southern with a side of history

March 21, 2010

I don’t feel the need to apologize for including non-vegetarian restaurants here since this site was never about being vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, or other.  My main purpose for starting Green Appetite was to show you how to include more plant-based food in your diet in ways that actually made you want to include them.  I think we can all agree this is a good thing.  For our bodies, for the planet.  What is generally unhelpful is labeling others – or our ourselves – one thing or another.

And so when my Tennessean friends asked if I’d be okay with a typical Southern meal – emphasis on “Southern,” I said of course.

Of course, especially if said meal is at a place with a name like Miss Mary Bobo’s and is to take place after our tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg.  No need to go into that experience here except to say that I think it’s one of the best-branded companies I’ve ever come across.


In fact, I’m starting to think the whole notion of this being a “dry” county (you can’t actually drink the whiskey) is actually a very clever marketing ploy to call attention to the, well, marketing.

The one-and-a-half hour drive from Nashville took us through plenty of green and cows munching on it.  Past Federal-style houses perched atop more green.  And by a surprising number of Mexican restaurants (stay tuned for another post about this).

I’ll get to the meal in a moment, but my takeaway from Miss Mary Bobo’s (I’ll get that trippy name in as many times as I can), is that I’d love to spend a few months in Lynchburg researching a novel about schoolteachers at boarding houses.  This is probably never going to happen, especially as the most I’ve ever written of a novel is a single paragraph.  But the experience showed me, once again, that it’s not about the food.  And that perception really is everything.

Miss Mary Bobo’s (heh) is an old boarding house now owned, not surprisingly, by the Jack Daniel’s empire.  Once you nab one of the sought-after reservations, you and fellow guests are seated in one of many dining rooms where meals are served family style.

It’s not hard to be vegetarian in the traditional sense at all here – if that’s what you want to be.  Sure, there’s fried chicken and pot roast, but when I asked one of the hostesses what her favorites were, she was quick to point out the stewed apples spiked with Jack, the fried okra, and the “cabbage” casserole (I challenge you to find any cabbage amongst the sea of cheese).  “Oh, and there’s a carrot salad – if you want it,” she added almost obligingly.

Before we sit down, there is a very important announcement: “The sweet tea is not very sweet; so feel free to add more sugar, y’all.”

Taking our places around the table, I was downright peeved that our hostess would apparently be talking throughout the entire thing, and that she was seated – of all places – right next to me.  Yet as the lazy Susan spun around, a miracle happened.  My mind became more enthralled by her speech than by the fried whatever in front of me.

Turns out the boarding house has been there since the late 1800s and was a place for the family-less to call home.  Day in, day out, bachelors and schoolteachers would sit around this very table for three meals a day.  They’d also get a bed – and probably their clothes cleaned – all for $14 a week.

We never found out how long these people lived on this heavy food, but that’s not what really interested me this time.  I was curious about these schoolteachers.  According to our Miss Mary Bobo’s hostess (say that fast six times), “In those days life was hard.  If you were a woman, you were a wife, a nurse, or a schoolteacher.”  And that’s that.  Life was too hard.  Pick one or the other.  It was just a path.  Go this way or that way.  Doesn’t matter.  Hmm.  Very interesting, I thought.

Now I was actually taking time away from my plate to ask my neighbor a question.  “So, it sounds like being single then didn’t have the stigma it has today?”  And of course my requisite follow-up: “I wonder how many of these wifeless businessmen got it on with the schoolteachers.”

To my surprise, my hostess had never heard these questions before.  Not from any of the thousands of tourists who had come through those pristine white doors.  “Excuse me,” she politely says.  “I need to get the historian.”

“Oh yes, life was hard then,” the smiley historian repeats, “Married women couldn’t be schoolteachers.”

Sometimes, it’s just not about the food.  And that tea was like candy.  As for those boarding-house hook ups?  The case continues.


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  1. Jess March 23, 2010 at 15:02

    Are you serious? You know I would love that — and would be so honored! But I really have no idea where to begin. I can’t wait to hear about your course. As for Tumbler — details, please!

  2. green ink March 23, 2010 at 11:47

    Oh, and completely forgot to say how cool that you got to go to the Distillery! Tumbler might have space for a little write up if you’re interested :) x

  3. green ink March 23, 2010 at 11:46

    How fascinating!! You should SO write that novel. Like Anne of Green Gables but with saucy boarding house hookups!! Ha ha. We can be novel buddies. xx

  4. Jess March 22, 2010 at 15:32

    Thank you so much, Becca! I really appreciate the encouragement. And I know what you mean about Cracker Barrel. By the way, I can’t seem to post a comment to your blog in the usual way with just my name and url. It’s asking me for an open i.d. which I can’t figure out.

  5. Becca March 22, 2010 at 14:50

    What a GREAT read. Love your sense of humor. In all seriousness, it’s really too bad that they weren’t equiped with answers to your questions. Hopefully you planted a seed with them! Sounds like a fabulous novel.

    Your unfortunate food experience here reminds me of the one traumatic time I ate at a Cracker Barrel and found out that nothing on their menu is sans ham product.

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