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Lee County Historical Fair

Dr. Charles Mitchell shows sugar cane in the crops garden at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.
Dr. Charles Mitchell shows sugar cane in the crops garden at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.

Lee County Historical Fair to showcase life, food from 1800s

Story and photos by Gary L. Smith

Dr. Charles Mitchell walks down a narrow row in one of the Lee County Historical Society’s gardens to show both sides in one of Alabama’s great rivalries, sugar cane and sorghum.

“People in north Alabama swear sorghum syrup is the best, so you can get a good argument going,” Mitchell laughs.

Mitchell is an agronomist and professor at Auburn University and vice president of the Lee County Historical Society. He’s been involved for decades with the Lee County Historical Society Fair, planned for Oct. 17. The history of syrup making, cotton production, country cooking, bluegrass music, and other parts of life in Lee County are preserved in the fair, as well as other events that go on every month in Loachapoka at Pioneer Park, he said.

The annual fair previously took place on Loachapoka’s “Syrup Sopping’ Day.” Syrup Soppin’ Day, a separate event run by a different organization, grew over the years and is moving to a different location closer to Auburn, Mitchell says. The event is now called “Pioneer Day in Loachapoka,” and they will continue to demonstrate syrup making at their event, Mitchell says.

An early 20th century tractor on display in the Lee County Historical Society museum at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.
An early 20th century tractor on display in the Lee County Historical Society museum at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.

At the Lee County Historical Society Fair, the park will be open to the public and a blacksmith guild makes items much as they would have been made in the 1800s, along with spinning and weaving demonstrations. There’s also mountain music from the “Whistle Stop Pickers,” a local group of bluegrass musicians who play dulcimers, banjos and fiddles.

Pioneer Park, the site of the event, also houses a number of other exhibits, including farming tools and implements from the 1800s through the mid 20th century, a medicinal herb garden, a crops garden including sweet potatoes, tobacco, peanuts, cotton and of course sugar cane and sorghum.

Sugar cane is a hard cane plant with palm-like fronds, while sweet sorghum looks like tall stalks with bushy tops. Sugar cane yields far more sugar content for making syrup, but doesn’t grow well in north Alabama, Mitchell says.

Sweet potato biscuit recipe written on the wall in the Lee County Historical Society serving area at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.
Sweet potato biscuit recipe written on the wall in the Lee County Historical Society serving area at Pioneer Park in Loachapoka.

According to Mitchell, they are also working to complete the renovation of a log house that is the largest log structure in Alabama.

The park is also open on the second Saturday of each month. The blacksmith, spinning, and weaving demonstrations, along with the mountain music concerts, are there every second Saturday, along with country cooking, but you’ll have to come to the annual Historical Fair for their signature items – sweet potato biscuits and fritters with homemade syrup, Mitchell says.

Syrup making is still planned for the fair, but on a smaller scale, Mitchell says, adding that it was an important part of Alabama agricultural history. “A hundred years ago you grew your own sweetener. Kind of a tradition – you cut the sugar cane and made syrup. Everyone who worked (on the cotton harvest) got a five-gallon bucket and that was your sweetener for the winter,” Mitchell said.

The main building at Pioneer Park, now known as the Old Trade Center, was a place to buy and sell merchandise and was important to Lee County because the railroad line ended in Loachapoka, Mitchell says. Cotton was the leading cash crop and source of employment in Lee County and the rest of Alabama before World War II, and, according to Mitchell, this began to change when people returning from military service began to seek jobs in Birmingham’s growing steel industry and, closer to home, Opelika’s growing textile mills.

“Everything that goes on here has to have a connection to history. The vendors are either demonstrating, or selling, arts and crafts that represent Alabama’s history,” Mitchell says.


Sweet Potato Biscuits

  • 4 cups self-rising flour
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening or lard
  • 2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Buttermilk to make a soft dough
  • Melted butter or margarine

Cut shortening into flour with a pastry knife; set aside.  Sweet potatoes can be baked in a microwave oven, peeled and mashed in a separate bowl.  Add 1 cup buttermilk and soda to sweet potatoes and mix.  Add sweet potato mixture to flour mixture and fold together.  Add additional buttermilk or flour if needed to make a very soft dough.

Turn dough onto a well floured surface and gently fold dough, adding additional self- rising flour if needed.  Roll or pat dough to a ½ inch thickness and cut with the desired size biscuit cutter.  Gently place biscuits on parchment-paper lined baking sheet.  Alternatively, the baking sheet can be greased with shortening or sprayed with a non-stick oil.

Bake at 410 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes or until biscuits just begin to brown.  Remove from oven and brush melted butter or margarine on the hot biscuits.  Extra biscuits can be refrigerated in a plastic bag and heated in a microwave oven as needed.

Charles C. Mitchell
Vice President and Acting President
Lee Co. Historical Society

More information:

Alabama Gardens: Year-round herbs


Start now for year-round herbs at your fingertips

Katie Jackson

Even though the autumnal equinox on Sept. 23 was the official start of fall, that doesn’t mean you have to do without the flavors of the garden all winter. All you need is a good supply of fresh herbs, which, luckily, you can grow year-round.

In much of Alabama, many perennial herbs can continue to grow and produce leaves outdoors in the winter if they are kept in a sheltered area and if temperatures don’t drop too low for extended periods of time. What’s more, some herbs, such as cilantro and parsley, actually prefer cooler temperatures and can survive the winter outdoors if they are protected from hard freezes.

Still, there’s no predicting how harsh the winter will be, so if you want to ensure that you have fresh herbs at your fingertips all year long, now is the time to start an indoor herb garden. It may be as simple as bringing your potted herbs in for the winter, but if you don’t have some already potted up, now is the time to do so.

