Back in hot old August while on a mini vacation in Black Mountain North Carolina with my husband, mother and youngest daughter, we discovered a charming used bookstore. I don’t recall its name, but the shop is on the main drag in the picturesque little town. While browsing the intriguing array of volumes the owner managed to cram into the small store, I picked up a book by Celestine Sibley, signed by her too, entitled A Place Called Sweet Apple. I recognized her name and recalled having been captivated by her work many years ago while visiting my late, much missed grandmother. That was in the “80’s and Ms. Sibley, a renowned Southern author, journalist, and syndicated columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, was still writing then. Apparently until her death in 1999.
Setting the volume aside in my summer busyness, I recently rediscovered my purchase. The cold winds blow and icy winter has settled in with its resemblance to the far north on our frigid farm, the ideal time of year for reading. Now, this isn’t one of the books I’ve agreed to review or in my mounting TBR pile, but it beckoned to me with the warmth and crackle of a fire in the hearth, the color and tang of seasoned wood. I love Ms. Sibley’s description of the 19th century log cabin that she, with much help from her family/friends, reclaimed in the Georgia countryside. If I didn’t live in my beloved old farm house, Sweet Apple is just the sort of place I’ve always had a hankering for.
Once I embarked on the first chapter of this delightful book, the wit and wisdom of this gifted story teller entranced me. She captures rural Southern life, not only in her time, but also in many of the ways I’ve known it here in the Shenandoah Valley. And still do in some respects, though the times they are a changing. And not, I fear, always for the better. Hearken ye back, I say.
Ms. Sibley’s cherished home comes to life with her rich blend of humor, wit and wisdom. Her love of place, family and friends, nature in its many rhythms, hues, and scents…her joy in the changing seasons, appreciation of the ways of man and beast. I found in her a kindred spirit, and believe if more people had her understanding this rum old world would be in far better shape. She knew what matters.
Her love of good Southern cooking is a highly enjoyable part of this book. I leave you with a recipe for cooked beans that sound mighty good to me. She’s inspired me to cook up a pot full to have with cornbread, rice, and greens.
Jack’s Red Beans:
1 pound dried red kidney beans, 3 medium Bermuda onions (others will do), 3 cloves garlic, 3 medium hamhocks (lean), 2 tsps. salt, 1 Tab oleo or oil
Wash and put beans on to boil in a large heavy pot with a cover. Dice onions, sauté until transparent. Mince garlic–sauté separately to be sure garlic is done. Scrape onions and garlic into the water and beans. Place ham hocks in the pot and add salt after water has started to boil. Salt helps keep the beans from falling apart. After the beans have begun to boil, turn down the heat and simmer for four hours or until tender. Additional water may be required. ~ Serve over rice.