Category Archives: Mississippi

Road Trip: A Mississippi General Store Tied to Manning Quarterbacks

I expected the 109-year-old Williams Brothers General Store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, to be a museum with a few token items for sale.

And with its ties to the Manning football family, I expected a little memorabilia. In fact, when we rode up to the store last Friday, you would have thought Archie, Peyton and Eli were all inside signing autographs.

Unfortunately for me, they weren’t. What was happening, besides the annual Neshoba County Fair nearby, was tax-free weekend where families could save a little on their back-to-school purchases.

This store is not simply a relic of the past or a shrine to the Mannings. It is a vibrant business with real customers and real customer service.

Williams Brothers General Mdse
Williams Brothers General Mdse

In 1907, Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning’s great grandfather (on their mother’s side of the family) opened Williams Brothers General Store.

In the grocery section, it’s a tight squeeze as shopping buggies maneuver around the aisles filled with things you would expect in a Southern store–Bryan cold cuts and Sunflower flour, sorghum molasses and Red Man chewing tobacco.

That part of Williams Brothers General Store is much like it was during the 1930s when it was featured in National Geographic magazine. But today’s merchandise mix includes  Spanx and women’s designer clothing, local pottery, horse saddles and tack, and a shoe and boot inventory somewhere between Shoe Department and DSW with more customer service.

There’s someone slicing red rind hoop cheese and another slicing slab bacon to order. Mule collars, country hams and Peyton & Eli’s NFL jerseys hang from the ceiling.

The Manning boys helped at the store when they were teenagers, and their memorabilia is scattered throughout the store, but it’s fairly low key. No Peyton bobbleheads or tacky touristy things for sale–just merchandise everyday people need at reasonable prices.

Blue jeans and Peyton's Bronco jerseys
Blue jeans and Peyton’s Bronco jerseys
Shoes and Manning News
Shoes and Manning News

 

 

12 Hours at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair

Growing up in Mississippi I knew families who had cabins at the Neshoba County Fair but never got an invitation. I was an adult before I made a day trip there to see then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Neshoba County Fair at Philadelphia, Mississippi, is a county fair like no other. Sure, there’s a Ferris wheel to ride and candy apples to eat and all, but this is a week-long family reunion where kith and kin bunk down in cabins, and visit with each other on the front porches. For a whole week.  In the humid Mississippi heat. Think the week-long extended family vacation to Gulf Shores but without the beach, not even a swimming hole.

No sugar white beaches either, just makeshift sandboxes.

But families love it. It’s the pull of home, state pride and love of community that keeps them coming back to these kitschy cabins year after year during the last week of July.

It may be the last remaining “live-in” fair of its kind left in the United States. The Neshoba County Fair got its start in 1889 when people came in horse and buggy to what was then part church camp meeting and agricultural show. People started out camping in tents and wagons. Later, a few modest cabins were built and then more cabins. Today there are more than 600 family cabins and about that many campsites with enough people to earn the nickname “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty,” a registered trademark of the fair association.

Last Friday, my husband and I got to go for 12 hours. We went with someone who knew someone who has a cabin. My husband, who usually has a rich vocabulary, simply called it the “beatin’est thing” he has ever seen.

“Beatin’est” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but If you need a more in-depth explanation, read this New York Times article done on the Neshoba County Fair several years ago.

We packed in breakfast, a goat show, exhibit hall viewing, fried chicken and green bean eating, side trip to a general store, visiting, tour of some of the cabin neighborhoods, harness racing, more eating, Charlie Daniels Band concert, an hour-long porch nap, fireworks show and more visiting .

Harness Racing at the Neshoba County Fair
Harness Racing at the Neshoba County Fair

It’s a light year for Mississippi state politics, but you would never know it from the signs all around and the elected officials who came to speak. As for national politics, Donald Trump sent his son, Donald Trump Jr.,  but few presidential candidates have come since Reagan showed up 36 years ago. Unless national politics change, the Neshoba County Fair may never see a major presidential candidate again. Mississippi has been solidly in the Republican camp so there’s no real battle for the state’s six electoral votes.

The photograph of Ronald Reagan that I took in 1980
The photograph of Ronald Reagan that I took in 1980

 

Tomatoes Day 28: My Fourth Trip to Vicksburg’s The Tomato Place

You can read about a previous trip I took to The Tomato Place here.

The best way to describe the atmosphere at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg is a cross between Caribbean smoothie bar and Mississippi produce stand.