To establish an indoor herb garden, begin by selecting a spot in your house that provides plenty of natural sunlight (most herbs need at least six hours of light a day to thrive) and where indoor temperatures stay between 60 to 75 degrees F. South- to southwest-facing windows are the best indoor locations for herb growing, though don’t put your plants tight up against cold window glass. You can also buy a grow light to hang over the herbs if you don’t have a suitable sunny indoor spot.

Next, find a well-draining container (pot), preferably something attractive if your herb garden will be on display. You can use one large pot (strawberry pots work well for this but any large container with holes in the bottom for good drainage is fine) in which you can plant several different kinds of herbs. Or you can use smaller pots, ideally ones that are at least six inches in diameter and deep enough for the herbs’ roots to have plenty of room to grow, and plant each with a different kind of herb.

Fill the containers to about two inches from the top with fresh, sterile, well-draining potting media (pre-bagged potting mixtures specifically formulated for herbs and vegetables are good options). Now you’re ready to plant.

The most reliable way grow indoor herbs is to start with small plants, either young transplants you started from seed or cuttings or plants purchased from a garden store. You can also sew many herb seeds directly into a pot, which is particularly easy to do with cilantro, basil, dill and parsley. In fact, I often sew small amounts of these annual herbs into new containers every few weeks to keep a steady supply of young plants coming in all the time.

Once you’ve settled your transplants or seeds into their pots, apply enough water to settle the potting mixture around the plants’ roots or to moisten the soil covering the seeds. Make sure to use waterproof drip trays beneath the pots to catch excess water and protect your windowsill or table or counter tops.

As the herbs grow, turn or rearrange the pots every week or two to allow each plant plenty of access to light. Apply more water only when the first inch or so of soil has dried out. You’ll have to water germinating seedlings more frequently until they are well established, but avoid adding so much water that the potting media becomes soggy.

When your plants are established and growing, start snipping them to promote bushier growth and keep them from flowering or going to seed, though never clip more than one-third of the growth at a time. And, of course, start using them in your cooking. After all, even though indoor herbs can be lovely to behold, they are even lovelier to taste! A

OCTOBER Garden Tips

  • Collect fall leaves, seeds, cones and other garden treasures to use for seasonal decorating.
  • Plant shrubs and trees.
  • Fill bird feeders and birdbaths to attract migrating and local birds.
  • Apply compost to gardens and turn compost piles.
  • Test soil and add amendments as needed.
  • Dry and save seed from end-of-season flowers, vegetables and herbs.
  • Take cuttings of tender perennials and begin rooting them.
  • Clean and store empty pots, garden tools and equipment for the winter.
  • Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes, onions and garlic.
  • Plant a winter garden cover crop (ryegrass, clover, etc.) to protect and enrich soil.
  • Keep mowing lawns until no sign of new growth is evident

JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

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

Not your grandmother’s knitting

Fiber arts enthusiasts gather at Old Alabama Town to spin, knit and crochet, but also to fellowship. Photo by Allison Griffin

Fiber guilds promote old crafts with a new twist

By Lisa Harrison

In cozy meeting and living rooms across Alabama, groups of women meet regularly to share their love of all things fiber. Knitting needles click, spinning wheels hum, weaving looms whoosh and clack. Tatting shuttles flash to and fro between chains of thread; crochet hooks inch along rows of stitches.

In today’s era of laboratory-created and machine-manufactured fabric, a dedicated and growing number of artisans are reviving centuries-old techniques of handcrafting with wool, cotton, silk, angora and other natural fibers. Using the old methods, modern crafters now create “art yarn” that is a far cry from the yarn of yesterday.

The new yarns are multi-textured, multicolored and may sport intricately spun loops and coils. Weavers, knitters, crocheters and other needleworkers use these yarns to create vibrant clothing and fabrics never imagined by the crafters who came before them. Recent decades have seen these crafters form themselves into numerous fiber guilds.

Across Alabama, nearly a dozen fiber guilds with members both urban and rural, whose arts range from knitting and crocheting to yarn spinning and weaving, meet regularly to share techniques and promote these venerable crafts.

Betty Ann Lloyd founded the South Alabama Fiber Enthusiasts (SAFE) guild in 2009 when she discovered some equally fiber-minded friends. The guild allows members who practice one fiber art to learn about other crafts. After seeing crafts they have not tried before demonstrated, people who were knitters or crocheters only have now become spinners and weavers as well, says Lloyd.

A West Alabama Fiber Guild member makes cloth by weaving on a floor loom at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport. Contributed
A West Alabama Fiber Guild member makes cloth by weaving on a floor loom at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport. Contributed

The Montgomery guild began attracting many new members when it hosted a “Worldwide Knit in Public Day” in 2009. This event is the largest knitter-run event in the world, with local groups meeting on the same date all over the globe. Attendance grew in each subsequent year the guild hosted the local version. This year’s Knit in Public Day was June 13; 42 countries participated last year.

Building on that success, the guild established its own larger local event, The Festival of Alabama Fiber Arts, in 2012. (There was no festival this year, but organizers hope to bring it back in 2016.)

Guilds across the state participate in many such events. The festivals often include juried shows of spun, woven, and needle crafted pieces. There are exhibitions of techniques. Handcrafted products are offered for sale by vendors from around the country. Festivals featuring guild members include the Kentuck Festival, the Sheep-to Shawl event, and the Alabama Designer/Craftsmen Fine Craft Show.

The success of these festivals, with counterparts in every state, demonstrates the new popularity of traditional crafts. In days past, fiber artists might have met in small “sewing circles,” but the new festivals draw large crowds of crafters plus spectators who learn and often become crafters themselves.

The techniques used may be ancient, but modern technology has contributed to the surge of interest. Betty Lloyd points out that crafters now have access to YouTube tutorials that can guide beginners and help experienced artisans who encounter difficulties with a project. Answers to “how to” questions are a mouse click away.

