67-County Alabama Garden Party: Perry County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) Perry County Snap Pea Summer Rolls with Spicy Peachy and Peanuty Sauce (right)

The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, “The 67-County Alabama Garden Party,” will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own “quilt block,” along with a historical profile, and we’ll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Perry County

I flew home from President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration with Coretta Scott King and her children. We talked a bit about both being from Alabama and she spoke fondly of her roots in Perry County.

The King kids were doing their school homework and I helped with some quiz questions. I’ve prayed that I gave them correct answers because I wouldn’t want to arrive in heaven and have Dr. King booming a sermon at me.

Coretta Scott grew up in rural Heiberger, about 10 miles north of Marion, Alabama the county seat of Perry. She and Martin met in college when she was majoring in music and he in divinity. They married on the lawn of her parents’, Obadiah and Bernice McMurry Scott’s, home on June 18, 1953. This was one of the most historic, garden parties in Alabama’s two-hundred-year history.

At first, Coretta Scott, who Dr. King called “Corrie,” wasn’t interested in dating a future preacher but he wooed her with words like this valentine, “Dearest, Love is such a dynamic force, isn’t it? It is the most inexplicable and yet the most beautiful force in life. O how joyous it is to be in it…My life without you is like a year without a springtime which comes to give illumination and heat to the atmosphere which has been saturated by the dark, cold breeze of winter…O excuse me, my darling. I didn’t mean to go off on such a poetical and romantic flight. But how else can we express the deep emotion of life other than in poetry? Isn’t love too ineffable to be grasped by the cold, calculating heads of intellect?”

From what lifelong Perry County residents recall, the wedding vows were said on the porch of the bride’s family house and their well-wishers stood on the green grass of the front yard.

There would have been music at this Alabama garden party. Dr. King’s favorite hymn was “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Thomas A. Dorsey. Coretta Scott led her church choir, sang in high school musicals and she played piano and trumpet. Her new husband, Martin, sang in church choirs but he was not a confident soloist. In her memoir, Mrs. King remembered being proud of him that he once overcame stage fright to sing a solo of “His Eyes are on the Sparrow,” all the way through.

Because I’m writing this Alabama Bicentennial series about where PLANTS + PEOPLE come together across the state, I’m researching what flowers and shrubs were blossoming that June in Perry County and what late-Spring, vegetable gardens would have been producing. My savvy contact in the area, Katrina Easley, Coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System office, is helping me communicate with Scott family relatives and friends who have period photographs of the house and yard.

Also, I’m researching what foods were served. You know it was delicious, this is Alabama. I’m guessing the local cooks brought their signature dishes. I know, Dr. King, loved peas. In fact, it’s reported he enjoyed a “soul food” meal of fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and black-eyed peas, his last on earth, that tragically sad day in Memphis, only fifteen spring times after his happy wedding day in Heiberger.

By late-June in Perry County, gardens and farmers markets offer a bounty from this rich, Black Belt soil. Baskets are loaded with tomatoes, peppers, peaches, plums, blueberries, green beans, onions, eggplants and more. You’ll find English peas and purple hulls and at some points during the year Dr. and Mrs. King would have enjoyed all of these varieties:

*BLACK-EYED PEAS—(Vigna unguiculate), this sub-species of the cowpea is really a legume; they are grown all over the world which seems fitting for a King who won the Nobel Peace Prize; we have many varieties of black-eyed peas in Alabama farm stands, including rare, heirloom types

*LADY PEAS—called “The Queen of Summer Peas,” this smaller version of black-eyed peas has a creamy texture and sweet taste and are loaded with substantial nutrients

*ENGLISH PEAS—these are also called “Garden Peas” (Pisum sativum) and are shelled for their spherical fruits

*SNOW PEAS—a variety of pea harvested young and eaten pods and all; they can be grown in winter, hence the name; the stems and leaves are used in Chinese cooking; these are the peas, Austrian scientist, Gregor Mendel, used in his breakthrough, genetics research

*SNAP PEAS—aka Sugar Snap Peas are more spherical than snow peas but are also eaten pods and all; snap peas are climbers and need trellising to thrive; they are delicious in salads; before cooking, snap peas need to be “stringed”

Dr. King praised his wife, Coretta, as being the “rock” for himself and his family. They parented four children: Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice. He admitted keeping such an intense focus on the march for justice that at times he put second, those closest to him, his loved ones. Looking back to that June, 1953 day in a garden in Perry County, Alabama, he would quote this scripture from Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor.”