If you can’t image what that is like, I understand. You are just going to have to go experience The Tomato Place yourself. Owner Luke Hughes was interviewed by some publication, and said it takes four visits to know what this place is about. I just got back from my fourth visit so I guess I know a thing or two.

Tomatoes and potatoes
Baskets of local tomatoes and potatoes

It is a farm stand selling tomatoes and other produce. Plus, there’s lunch where BLTs are the best sellers. But there’s also such entrees as catfish platters and grilled salmon. And, then there are smoothies—that and the bright colors around the place are where the Caribbean comes in.

My first visit to The Tomato Place last October was a quick stop. I’m not a regular smoothie fan so I passed. Next time, I got a natural plum smoothie and have become hooked. I’ve also had the apple blackberry, and it was great too.

The lunches I had also were wonderful, although I’ll warn you that the service is leisurely. I had a BLT club and pound cake a week ago, and earlier I had chicken salad and the pork skins that are fried on site. They come to the table crackling hot with a cup of The Tomato Place’s signature product, Mississippi Fever, a liquidy pepper jelly.

Tomatoes and watermelons were from Smith County, Mississippi. Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and Lake Providence, Louisiana. If you poke around the nooks and crannies, you will find an eclectic merchandise mix —  grits and popcorn, local artwork, jazz CDs and fedoras.

I went outside and got Luke to pose for a picture and was struck by this purple petunia against the faded red painting on a shed. The Tomato Place is a cluster of sheds and shacks

Luke Hughes
Owner Luke Hughes opened The Tomato Place in 2000

Petunia Against Red Shed

Uncle Si and the folks at Duck Dynasty have been by for a show, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting did an interesting segment on The Tomato Place, which you can view here.

Tomatoes and BLTs are the best sellers, but the smoothies are what I will go back for.   I don’t want to ever cross the Mississippi River into my home state without swinging down to The Tomato Place and getting one.

The Tomato Place is on U.S. Highway 61 South, about four miles south of Vicksburg. thetomatoplace.com

Tomatoes Day 27: Tomatoes and More At These Mississippi Farmers Markets

I was in the Jackson, Mississippi area over the July 4 weekend and got to visit the dueling farmers markets less than two miles apart in downtown Jackson.

It’s a long story that has something to do with one market allowing peaches from Alabama  and the other not. And then some rules changed, but vendors did not want to move. I’ll spare you more details, but I enjoyed both of them and bought tomatoes — and a few other things — from both.

Baskets of produce at the old Jackson market on Woodrow Wilson
Baskets of produce at the old Jackson market on Woodrow Wilson

They each have strengths. The old one on Woodrow Wilson has just a few big vendors and a more classic open air farmer’s market look. The newer one at the state fairgrounds is indoors with more mom and pop farmers.

Here are a few more photos from my visits.

North Mississippi’s Amish Community

The pictures are limited because (a) it was getting late on a Saturday, (b) I was tired and, (c) I wanted to honor their resistance to being photographed. But, we enjoyed a jaunt to the Amish community on a recent trip to North Mississippi.

Yes, Mississippi has an Amish community, the only one in the state and one of a few in the Deep South. It is located near the Randolph settlement, about 19 miles west of Pontotoc, which is 22 miles west of Tupelo and a little over a 100 miles southeast of Memphis.

It is a bit of a rambling drive to get there, but this article in Tupelo’s Daily Journal gives precise directions and a little information on the Mississippi Amish.

Amish homestead

 

Amish sign
Amish sign

You’ll know you are close when you see highway signs warning you to slow down for horse and buggy. You are really close when you see handmade signs near mailboxes listing items for sale. This strict Amish group does not use automobiles, electricity or modern technology.

Then, as you drive up to a home, women — the men are usually out doing manual labor — will shyly come out and direct you to a nearby shed or their front porch where the handmade items are.

Having last been there more than 15 years ago, I was glad to know they were still selling handmade baskets at affordable prices, and I picked up a couple of nice ones for $30 total. I also got some kudzu soap, and, if we had not already planted our vegetable garden, I would have gotten tomato plants for $3.50 for a six-pack.

They were also selling jams, straw hats, rag rugs, quilts, bread and other goods. My sister has even left some chairs for them to cane. When the work was refinished, she received notification — by snail mail, of course.

 

 

Bicycling and Eating Caramel Cake in North Mississippi

I enjoyed an early birthday doing two things I have long loved — bicycling and eating caramel cake.