Additionally, social media provide connections and forums to discuss techniques. is a popular Internet community used by many Alabama fiber guild members. Such online gathering places connect people who share the desire to preserve crafts and exchange ideas.

SAFE member and knitter Peggy Collins says, “It’s very important to keep the old techniques alive. To lose knowledge is a tragic thing. The more we know about how things were originally created, the more we can appreciate what we have today. When we know how to create items using old methods, and do create items that way, they become so much more valuable. A hand-knit sweater is so superior to a store-bought, machine-stitched one.”

Carol Timkovich, president of the West Alabama Fiber Guild, agrees, saying guilds offer “the benefit of touching the past by continuing the techniques our foremothers passed on to us, and touching the future when we teach someone younger.”

In addition to preserving skills, guild members benefit from the creative process itself. Lloyd, Collins, and Timkovich agree that fiber crafts provide a uniquely relaxing practice bordering at times on meditation. Timkovich adds that the communities also help reduce stress through companionship: “troubles shared lessen; joys shared multiply.” The opportunity to be involved in community activities that promote preservation, relaxation, and artistic creation draws many people to the guilds.

Fiber guilds are an important resource for crafters interested in learning and preserving techniques from days gone by. Modern crafters study these old methods and riff on them with new ideas, creating arty yarns and fabrics with a 21st century appeal. Meeting with other enthusiasts, they share ideas, learn new techniques, and experience the camaraderie of kindred spirits.

Alabama Recipes: Homemade Candy

Send us your favorite recipes!

Food Editor Jennifer Kornegay, and page designer Brooke Echols

Beginning this month, our new Food Editor, Jennifer Kornegay, and page designer Brooke Echols will be working together to bring you the best recipes from our readers, from breakfast to dessert and snacks in between. Surveys have shown that our recipe pages are the most popular in the magazine, and we want to continue to be worthy of our readers’ time and culinary talents.

Jennifer should be a familiar face to you, as she’s been roaming the state for us for the past four years in search of the best restaurants that are “Worth the Drive.” A writer and former magazine editor, she brings a fresh voice and a love for all things food to our recipe pages. Brooke has been advertising coordinator for us for the past four years, and has recently added page design to her list of skills, which also includes trying new recipes and cooking gadgets. We think they’ll make a great team.

So let us we hear from you! If you’ve got a story or photo to share about your favorite recipe, please send it to us at, or submit it online at



Investing the time required to whip up some homemade candy pays off with more than a big batch of treats. Invite your kids or grandchildren to help, and you’re also creating memories.

Making candy with my grandmother is one of my most treasured recollections. I was around 8 when I first joined her in her kitchen to help her cook. We made haystacks, caramel and coconut confections that, when done, look just like mini versions of their namesakes. I carefully measured Karo syrup, mesmerized by the clear ribbons folding into a neat stack before melting together in her worn Pyrex cup. She handled all the stove work, sparing my little hands and forearms from the popping-hot sugar. It was just one of many times I stood alongside her, chopping, stirring and testing her ability to carry out the precise tasks some of her recipes required while giving whatever I was non-stop talking about equal attention. In her kitchen, my grandmother and I bonded over a shared love of food and feeding others.

Of course, thinking back on the tasty results – each haystack a sticky but soft mouthful of caramel-coated coconut threads — makes the memory even sweeter (and kicks my salivary glands into high gear).

And autumn always makes me think of candy. Maybe because the kid in me is getting excited about Halloween. Maybe because the hot-natured adult I am knows that candy making can push kitchen temps to swelter stage, and the coming cooler days make it a bit easier to keep the house comfortable. Maybe because I love to share the fruits of my labors and know that most folks are more interested in indulging this time of year since heavier wardrobes better conceal a few extra pounds.

Whatever the reason, fall is a fabulous time to make candy, and our readers have shared some delicious ones to try.

– Jennifer Kornegay


Upcoming recipe themes and deadlines:

  • December Peppermint:  – October 15
  • January Chili: – November 15
  • February: Quick & Easy – December 15


Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014
Montgomery, AL 36124

We welcome your recipes!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Share a story about your recipe! Whether it’s your grandmother’s best cake or your uncle’s camp stew, every recipe has a story behind it. We’ll pay $50 for the best recipe-related story each month.

Cook of the month:


We’d never heard of combining the texture of fudge with the flavor of pumpkin, but this month’s Cook of the Month thinks it makes a great combination. Savannah Letson, who is 15, loves to bake cakes and cookies. When she was looking for a good recipe to submit for the October issue, she settled on “Pumpkin Fudge.” Her instincts were correct, as we decided it was a deliciously different twist on an old favorite, and especially appropriate for the fall. Savannah is in the 9th grade at Lawrence County High School in Moulton, and is looking forward to learning even more about cooking in her home economics classes. We’ll bet we receive some more yummy recipes from Savannah in the future!

Savannah Letson, Joe Wheeler EMC


Pumpkin Fudge

  • 1 tablespoon plus ¾ cup butter, divided
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 package (10 ounces) cinnamon baking chips
  • 1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow crème
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a 13-inch by 9-inch pan with foil and grease the foil with 1 tablespoon butter; set aside. Cube the remaining butter and place in a large saucepan; add the sugars, milk, pumpkin, cinnamon pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook and stir until a candy thermometer reads 238 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon chips until melted. Stir in the marshmallow crème, pecans and vanilla. Transfer to prepared pan. Chill until firm. Discard the foil; cut fudge into 1-inch squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes 3 pounds.

Almond Butter Toffee

  • 1 cup roasted almonds, slivered (divided)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, grated

Sprinkle 3/4 cup of almonds in a buttered 9-inch x 13-inch pan. Melt butter on the stovetop in a medium saucepan; add sugars and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue cooking on medium high heat and occasionally stirring to 295 degrees or when a little dropped in cold water becomes brittle immediately. (It will smell almost burnt, and the color will be a dark tan.) Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda. Pour carefully over almonds in pan. Let cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate on top. When chocolate has melted, spread it out evenly with spatula. Sprinkle rest of almonds on top of chocolate. Cool. Break into pieces.

