

As for discovering that most of the cities in the Southern heartland are not healthy places to live well, if you can’t have it all, I’d rather have mine with “Ham-Lama Salad” and some “Soda Cracker Pie,” thank you very much.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Can solar work for my home?

Solar installers work high off the ground, on steep roofs and must drive fasteners through the roofing. This is a job that requires specialized training. Source: MariaGodfrida, pixabay.com

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessan

Q: I’m hearing a lot about solar power as an efficient option for homes today. Can you tell me some of the basics about solar energy and whether it’s something I should pursue?

A: Solar can provide energy for your home in three ways:

Passive solar is a way to capture the sun’s heat directly, often through south-facing windows and dark-colored stone floors that can store heat.

Solar water heating systems typically have panels on a roof that collect solar energy and a pump that circulates heated water for storage in a water tank.

Photovoltaic (PV) systems also collect solar energy through a panel, but the PV panels actually convert the energy into electricity.

I suspect you are referencing PV systems, which have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. PV technology has improved, costs have dropped and financing offers are abundant.

PV panels are usually installed on a roof in an array. The panels generate direct current (DC) power, which is then channeled through an inverter that feeds electricity into the home, back to the electric grid or to a battery system where it is stored for future use.

Several factors go into calculating how cost-effective it would be to install a solar power system for your home. Once you’ve done your research, you can use the PVWatts Calculator (at  http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/)  to estimate how much production and value a PV system on your home could yield.

An easier path is to find a qualified solar contractor to provide an estimate for a PV system. Look for contractors that are certified with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Your local electric co-op may also have a list of recommended solar contractors.

When you call contractors, they will typically ask several questions to determine if your home is a good candidate for solar. If it is, they will likely be able to provide an estimate. In order to complete an estimate, the contractor will need to determine the size of the system, which will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your current and anticipated electricity needs
  • Roof area, orientation and pitch (15 to 40 degrees is ideal)
  • The amount of sunlight your home receives per year
  • The amount of shade, dust, snow and/or other factors that can block sunlight

If your roof will need replacing in the next few years, you’ll want to do that before installing solar panels, so be sure to include that expense when calculating the overall cost.

There may be federal, state and utility tax credits and rebates available to offset the price of the equipment and installation. You can find links to these resources on my website at www.collaborativeefficiency.com.

If the estimate you receive includes all the factors we’ve mentioned in this article, it should give you a fairly accurate idea of your return on investment. It’s also a good idea to get multiple estimates if you can, and to review the estimate with your electric co-op to ensure the electric rate and metering arrangements are correct.

Before you make a final decision, consider the following questions:

• How does the investment in a PV system compare to upgrading the energy efficiency of your home? Efficiency upgrades can sometimes yield more bang for your buck and make your home more comfortable. A home energy audit can help you answer this question.

• Is there a better way to invest in solar energy? Many co-ops offer community solar programs, which can produce solar electricity at a lower cost than residential systems.

Investment in solar systems or energy efficiency upgrades to your home can help increase the resale value. Recent reports show that the presence of a PV system can raise a home’s resale value to an average of $15,000.

I hope these tips help you determine if a PV system is right for your home. Remember, your local electric co-op can be a great resource, so reach out to them if you have any additional questions.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on solar energy for your home, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Recipes to treasure

Heirloom recipes are valuable because they’ve been “kitchen tested and eater approved” hundreds of times over. Any recipe that gets made repeatedly and gets passed down is undoubtedly a method that works and that results in something delicious.

BY Jennifer Kornegay  | Food/Photography by Brooke Echols

Handing down favorite recipes is a worthwhile pursuit that’s about sharing something more than good food.

When we talk about family heirlooms, we’re often referring to jewelry, fine china or maybe granddad’s coin collection. But an heirloom, as Merriam-Webster defines it, is anything that is “something of special value handed down from one generation to another.” And that “value” isn’t necessarily monetary. What are warm sentiments worth? How about a bite that brings back a flood of fond memories? Can you assign an accurate appraisal for the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from preparing and serving that dish everyone has always loved (and getting it just right)?

     These feelings and experiences are priceless and are yours for the taking when you save, use and share heirloom recipes. Holding onto recipe cards covered in your grandmother’s scrawling script or keeping your mom’s dog-eared cookbooks with notes in the margins and splatter stains on the edges is historic preservation at its purest.

     And you’re not just protecting remnants of the past, you’re reviving them. Our most basic needs often connect us in the deepest ways, and food builds bridges that transcend time and space. Every time you prep the ingredients and follow the steps outlined in an old recipe, you open an opportunity to remember and revisit family members who’ve done the same before. These are connections that surpass the tenuous relations many of us now have in the hundreds via social media “friends.”

