HOMECOMING: COTTON FIELDS AND GEORGIA ASPHALT
The landscape of fiery, brilliant bursts of ochre, red, and yellow on the rolling hills around Atlanta slowly morphed into evergreen, tall loblolly pine, gnarly small leaf oaks, and bobbled sweet gum trees as I drove South this week to teach in Savannah.
Unseasonally temperate, even for South Georgia, the thermometer in the corner of the rearview mirror read in the mid 80s as I crossed the fall line, the geological boundary about twenty miles wide that runs slightly northeast from Columbus across the middle of the state. I clipped along at a steady pace further South into coastal tidal area, the savannah. I drove across aging concrete bridges stamped with mid-century dates that traversed rivers with vowel-ridden Native American names: Oconee. Ocmulgee. Ogeechee. The black waterways were bordered with knobby, lacy cypress forest and bottomland swamps.
Contemplative about some recent events – and a bit anxious because I was running late to teach a class for my dear friend and colleague Damon Fowler at Kitchenware Outfitters in Savannah – the scenery pulled me out of my thoughts. As the tires beat in rhythm on the seams of the concrete below, I consciously recognized how much I love my home state and took more than a moment to wonder in its absolute beauty.
It’s a 4 plus hour drive from Atlanta, and eventually, I arrived. Getting out of the truck I rolled my shoulders and shook off my long drive. Damon, knowing “mid-afternoon” for me coming down from Atlanta is actually closer to 4:30 pm, already had most of the work completed. We chatted and finished the last bit of prep; it was lovely. Folks started arriving. I said hello to friendly familiar faces and met new students. It was smooth sailing, everyone had a good time and enjoyed my food and stories. The class was really wonderful.
It never fails to amaze me how much I enjoy teaching cooking.
The morning after class, I headed north back home, but started thinking about the fact it’s pecan harvest time, so decided to veer a bit west into middle Georgia, before heading north to Atlanta. I thought picking up some new crop pecans would be well worth my diversion.
Soon I was immersed in the sounds, sights, and smells of my childhood. I took a stop near Hawkinsville – actually, passed a roadside stand, turned around and went back – for a bag of Boiled Peanuts from the Hardy Family, recent recipients of the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Windows cracked, the warm air whipped in as I slowed down from interstate driving to a more civilized pace. Relishing the salty, earthy peanuts, I negotiated the cracked asphalt through acres and acres, miles and miles of cotton. Alternating with the fields of cotton were pecan groves. The grey tree trunks stood solid as thin, bent and twisted branches reached towards the dusky sky. Butcher red dusty roads snaked between the fields and groves. A smile came to my face as I noticed the edge of the blacktop highway littered with puffs of cotton, like handfuls of snow. It’s mid-harvest still, so the rolling view was a combination of the familiar green and yellow tractors pulling up the fields, dented red basket trailers full of picked cotton, and still, more breathtaking fields of brown, and whiter than white, bolls of cotton.
I was wrapped in the lifescape, the landscape of what I spent over half my life viewing. I found myself settling into my seat a bit softer. My grip on the wheel loosened. I felt the tension melt away from my shoulders. It seemed to flit out the window on the warm breeze. Bathed in a landscape of familiar autumn sights and colors, I realized I was feeling the enveloping, comforting emotion of coming home.
Odd thing is, I don’t live there anymore; I haven’t for over 25 years. Neither do Mama and Jona; they now live in Evans, Georgia near Augusta. I live in Atlanta. I know plenty that home is not always a simple concept. I’ve lived in over a dozen different places since I lived on a red dirt road on the edge of the “city” limits of Montezuma. And, that agrarian beauty that was seducing me? I can guarantee I didn’t see a lick of that beauty when I was 16. I wanted to get far, far away from what I thought was pretty much the middle of nowhere.
I didn’t want to call nowhere home.
I’m older now. I now know home is a feeling. Home is a sense of place. Home is where you make it. Cliche as it may be, home is where the heart is.
Best wishes to you and your family in your home, wherever it may be, this Thanksgiving.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Mama’s Reading List
(Click on the links for over a DOZEN Thanksgiving Recipes!)
- Need a non-turkey nibble for watching the game this weekend? Check out with Project Foodie has to say about my Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce.
- I hope you enjoy my piece about Roasting in this month’s Eating Well magazine. The spread is absolutely splendid. Basic to Brilliant, fish to fowl, I offer roasting recipes for the holidays, including a vegetarian Stuffed Roast Pumpkin.
- The Cooking Channel Blog interviews me on the new book, Thanksgiving, and being Southern. (Now if we could just talk about my TV show….)
- USA Today highlights regional Thanksgiving dishes and I was asked to represent the South!
- See Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s beautiful spread on my Gracious Southern Thanksgiving (here for more recipes).
- A full Thanksgiving menu in Taigan with Julia Reed.
- I am THRILLED to have contributed the recipe of the month for Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Check out my Pan-Seared Georgia Trout with Pecan Brown Butter and Smoked Trout Salad.
Events and Classes
- I’ll be near Nashville Wednesday November 30 at the Viking Cooking School in Franklin, TN.
- HOWDY TEXAS! December 5-10 teaching at Central Market. Click here to register for classes.
- For a full and ever-changing list, visit the Events page on my website.
Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.
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