Sheila Copenhaver, Southern Pine EC

Date Pecan Candy

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla
  • ½ package chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons butter

Mix sugar with milk in a medium size pan. Bring to a boil. Add chopped dates. Stir constantly and boil until a soft ball is formed when dropped into cold water. (This part is very important.) Remove from heat. Add the butter and vanilla. Cool. Beat with mixer until it begins to thicken. Add nuts. When stiff, turn onto a wet cloth and roll. Refrigerate. Slice when hard.

Debbie Deavours, Baldwin EMC

White Chocolate Candy

  • 2 pounds white chocolate bark
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 cup dry roasted peanuts

Melt over low heat, stirring constantly, or in a large bowl microwave the white chocolate bark until melted. Add chunky peanut butter, marshmallows, Rice Krispies and peanuts. Mix well. Drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper. Let cool. Store in plastic container or can be frozen. Makes approximately 10 dozen.

Sara Jean Brooklere, Cullman EC

Skillet Candy Cookies

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 10 large marshmallows
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Combine butter, milk and sugar in a skillet. Bring to a boil and cook for 6 minutes. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Add pecans and cracker crumbs. Stir well. Drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper and allow to cool.

Loretta Robinson, Sand Mountain EC

Creamsicle Truffles

  • ¼ cup butter
  • Zest from half an orange
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract
  • Orange food coloring
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar for rolling

Pour white chips into a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt butter along with zest over medium heat. Stir in heavy cream and bring to just below a boil. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer over the white chips, pressing through strainer with the back of a spoon to get all the flavor from the zest. Allow mixture to sit for minute or so. Add orange extract and food coloring. Refrigerate 2-3 hours to set. Scoop our heaping teaspoons of mixture and roll into balls. Roll in powdered sugar. Freeze for 10-15 minutes to set. Keep in a refrigerator in an airtight container till ready to serve.

Jennifer Robinson Tysma, Sand Mountain EC

Homemade Candy Corn

  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Orange and yellow food coloring
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk

Combine the powdered sugar, powdered milk and salt in large bowl and stir. On the stovetop, combine butter, corn syrup and sugar, and boil for about 3-4 minutes. Cook until it reaches 230 degrees or until it’s a soft ball. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour mixture into the powdered mixture. Stir until well combined. Put mixture onto a piece of wax paper and let cool about 10-15 minutes. Divide the mixture into thirds and color two pieces with yellow and orange. Roll each piece into ropes and place together slightly pinching until they stick. Flatten the ropes and cut into triangles.

April Pinkerton, Tombigbee EC


Tool Tips: Candy Thermometer

A candy thermometer is an essential tool of the homemade-candy-making kitchen. For many recipes to turn out right, you’ll have to bring some of the ingredients (usually some type of sugar) to a very precise temperature. There are old-fashioned ways to do this, but today’s candy thermometers make the process much easier. Here’s what to look for when choosing one to buy and how to use it properly.

What you want. An adjustable clip to attach it to the side of your pot or pan, an easy to read display with large numbers, and a temperature range from 100 degrees to 400 degrees.

Check for accuracy. Clip your candy thermometer to the side of a large pot of water, and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, your thermometer should read 212 degrees. If it does, it works. If it doesn’t, you can either make a note of how far off it is and keep this in mind when using it later, or get a new one. When reading your thermometer, make sure you are at eye-level with the mercury.

Care and storage. Don’t put the thermometer in the water after it is boiling; the shock could cause it to break, as could resting the thermometer’s bulb on the bottom of your pot. Always allow your themometer to cool off after use and before hand-washing. Never put a glass themometer in the dishwasher.

Worth the Drive: Dolce


Italian pastry with Southern flair at Dolce Pastry Shop

By Lori Quiller

| View video HERE |

Nestled among the buildings on the Square in downtown Troy is a small yet bustling bakery where more than just cupcakes fill the display case and much more is cooking in the kitchen than simple tarts and cookies.

This isn’t your ordinary bakery. It’s Dolce Pastry Shop.

Walking into the store, customers immediately realize they aren’t in a big city coffee shop. And that’s exactly how chef-owner Jamey McDaniel wants it.

McDaniel was a music major at Troy University in the ’70s before moving to New York and then Boston to study under an Italian pastry chef for a couple of years. After living the hustle and bustle life in these large metropolitan cities, he was ready to return back to his hometown of Troy.

“Everything is made with lots of love…and butter!”

It took a little while, but when he was approached by a friend about a year and a half ago with a business opportunity to open a pastry shop on the town square, he jumped at the chance to give back to the town he loves so much.

“I don’t have WiFi,” McDaniel says. “I even considered banning cell phones in the store. This is a throwback to the ’80s with our chalkboard menus, our classical music. It’s a place to slow down, relax with a cappuccino, and enjoy the food.”

The shop may be small in size, yet McDaniel and his chief baker Joseph Pullen make up the difference with their daily creations and big flavors. Fresh tarragon chicken salad, mocha cream cheese croissant, spinach quiche…and the list goes on.

“Each day we make something new, and we try to experiment with different, seasonal flavors. But, it’s always fun just to try new flavors to see what the customers like. We know we have something special when it doesn’t last very long in the case,” McDaniel laughs. “Everything is made from scratch, even the ladyfingers for the tiramisu. It’s a subtle difference, but we think it’s what makes the difference.”

Laughter is something else that’s special about Dolce Pastry Shop. With a close-quarters kitchen, it’s good to have a sense of humor about bumping into things…or each other.