     The next step is passing them along. It’s a way to reach out to current and even generations yet to come and hand them a heaping helping of yourself and of the heritage that has shaped who you are.

     If you don’t have an heirloom recipe collection, it’s never too late to start one. And you don’t have to dip only into your own gene pool. Borrow some of these oldies but goodies submitted by our readers and start your tradition today.


Cook of the Month: Gail Clark Sheppard, Arab EC

     Gail Clark Sheppard has been enjoying a simple yet super-sweet cake her grandmother used to make all of her life, and she believes her grandmother enjoyed it most of hers. “She may have come up with it herself, but I think she may have gotten it from her mother,” she said. “I know it has been in my family for more than 100 years.” The molasses cake was an easy yet satisfying treat that Sheppard’s grandmother often whipped up to feed her energetic grandkids. “She’d slice it up and put it in an eight-pound lard bucket and bring it out to us while we were playing,” she said. “And then she’d tell us not to bother her for a while!” That version was particularly special since its principal ingredient was also homemade. “My grandad and my dad farmed sugar cane, so they made their own molasses, and my grandma used that of course. Sometimes, she used it in place of sugar in other recipes too,” Sheppard said. The memories of fun family times now add their sweetness to the skillet anytime Sheppard bakes the humble cake. “I can remember how wonderful it tasted then, when she’d bring it out still warm to us as kids,” she said. “I love it to this day.”

Grandma’s Molasses Cake 

  • 1 1/3 cups molasses
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼-½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Grandma Clark’s Dumplings

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup shortening

Mix milk and shortening with flour. Stir to make soft dough. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead dough a few times until stiff. Divide dough in half. Roll one half at a time until it is about the thickness of piecrust. Cut into strips about an inch wide and two inches long. Drop pieces one at a time into boiling broth.

Grandma dropped her dumplings into the broth at the side of the pot, while holding the ones already cooking back with a spoon. She did not stir the dumplings while they cooked. They cooked uncovered until she got all the dough in the pot. Then she covered them and cooked them about 15 minutes. This recipe makes a large pot of dumplings.

Gail Clark Sheppard

Arab EC


Jam Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter (no substitutes!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup jam (any kind, but preferably homemade blackberry with the seeds in and nothing used but sugar and berries to make the jam)
  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped (cook’s preference)
  • 1 apple, grated

Sift flour, salt, and baking soda or powder together, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour to mix with the nuts, dates and raisins. Cream together the sugar and butter. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Combine buttermilk and jam. Add alternately with combined dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Flour the fruit and nuts and stir them into the batter. Stir in the grated apple. Bake in 3 greased, 9-inch cake pans in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Turn out onto racks to cool before frosting. NOTE: If a spicier cake is desired, sift 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves with the flour, salt and baking powder.

Brown Sugar Icing:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

In a deep, large kettle melt the butter over high heat until it just starts to boil.

Add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Don’t boil longer than two minutes and stir constantly while it is boiling. Add the milk and splash of vanilla and return to a boil, stirring constantly.

As soon as it begins to boil, remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until thick and spreadable.

Mary Rich

North Alabama EC


Mama’s Nanner Pudding

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 egg
  • 11/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Bananas, sliced
  • Vanilla wafers

Mix sugar, flour and egg. Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter, then stir. Pour over layered bananas and vanilla wafers in 8×8-inch casserole dish.

Libby Bailey

Cullman EC


Alabama’s Corn Chowder

  • 5 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 pound Zeigler bacon
  • 2 16-ounce cans cream or kernel corn (add juice if you use kernel)
  • 1 large can evaporated milk
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¾ cup pre-cooked Zeigler ham, finely chopped
  • 1 stick butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook potatoes until almost done in a large boiler then set aside. Leave enough water to cover potatoes, about two cups. Fry bacon and remove to drain but reserve grease. Sauté ham and onion in bacon grease. Crumble and add bacon, ham and onions to potatoes. Add corn, milk and butter. Salt and pepper as desired. If chowder is too thin, add two heaping tablespoons flour to 1½ cups of water. This will help the chowder thicken. Simmer 15-20 minutes. Saltine crackers go great with the chowder.

Wyenette Ware Renfroe

Baldwin EMC


Granny Pritchett’s Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3½ cups all purpose flour

Mix ingredients in the order listed. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Can be rolled out and cut into shapes.

Amelia Pritchett

Pea River EC


Fattingand II (Lena Olson’s Fried Cookies)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 teaspoons cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed whole cardamom
  • 1¾ cups flour (enough to roll cookies out)

Beat egg well, add sugar and remaining ingredients. Roll out the cookie dough, cut into diamond shapes and fry in deep fat at 370 degrees for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar.