Besides peas and prayers, here are other ways PLANTS + PEOPLE come together positively and pleasurably in Perry County including our original recipe for Snap Pea Summer Rolls with Spicy Peachy and Peanuty Sauce:

*PERRY COUNTY FARMERS MARKET—469 MLK, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Marion, AL 36756; Thursday – Saturday, 9 a.m.-2p.m., June 7-Nov. 17

*UNIONTOWN FARMERS MARKET—100 Front Street, Uniontown, AL 36786; Wednesday and Saturdays, 7 a.m.-noon, June-November

*PERRY COUNTY FARMSTANDS—Jacob Waddy, Route 1, Safford, AL 36773; James and Willie Nell Avery, Route 1, Newburn, AL 36765; Willie Skeen, Route 1, Newburn, AL 36765

*BOTANIST CAROLINE DORMAN—graduate of Judson College in Marion, became an acclaimed plantswoman, horticulturist, conservationist and author of many botanical books including FLOWERS NATIVE TO THE DEEP SOUTH (1958); she willed her homestead in Louisiana to found the Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve

*THE ALABAMA BAPTIST NEWSPAPER-printed for more than 175 years, had its first presses in a tiny building on the campus of Judson College (Marion); tours of this historic campus are available by request

*PERRY LAKES PARK TRAIL COMPLEX—entrance to the park is on the east side of State Route 175 alongside the Marion State Fish Hatchery; hiking trails include boardwalks and dirt paths; this is one of the finest viewing areas for early spring wildflowers in central Alabama

*CHEF SCOTT PEACOCK’s BISCUIT EXPERIENCE—(Marion) former chef of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion and James Beard Chef Of The Year, Peacock has opened the historic kitchens of Reverie Mansion for ½ day workshops on the fine art of biscuit-making; Peacock features heirloom ingredients from the Alabama land-and-farmscape he’s restoring including original, biscuit wheats; www.chefscottpeacock.com

*PLANTING AN IDEA—One of my favorite aspects of this Bicentennial series, “THE 67-COUNTY, ALABAMA GARDEN PARTY” is to “plant” an idea related to PLANTS + PEOPLE. Inspired by the garden wedding of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott at her parents’ home in the rural town of Heiberger in Perry County, my idea here is to create a “teaching museum” for family and parenting skills. The world revered Coretta Scott King for what Dr. King called being “a firm foundation, a rock” for him and their four children. Because the house is modest-sized in a remote area, I’m imagining this to have much broader outreach as an internet-based, long-distance learning hub. One possible element of this initiative could be a “Letters to Coretta” program where those planning for a family could ask questions answered by a team of trained counselors and social workers at Judson College in Marion. A superb resource for exploring how the Coretta Scott King family home could further Mrs. King’s legacy in family and child development is Katrina Easley, Perry County Coordinator, of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). Ms. Easley has a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and has been a dynamic resource for me in my efforts to celebrate the Scott and King families in Perry County. ACES has a number of child and family support classes already in place. Maybe at a Coretta Scott King “teaching museum” someone could plant sweet peas in pots on that historic Alabama porch.

Y’ALL COME to Perry County on your 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour! And, let’s give peas a chance.

Many thanks to Katrina Easley, Coordinator of the Perry County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for all the resources and ideas. Also, thank you to Laurie Johnson for the imaginative and delicious, nutrient-loaded Snap Pea Summer Rolls.

Perry County – Snap Pea Summer Rolls with Spicy Peachy and Peanuty Sauce (6 servings)

These fresh and crisp summer rolls showcase the snap peas of Perry County along with other Alabama favorites such as peaches, peanuts, carrots and onions.

Ingredients:

  • For sauce:
    • 3 (of 5) ripe Alabama peaches (choose the ripest for the sauce)
    • Liquid ingredients– 1 splash each of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar (peach infused if you can get it), 2 splashes each of hot sauce (sriracha), red wine and lime juice from at least one lime – more or less of each to your taste
    • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • For rolls:
    • About 18 fresh sugar snap pea pods
    • 2 (of 5) ripe Alabama peaches
    • 1 crisp cucumber
    • 1 bunch green onions
    • 1/2 cup matchstick carrots – buy or slice your own
    • 6 spring roll wrappers (translucent wrappers made from rice)
    • 4 tbsp. dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Spicy Peach, Peanut Sauce instructions:

  •  Peel and dice 3 peaches and place into a small amount of water in a sauce pan. Retain as much juice as possible and squeeze what remains on the pit over your pan before discarding. Simmer a few minutes to soften and then add the liquid ingredients.  Warm gently over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, smashing up the peach pieces with your spoon. 
  • Toward the end of the 20 minutes, stir in the peanut butter and use more liquids to your taste and to thin the sauce as it simmers. Keep warm while assembling the summer rolls.

Summer Roll instructions:

  • Blanch snap peas in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until just softened.  Drain, cool in ice and dry.
  • Peel remaining peaches and slice into thin spears. Slice cucumber into thin spears, discard seeds and squeeze dry with a paper towel to remove as much water as possible. Slice green onions into long, thin spears.  Reserve some chopped green parts for garnish.
  • Assemble summer rolls:
    • Using instructions for wrappers, immerse one at a time in a plate of warm water for a few seconds to soften, blot with a paper towel and place on a silicon cutting board for non-stick assembly.
    • Put 3 snap peas and few each of the peach, cucumber, green onions and carrot matchsticks, lengthwise, on the center.  Drizzle with 1 tsp. of the peachy peanut sauce.
    • Roll up tightly as directed by wrapper instructions (fold in the sides and the bottom closest to you and roll up tightly away from you). 
    • Cut, diagonally about 1/4 inch from one end of each roll, and place seam side down on plate.  Serve with the remaining sauce and garnish with green onions and peanuts.

 

Also, check out Alabama Bicentennial: 200 ways to save Alabama for the next 200 years.

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Ben South