“Oh, we laugh about something or each other every day,” Pullen says. “We have a lot of fun because we both truly enjoy what we’re doing. If you can’t have fun with what you’re doing all day, then what’s the point? Hopefully that love comes through in the products we serve to our customers.”

All of the shop’s pastries, and there are many, are made from homemade croissant dough. From that dough come many wonderful flavors.

“I’ve always had a sweet tooth,” McDaniel says. “My favorite pastry is croissant, and my very favorite that we do right now is apricot pecan croissant. When that is fresh, hot, out of the oven, it is incredible. But, whenever we come up with a new invention, that’s our new favorite. Everything is made with lots of love…and butter!”


But Dolce Pastry Shop isn’t just about pastry. Early Saturday mornings, passersby will be drawn in by the smell of freshly baked bread, and each Sunday the shop is filled with guests sitting down for morning brunch. For now, brunch is only served on Sundays, but this little shop is definitely growing.

“We have a lot of loyal regulars. We don’t advertise at all,” McDaniel says. “People discover us every day, and they have spread the word about us, so we have a great following.”


Follow Dolce Pastry Shop on Facebook on Instagram and visit their website.

Dolce Pastry Shop
78 N. Court Square, Troy
7 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tues. & Sat.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday


Jon Erwin at work behind the camera.
Jon Erwin at work behind the camera.

Alabama brothers heed call to make films of faith

By Scott Johnson

| View the trailer HERE |

Brothers Jon and Andy Erwin are making their mark in Hollywood, but their roots are firmly planted in Alabama.

“We have an absolute loyalty to the state of Alabama. All of our movies are developed and finished right here,” Jon Erwin said. “I love Alabama, and I’m very grateful for all the support that the state has given us.”

Their new movie “Woodlawn” represents a step forward for the Birmingham natives. It will have a wider release than either of their previous movies, and it also tells a story that is close to their hearts. Erwin said it meant a lot to him to bring it to the big screen.

“It’s the story of my city and the story of hope in my city, and that’s an honor,” he said.

Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille) runs his way into the hearts of the city of Birmingham in “Woodlawn.“ contributed
Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille) runs his way into the hearts of the city of Birmingham in “Woodlawn.“

In the film, there is talk of closing Woodlawn, a troubled Birmingham high school where forced integration has led to racial tensions and violence in the early 1970s. The school’s football coach eventually allows a counselor named Hank Erwin to give a speech to the players. They are so captivated that all but a few commit themselves to live by faith. The team experiences a transformation so profound that it spreads to the entire school and the community at large.

The film stars Sean Astin as Hank Erwin and Nic Bishop as Woodlawn football coach Tandy Geralds. Former University of Alabama football player Caleb Castille portrays Tony Nathan, Woodlawn’s star running back, and Jon Voight appears as legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who recruited Nathan.

It is based on a true story that unfolded while the Erwin brothers’ father served as the school’s chaplain, Jon Erwin said. The character of Hank Erwin is actually a composite of the man who delivered that first speech and their father, who Jon Erwin said continued to guide the team spiritually.

He first heard the story when he was about 10 years old, and it remained in the back of Erwin’s mind as he started working in film. But he said the moment he knew that the story would absolutely become a feature was when he read the journal of former Woodlawn coach Tandy Geralds.

“His writings were so powerful on what this moment of love and reconciliation did to him and the team, I was sitting there weeping,” Erwin said.

Erwin was just 15 when he started his career behind the camera. He was working as an intern for a cameraman when his big break arrived. Someone who was supposed to help film the Alabama game for ESPN had become sick about three hours before kickoff. Erwin’s mentor called and told him to get to the stadium right away — and not to tell anyone his age. Erwin did just that and was hooked immediately. “I went over there and just fell in love. I can’t describe it,” he said.


He and his brother went on to film Alabama games both at home and on the road and eventually began shooting other sporting events as well. In 2002, they started a production company and began making music videos for artists such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, all of which were shot in Birmingham. Erwin said it was a laid-back environment that the musical acts seemed to enjoy. “Artists began to love coming down to Birmingham and working with us,” he said.

As his career progressed, Erwin said he began to develop his vision for making movies. He wanted to make movies that celebrated things like self-sacrifice, honor, redemption and courage. Film is the most powerful medium in the world, Erwin said, and the perfect way to illustrate those ideals.

They made the leap into feature films with “October Baby,” which was released in 2011. It was a surprise hit despite only being screened in 390 theaters. They followed up with the comedy “Mom’s Night Out” in 2014, which also did well at the box office despite a limited screening. “Woodlawn” is scheduled to be released Oct. 16 to about twice as many screens as their previous movie and more than five times that of their debut.

It is an exciting time for the brothers, but Erwin said remaining in Alabama has helped keep them grounded. “We use Hollywood but we work outside of the system,” is how Erwin describes it.

That arrangement works for Hollywood as well as it strives to tap into an audience of moviegoers yearning for stories of spiritual renewal, he said.

“They want to understand how better to reach Middle America,” Erwin said. “We intentionally live in Alabama because that’s the audience we serve.”

Besides, they enjoy living here.

“I’ve been traveling 70 percent of the time, but there is nowhere I would rather live,” he said.


Photo by James W. Hybart
Photo by James W. Hybart

They live in every county in Alabama

By John N. Felsher


When early settlers moved into what became Alabama, they found an untamed wilderness full of powerful toothy creatures, some capable of attacking, killing and even eating humans. They heard cat screams and wolf howls just beyond the dark trees barely illuminated by the dancing campfire flames.

“Big cats were here,” says Richard Tharp, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources game biologist in Enterprise. “Red wolves were native to Alabama, but they have been extirpated from the state, primarily from loss of habitat. Black bears still live in Alabama. Coyotes were originally a western species, but moved eastward in the past 50 years.”