Gloria Pratt

Baldwin EMC


Coming up in July… Frozen Treats!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

August: Corn | June 8

September: BBQ | July 8

October: Pumpkin | Aug. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Reaching out: Army veteran teaches long-range, precision shooting

James Eagleman, (left) Director of Training for the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy, gives some instruction to Colton Simpson (right) before Colton fires the rifle at a target a thousand yards downrange. Photo by John N. Felsher

You’re going to shoot this rifle at a target a thousand yards away today and hit it,” proclaims James Eagleman, the director of training at the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy just outside Eufaula.

More used to shooting shotguns at ranges less than 40 yards, I looked out the window of the shooting house incredulously. I couldn’t even see the target more than a half-mile away, but I would trust James with my life. We served together in Korea in the 1990s.

I knew him as Corporal Eagleman, but he retired from the Army as a master sergeant after serving 26 years on active duty, much of it as a sniper or sniper instructor. When I sat down in the shooting house at the range, the “corporal” was most definitely in charge of his former commander. With a little instruction, I did hit the target a thousand yards away, although James did most of the calculations and setup. I just pulled the trigger.

“Barbour Creek Shooting Academy is a long-distance shooting facility,” says Mark Simpson, the owner. “We train clients how to hunt and shoot animals ethically at long range. We are one of the few ranges where people can shoot rifles out to a thousand yards or more and certainly one of the few that offer all the amenities that we do.”

Simpson ran car dealerships for 38 years before selling the dealership as he planned to retire. He bought a 1,000-acre plot of land on Lake Eufaula and started building a long-range rifle shooting facility for personal reasons.

“I started building this facility for my friends and family,” Simpson recalls. “I had been shooting long distance for more than a decade, but I got my advanced training from James. One day, I talked James into coming down to see it. When he got here, he says, ‘We have to make this into a shooting academy.’”

The academy opened in 2017. Most students stay at a lodge on the property that can comfortably sleep up to six people. Guests can also stay at an A-frame cottage on the Chattahoochee River, which flows into Lake Eufaula, or in the town of Eufaula. Some people stay at the nearby Lakepoint Resort State Park. People who stay on the property receive all meals included in the price.

The academy offers two shooting courses, a basic and an advanced course. Each course lasts two days. People could stay all week, taking the courses back to back or take one course now and return at a later date to take the second one. 

James Eagleman, the director of training at the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy, and Mark Simpson, owner of the academy, congratulate Madeleine Hackett on the shot she made. The academy teaches long-range rifle shooting.
Photo courtesy of Barbour Creek Shooting Academy

“The course is partially based on what I taught in a U.S. Army advanced sniper course,” Eagleman says. “Our focus is not just on shooting, but on long-range hunting. In the civilian world, people don’t need to know how to be a sniper, but hunters need to know things like shot placement, bullet selection, terminal performance and other things to make a quick, ethical kill on a game animal. Level 2 is more of a wind reading and advanced hunting course. We go into a lot of hunting-type shooting positions and what to do if the equipment fails in the field.”

Clients can bring their own firearms, but while under instruction, they must use guns and ammunition provided by the academy. After completing the courses, the clients can practice with their own rifles. Simpson lets some graduates put what they learned into practice by hunting hogs on the property. In Alabama, people can shoot feral hogs all year long without limit on private property.

“When we started the academy, one of the first things we discovered was that most people who come here with their own guns find out quickly that they probably have the wrong equipment,” Eagleman explains. “In Level 1, we stress proper equipment selection. All of our school guns are 6.5mm Creedmoor hunting rifles, which are phenomenal guns for long-range shooting. In addition, all of our guns have suppressors on them so we can sit in our air-conditioned shooting house and talk without putting headphones on.”

Mark and James also build their own high-end custom hunting rifles. They also developed and sell their own brand of 6.5mm and 7mm ammunition.

“The guns we sell, BC-1400s, are designed for long-range hunting with minimal recoil so people can make ethical shots at long range,” Eagleman says. “These rifles weigh less than 10 pounds with a scope and are capable of killing game out to 1,400 yards. We test each one by shooting it for accuracy out to a thousand yards. If the rifle doesn’t meet our requirements, we don’t sell it.”

All vets and first responders who enroll in the classes receive a 15 percent discount. Wounded warriors can take the instruction for free, but must pay for their food and lodging. For more information, see www.barbourcreek.com or call 334-845-0000.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.

Recycle

Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.

Reuse

Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)

Repurpose

Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.