We spent the weekend in New Albany, Mississippi to ride along the Tangelfoot Trail, now Mississippi’s longest rails-to-trails project. We celebrated finishing 36 miles with cake from the renown Sugaree’s Bakery.

When I was growing up, I always requested that my mother make a caramel cake  for my birthday.  She would oblige provided it wasn’t too humid to make the icing. (Southerners never called it frosting).

Caramel cake making has waned even in the South, and the few cooks who bake seem to opt for red velvet or Italian cream. So it was nice to find,  not one,  but at least two bakeries based in New Albany cranking out  caramel cakes among other tasty sweets.

I had heard of Sugaree’s supplying caramel cake for the Mississippi Picnic in New York’s Central Park. I even spotted it in a Seaside, Florida grocery store. So I was glad to finally try it for myself after completing the ride just a few feet away from the bakery’s headquarters in downtown New Albany.

On Friday, we had eaten barbecue at New Albany’s Westside Barbecue, where we later discovered that the homemade caramel cake is more legendary than the ‘que. We didn’t know that going in or we would have pushed back from the ribs and ordered one.

So it was a sweet retro birthday–riding a bicycle in a town we used to visit on “away” football games and enjoying the favorite cake of my childhood.

Sugaree’s ships cakes all over the country. www.sugarees.com

Check out the bike trail. www.tanglefoottrail.com

 

Being the Change in Water Valley, Mississippi

A couple of years ago, I picked up a cookbook with a big tomato on the cover and found out it was from a grocery store in Water Valley, Mississippi. B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery is named for the famous “Be The Change You Wish to See in the World” quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi.  It’s a very urban feeling store plopped down in the middle of small town Mississippi.

I got to check it out today, even passing on an opportunity to drive through the campus of my alma mater Ole Miss.

B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery in Water Valley

We missed the lunch, considered buying some orzo and radish salads for a picnic but didn’t regret deciding on MS Mary’s pound cake gelato from Mississippi’s Sweet Magnolia creamery. BTC prides itself in supporting local producers. We found pork sausage from Pontotoc, milk from Brown’s Dairy right outside Oxford and sweet potatoes from Mike Williamson, who must live nearby. Although not local, the fair trade coffee had a personal connection to the owner.

Fair Trade coffee at BTC

You can bag your own spices and walk to the back of the store and buy some repurposed furniture. The rest of Water Valley looked more like the small towns of my 1960s childhood,  although we spotted a local microbrewery and a trio of grad students who looked more Berkeley than Ole Miss.

 

Local Tomatoes Year-Round at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi

BLT

 

The Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi has got to be the quirkiest produce stand I’ve been in. If you didn’t know exactly where you were going you would think you stumbled upon a boiled peanut place.

I suppose they sell those, but the specialty is locally produced tomatoes, every day of the year, summer or winter. On my first visit, the tomatoes were from five hours away  in south Alabama, the lady at the register promised. The next visit they came from just an hour away at a hydroponic produce farm in Flora, north of Jackson.

There were sweet potatoes in grocery carts, bags of satsuma oranges everywhere. The owners clearly have not attended a workshop on signage or packaging. The house sauce “Mississippi Fever” is sealed in Corona beer bottles. Mississippi honey is in milk jugs. Besides the produce and homemade jams and sauces, there are hand carved walking sticks, New Orleans jazz CDs, fresh fruit smoothies and all-day breakfast.

Mississippi Fever   Mississippi Honey

And then there is lunch, which I will have to explore on another trip. Tomatoes figure prominently — from the “sink sandwich” of tomatoes, mayonnaise and bread to an assortment of BLTs, including the fried green tomato BLT.

I don’t know what it has to do with tomatoes or food, but I liked this lighted sign inside.

Bicycle Sign-The Tomato Place

The Tomato Place is on U.S. Hwy 61, about 3.5 miles south of the Mississippi Welcome Center at I-20.

thetomatoplace.com

Farm Stands Along Mississippi’s Hwy. 49

Blog-Donna's #6

One of the highlights of the drive to Florida is passing all of the produce stands along U.S. Highway 49 between Jackson and Hattiesburg in Mississippi. En route, you’ll find great fruit and veggies for your dinners at the beach.  On the return trip, a Mississippi melon  or basket of peaches is a little salve for the end-of-vacation blues.

Donna’s #6 at Florence just south of Jackson isn’t one of a chain but named after the Morgan family’s sixth child, who was also six at the time this stand opened in 1976. We loved the peaches from Chilton County, Alabama.