In the early 1900s, some people released coyotes in Alabama as game animals after wolves disappeared. With forests cleared and lush crops attracting mice, rabbits, rats and other small animals and no competition from wolves, coyotes thrived. By the 1960s, coyotes naturally expanded eastward from their native range in western states to fill the void left by the vanished gray and red wolves. They now populate every state in the contiguous United States.

Red wolves, smaller cousins of gray or timber wolves, also ranged across the southeastern United States as far north as the Ohio River. But by 1921, only a few red wolves remained in the rugged hills of Walker and Colbert counties and they soon disappeared.

By the 1960s, a remnant wolf population still hunted the swamps of eastern Texas and southwest Louisiana. From 1973 to 1980, wildlife officers in that area trapped about 400 canines, but only 43 wolves. Of those, only 17 were genetically pure red wolves. The rest were wolf-coyote hybrids. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild.

Coyotes: Survivors and adaptors

“People have called me claiming to have seen a wolf, but it’s usually a coyote, feral dog or even a coyote-dog hybrid,” Tharp explains. “If they saw an actual wolf in Alabama, it’s probably an escapee from captivity. Many people think a coyote is a lot bigger than it really is and might believe it’s a wolf. Coyotes look bigger in the winter when they have thicker fur that gives them a fluffier appearance. Female coyotes in Alabama normally average 25 to 35 pounds. Males grow up to 45 pounds. A 45-pound coyote is a really big coyote.”

Incredibly adaptable, coyotes can live practically anywhere and eat anything. They survive in mountainous terrain, forests, agricultural lands, prairies, swamps and even marshes. They thrive all across Alabama and, unlike wolves, adapt well to living close to people. Highly elusive, coyotes can practically live in a person’s backyard without anyone even knowing it.

“Coyotes are survivors,” Tharp says. “Their feeding habits and their adaptability means they’ll probably be in Alabama from now on. They do very well in wooded, agricultural and even suburban areas. They are in every county in Alabama, including our major metropolitan areas. If there’s ever a nuclear war, cockroaches and coyotes will probably survive it.”

Adept predators, coyotes usually eat mice, rats, rabbits and other small animals, but won’t hesitate to eat anything else they can catch. They also eat carrion and vegetable matter. They’ll eat insects, fruits, vegetables, roots, garbage, pet food and just about anything else they find.

“Coyotes normally hunt from dusk to dawn,” Tharp says. “People sometimes see them in daylight, especially when they have young and the parents are working extra hard to find something for the little ones to eat, but usually, they’re out in low light conditions.

A threat to pets

“Coyotes are definitely a threat to pets, especially ones left outside at night. They sometimes eat small cats and dogs, particularly in urban or suburban areas. Some people put up fences with roller-type spinning bars at the top. When a coyote steps on it, it rolls and the animal falls off. If there’s nothing to attract coyotes to someone’s yard, they’ll go elsewhere.”

Occasionally, coyotes breed with dogs, creating a hybrid called a coydog. They would most likely mate with larger dog breeds, such as shepherds or hounds, and sometimes they mate with feral dogs.

“Coydogs are fairly rare in Alabama,” Tharp emphasizes. “There are some coydogs in Alabama, but probably not as many as people believe. It’s possible for a coydog to be larger than a pure coyote and less afraid of humans. That depends upon the type of dog that put genetic information into that animal.”

Many people fear coyotes, but dogs, wild or pets, kill about 15 to 20 people in Alabama each year. Coyotes very rarely attack people. They might bite someone when cornered or threatened, but generally try to avoid people.

“In my opinion as a biologist, a wild dog is much more of a threat to humans than a coyote because dogs do not have a natural fear of humans like some other animals,” Tharp explains. “The first instinct for a wild animal like a coyote is to get away from humans. When they encounter people, they normally slink away. If someone ran into an animal that’s overly aggressive, that person needs to back away from it. It could be wounded or sick. Coyotes can carry rabies.”

In Alabama, people can hunt coyotes all year long without limit on private lands. They can also hunt them on most public lands in conjunction with other open seasons. Landowners can apply for wildlife control permits that allow them to shoot coyotes at night. Consult the nearest wildlife department office for more information.

Hitting the bullseye!


State-of-the-art marksmanship facility opens in Talladega

Story and photos by John N. Felsher

On June 6, 2015, 71 years to the day after Allied soldiers stormed the Normandy beaches to liberate Europe from the Nazis, marksmen gathered to compete at a one-of-a-kind shooting facility in Talladega.

“The Talladega Marksmanship Park opened to the public in May 2015, but we had our grand opening ceremonies on June 6 in conjunction with a two-day rifle and pistol shooting match that weekend,” recalls Sarah Hall, the park operations supervisor. “We brought in close to 500 people each day. About 300 of them were competitors.”

Run by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the opening of the state-of-the-art park culminated a long effort to create a world-class shooting facility in Alabama. The CMP bought 500 acres and turned it into the only complex like it in the United States, possibly the world, all in a beautiful forested setting. About three years and $20 million later, the CMP opened an impressive range.

Located about three miles from the Talladega Superspeedway between Anniston and Talladega, the complex includes five ranges for rifle and pistol shooting plus three fields for shotgun users. It opens to the public every Wednesday through Sunday when it is not being used for a major shooting match. Before shooting, all visitors must attend a safety orientation and rules briefing from a range officer. When shooters go to their selected ranges, they receive more guidance for that specific range.

“Anyone can come out here to learn firearms safety and to shoot,” Hall says. “Whenever we’re open, there’s always a certified range officer on duty at each range overseeing the shooting and ensuring safety. Almost everyone working at the range is still an active competitor. Some shot in World Cup events. They are very knowledgeable about firearms.”


Even during foul weather, shooters can remain dry and protected under roofs on the rifle and pistol ranges. The shooter doesn’t even need to look through a spotting scope at a paper target to check for the most recent hole or walk downrange to physically examine or change a severely damaged paper target, a major advantage when shooting the longer ranges. The park uses 247 KTS, or Kongsberg Targeting System, electronic targets, the most anywhere in the world. The electronic targets can handle calibers up to .338.

Developed by the Norwegian firm Kongsberg Mikroelektronikk AS, these targets electronically record where a bullet goes and reflect that position on a computer monitor next to the firing station. The target face consists of a semi self-healing rubberized material. Microelectronic sensors accurately detect where the bullet passes through the target and provide instant feedback to the shooter on the monitor. The system can even update shots live on the Internet for people all over the world who want to follow the action of a shooting match.

“The target has a sound chamber with microphones so that it hears the shot pass through it and triangulates to record the coordinates accurately,” Hall explains. “The electronic monitor beside every shooting station on the firing line gives the shooter a picture of the target. It shows where the shot hits and gives a score value. It even adds up the total and gives the group size almost instantly. In a match that would normally take all day, we can now complete it in two hours because nobody needs to go downrange to the target during a day of shooting. The targets can take about 10,000 hits before we have to do any maintenance on them.”

Sarah Hall, operations supervisor, shows the Talladega Marksmanship Park.
Sarah Hall, operations supervisor, shows the Talladega Marksmanship Park.

Range 1, the premier range at the Talladega Marksmanship Park, allows 54 shooters to fire at targets 200, 300 or 600 yards away. Individual targets can pop up at the desired range line for each station. One person might shoot at a target 200 yards away. The person on the right might shoot at 600 yards while another shooter on the left might fire at a 300-yard electronic target. Shooters control everything from the firing line.

The other rifle and pistol ranges, except for the multipurpose range, all use the same electronic targeting system. A 100-yard rifle range can accommodate 35 shooters at one time. The 25- and 50-yard pistol ranges can each allow 25 shooters at a time. The facility also includes space for 15 action pistol shooters. People can drive their cars directly to all the ranges, except the 600-yard range, but it’s just down the hill from the complex clubhouse.

For shotgun enthusiasts, the park offers trap and 5-stand stations for shooting clay targets. For shooting trap, all clay targets go away from the shooter and one round includes 25 targets. When shooting the 5-stand, shooters move through five different stations and fire from a covered stand. The 25 clays in one round pass the shooter from many different directions depending upon the station.

People may also take the sporting clays mile-long loop, which encloses 40 acres. For “shooting the loop,” gunners can rent golf carts from the park. With a golf cart, the 15-station sporting clays loop takes about 90 minutes to complete and the shooters try to hit 100 targets. Shotgun shooters can only use Number 7.5 or smaller bird shot at clays, but can shoot buckshot or slugs in the multipurpose range.

“Shotgun shooters can load up a card like a debit card and pay for the number of clays they want to shoot,” Hall says. “When they prepare to shoot a station, they put the card in the machine. The card keeps track of the number of clays remaining. If people want to shoot more clays, they just reload the card with more credits.”

With such a fine facility, the staff naturally wants to show it off. The park already hosted shooting matches, but will host a major national event from Dec. 8-13. Dubbed the Talladega 600, this event will feature many marksmanship competitions involving shooters from all over the country. Some events will feature shooting M1 Garand, M1903 Springfield and other vintage military rifles. Several firearms experts will also hold clinics on various topics. Pistol events will feature everything from .22 rimfires to Model 1911 .45 military and police matches as well as shotgun events.

“We are a state-of-the-art facility,” Hall emphasizes. “Many national shooting matches are held at Camp Perry, Ohio in the summer. We want to be able to hold some major events here in the winter. Anyone can compete in the Talladega 600. When we have matches lasting more than one day, competitors often bring their families and stay in the area. That creates a significant economic impact to the area. While a major event brings in many people, we also bring in a lot of people just for everyday shooting. Some people come from several states away just to shoot.”

When not shooting, park visitors might enjoy the 13,000-square foot clubhouse overlooking Range 1. During matches, people can keep up with the action live on monitors in the clubhouse. The park also rents out training rooms for meetings, luncheons or other events. The rooms can seat more than 100 people. However, event organizers must cater their food. The clubhouse does not sell any food or refreshments on the property.

While inside the clubhouse, visitors might also want to browse the store. Operated by Creedmoor Armory under contract with the CMP, the store sells a variety of firearms, ammunition, accessories and clothing items. On behalf of the CMP, the Creedmoor Store also sells vintage military rifles, such as M1 Garand rifles and carbines from World War II, M14s, M1903 Springfields and other weapons.

For more information on the Talladega Marksmanship Park, call Hall at 256-474-4408 or see


Civilian Marksmanship Program promotes firearm safety, training

By John N. Felsher


With fresh memories of his combat experience during the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt came up with a 20th century version of the Revolutionary War minutemen.

The 1903 War Department Appropriations Act created the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Under the program, civilians could obtain surplus military rifles and ammunition to practice their marksmanship skills. Roosevelt hoped these marksmen would use their skills if another war began.

Over the years, the emphasis shifted to teaching youths how to safely handle firearms. Today, the CMP works closely with the Boy Scouts, 4H clubs, Junior ROTC units and similar organizations. The CMP also conducts firearms safety classes for adults.

“The CMP mission is to promote firearm safety and marksmanship training with an emphasis on youth,” explains Sarah Hall, the Talladega Marksmanship Park operations supervisor. “Our vision is that every youth in America has the opportunity to participate in firearm safety and marksmanship programs.”

The Civilian Marksmanship Program remained under the U.S. Army until 1996 when CMP became a non-profit corporation. The CMP still receives surplus military weapons and ammunition, such as M1 Garand rifles from World War II, but no longer receives tax dollars. American citizens not legally prohibited from owning firearms, such as felons, may buy surplus rifles from the CMP staff in Anniston if they belong to a CMP-affiliated club. These rifle and ammunition sales help fund firearm safety, marksmanship training and shooting competition programs.

For more information, see

October sky

TARC US team preparing their rocket for launch. Photo courtesy of Raytheon
TARC US team preparing their rocket for launch. Photo courtesy of Raytheon

Russellville rocket team has eyes on the skies

By Allison Griffin

Along a stretch of four-lane highway leading into Russellville, a colorful sign notes with pride the town’s state champion baseball and golf teams.

But unlike similar signs that welcome visitors to small towns, this one gives equal billing to students who’ve found success on something other than the field of play.

This sign also honors the Russellville City Schools Engineering Team, which won the national Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) in May — the Alabama team’s first time to qualify for that national contest. But their greatest achievement came the next month, when the team won first place at the International Rocketry Challenge at the 2015 Paris Air Show, defeating two teams from the U.K. and France.

That’s right. The group of seven middle and high school students from Franklin County, Alabama, won an international competition.

Since then, the students have been heralded by the community and elected officials and interviewed numerous times by various media outlets. They’re almost like celebrities in their small northwest Alabama town, with a spotlight some of them have called “almost overwhelming.”

“The support from the parents has been astronomical. (And) the community has helped us in every way possible,” says team mentor Tracy Burns, father of team member Katie Burns. “Everyone has had a hand in where these kids are today.”

But now, as the new school year begins, it’s back to normal for the students, with classes, sports and band practice competing for their attention. The team lost one member to graduation, but the other six who are still in school all plan to be back for this year’s competition, where they plan to take top honors again with a redesigned rocket.

Before the launch

It took a little time for the rocket kids to get this far.

A few years ago, Russellville teacher Lee Brownell felt challenged to create more opportunities for technology and engineering education. He started a robotics team with prize money he won as the Von Braun Educator of the Year, and the team resonated with students; over the next several years, the team grew to more than 40 middle and high schoolers.

Later, Brownell decided to add model rocketry to the list of programs the team was involved in; most, but not all, of the rocketry students came from the robotics team, and they continue to participate in both projects.

Brownell has since left the school to take a job with the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), where he works to increase STEM participation in multiple schools. But he downplays his part in the rocket team’s success.

Rocket team mentors Mark Keeton, left, Joseph Cole, center, and Tracy Burns helped guide the team to their international win.
Rocket team mentors Mark Keeton, left, Joseph Cole, center, and Tracy Burns helped guide the team to their international win.

“My role was to get them going. I started the program, but I let them run it themselves,” he says. “They have done an awesome job with that.”

The team got a boost when mentor Tracy Burns came on board. Burns works on rockets for United Launch Alliance in Decatur, and he brought a technical expertise the team needed.

But their success is a team effort. The team had real dedication, says team sponsor and middle school teacher Mark Keeton.

“From the get go, they’ve been bound and determined to make something of the current team,” Keeton says. “In the past, I think only one time in the past four years did we go (to nationals) and do a qualifying launch. … That really motivated this group to push above and beyond this time around.”

Team member Evan Swinney agrees. Swinney graduated in 2015 and now attends the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

“It was pretty clear we were not like the past years’ teams,” he says. “When we started, we had a determination to actually get something done. That was something that didn’t happen in previous years.” They started with small goals, and then moved on to larger ones.

“Doing it that way, and having the determination and the knowledge that all seven of us could contribute to the team, I think that’s what set us apart.”

True competitors

The rocket team’s big event — what they worked on for hours a day for several months, all after regular school hours — is the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), the world’s largest student model rocket contest and a way for the aerospace and defense industry to build a stronger U.S. workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The goals for each team that participates in TARC is to design, build and fly a model rocket that travels a specified distance in a narrow timeframe.

This year’s TARC competition required each rocket to carry a payload of one raw chicken egg to an altitude of 800 feet and return to the ground, with the egg uncracked, within 46-48 seconds.

Ingenuity, innovation and hard work were rewarded with a trip to the TARC finals near Washington, D.C. At this year’s finals, the Russellville students scored better than 100 other teams to win the national title. Their grand prize: A trip to the Paris Air Show in June, where they were the only U.S. team to compete in the International Rocketry Challenge.

The team’s Paris rocket launch won with the lowest score — meaning that it most closely approached the required height and time, and that the egg didn’t crack. This came after crashing three rockets that had been built and tested just four days before the Paris Air Show.

“Given that hurdle, what they did was all the more impressive,” says Joseph Cole, team sponsor and teacher at the middle school, who went to Paris with the students. The team also had to make a presentation on the rocket’s design to an international panel of judges, which Cole said they knocked “out of the park.”

The sky’s the limit


With the new year ahead, the students will have their hands full. The team members who are on the robotics team will start on that statewide competition, which will end in December. Preparations for this year’s TARC won’t really get going until January, but team captain Andrew Heath said the team will likely start preliminary design meetings this fall.

He and others on the team will also write a proposal for the NASA Student Launch initiative, a research-based, competitive, experiential exploration activity focused on high-powered rockets.

Andrew said the team also enjoys doing outreach efforts — they’ve done demonstrations for both kids and adults, and they’ll continue to try to interest other students in engineering pursuits. And they hope to inspire other schools to get involved with their own rocketry programs — and they’re ready to help.

“Definitely ask for help,” says senior Niles Butts. “It’s not something you can do just on your own — you have to have some help and guidance.”

More than anything, the team hopes that with more recognition there will be more financial and academic support for programs like theirs. The students raised all the money for the TARC competition and to buy the equipment and computers they needed for their lab. And this is all extracurricular.

Superintendent Heath Grimes hopes to develop a robotics/rocketry academy, to get the students interested in the seventh and eighth grades.

And now, they have the community’s ear.

“Before this, we’ve been rather unknown in the community,” Andrew says. “I think (with) everybody learning about us, there’s been a lot more interest in helping us further. I think that will play a lot bigger role for us going forward.”