67-County Alabama Garden Party: Fayette County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) Fayette County “Easiest Ever” Roasted Corn on the Cob with Adobo Chili, Lime and Cilantro (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.

Fayette County

“I’m as corny as Fayette in August” is what that treasured showtune by Rodgers & Hammerstein should have said. What the Vatican is for Catholics or Honolulu is for hula, Fayette County, Alabama is for corn.

This is a challenging place for gossips because all the corn has ears. Now that I’ve taken humor down to the Alabama red dirt level, let me share another corny joke I harvested in Fayette County:

The way the locals tell it, there was a feller from over in the Pea Ridge community who came into the seed and feed in Fayette to buy a chainsaw.

He said, “Son, I want a chainsaw that’ll cut down about 10 trees in an hour’s time.”

So, the guy at the feed store sold him one.

The next day, the customer from Pea Ridge came into the store angry as a cornered possum.

“Son, this here chainsaw only cut down one lil’ ole tree and it took me a whole blessed hour!”

The clerk said, “Gol-lay, I’m so sorry, sir. Lemme take a look at it.”

The clerk pulled on the starter rope, the saw started up, and the feller from Pea Ridge said, “Hey, what’s that noise?”

I promise you, even if the breathtaking, natural beauty of this part of the state wasn’t already worth your drive over to this rural part of west Alabama, it can sure be worth it for the friendly folks who are happy to shovel you a wagonload of great corniness like that chainsaw tale.  And, while you’re at it, get you a bushel and a peck of Silver Queen or Jubilee Fayette County sweet corn.

When I chatted with Ronni Rena Brasher, coordinator of the Fayette County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, we talked corn, cotton and soybeans as main crops in this still heavily agricultural part of the Fall Line Hills region. She also bragged on local farmers who are diversifying crops with peanuts in rotation.

Ronni Rena, and it’s never just Ronni or Rena (pronounced Renee’), is a proud Fayette County native from Hubbertville who moved away for college, but she and her husband missed the gentle pace of life, the neighborly communities and the rolling, green hills and returned to raise a family. Another local source of pride for Ronni Rena is the movie set-charming town square in the town of Fayette, the county seat.

Fayette County was founded in 1824, just five years after Alabama became a state. The courthouse, surrounded by shade trees and crepe myrtles, is a popular place for the community to gather. The Fayette Garden Club has added even more beauty to the town square by adding raised beds punctuated with colorful, blooming roses and annuals.

In 1900, Fayette County had 200,000 acres of cotton. Today, corn, cotton and soybeans are important crops, but 344,493 of the county’s 401,718 acres have been reforested and are covered in timberland.

Here are other positive and pleasurable ways PLANTS + PEOPLE come together in Fayette County, including our original recipe for the “Easiest Ever” Roasted Corn on the Cob with Adobo Chili, Lime and Cilantro. 

*FAYETTE COUNTY FARMERS’ MARKET- 650 McConnell Loop (behind Wal-Mart), Fayette, AL 35555; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30-5:30 p.m., June 11-August 22

*SORGHUM SYRUP, LOCAL HONEY, HERBS, 60 DIFFERENT VEGETABLES AND FRUITS- (Berry) Hudson Farms, 22759 Old Jasper Road, Berry, AL 35546; call first before you come to pick; 205-523-1433

*FAYETTE DEPOT MUSEUM- This is the best place to see historic, landscape photographs, vintage farm tools and other artifacts saluting the agricultural heritage of the area.

*NOLEN & BOBBIE’S MUSEUM- A private collection of historic farm implements and tools, available to view by appointment; 205-932-4578

*GOLDEN EAGLE SYRUP- Based in Fayette since 1928, this part-corn syrup has been a staple in Alabama kitchens for almost 100 years. Pick up a jar or a case to enjoy with the “Alabama Sunshine Cheddar Biscuit” recipe we’re sharing. The newest product from this “sweet home Alabama” business is Golden Eagle Popcorn, www.goldeneaglesyrup.com.

*FAYETTE COUNTY FAIR- One of Alabama’s finest with lots of agricultural and home canning displays is held the third week of October. This feels like a good opportunity for me to remind Ronni Rena that I have been a county fair pie judge for years and HAVE FORK, WILL TRAVEL!

*ALABAMA SUNSHINE FARM-TO-TABLE- This Fayette County operation is widely admired for its variety of hot sauces, relishes and pepper jelly which feature locally grown-and-picked peppers. During the holiday season, come to the brick-and-mortar shop and watch them make spicy peanut brittle. (As a special treat for readers of this Bicentennial series we’re sharing the ALABAMA SUNSHINE CHEDDAR BISCUIT recipe: INGREDIENTS: 3 cups White Lily Self-Rising flour, 6 tbsp. COLD butter, 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, 3/4 cups whole buttermilk, 3 tbsp. Alabama Sunshine Original Hot Sauce; DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450. Place flour in large bowl. Grate butter into flour with a box grater. Combine flour and butter until all butter pieces are thoroughly coated in flour and mixture is crumbly. Mix in cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and hot sauce. Slowly add to dry mixture. When a soft dough forms, turn out on a lightly-floured surface. Gently knead and fold until all ingredients are incorporated. Roll dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut using a 201/2-inch biscuit cutter. Re-roll scraps of dough, roll out and cut out biscuits until all dough is used. Place biscuits on a cookie sheet pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with oil. Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Hint: Rotate pan halfway through cooking to ensure even browning. Fill biscuits with Alabama Sunshine.

*FAYETTE GREENHOUSE- This locally-owned nursery is the “go to” for top-quality home and garden plants; 132 Sixth Ave. SE, Fayette, AL 35555.

*LOCAVORES ENJOY FAYETTE COUNTY BOUNTY- Here are three eateries that celebrate locally-grown foods: Fannie’s, 135 Temple Ave. N, Fayette, AL 35555; Charles’s Cafeteria, 226 Second Ave. NE, Fayette, AL 35555 and Huatulco Mexican Restaurant, 1520 Temple Ave. N, Fayette, AL 35555

*BERRY HERITAGE PARK- (Berry) This is a green haven where you’ll particularly enjoy the magnificent magnolias as you meander through a long and winding walking trail.

*GUTHRIE SMITH PARK- It is especially popular during the summer to escape the Alabama heat at the Fayette Aquatic Center, 218 23rd St. NE, Fayette, AL 35555. While you’re on the hiking trails leading to the 9-acre lake, notice many of the trees have scientific labels to make this a pleasurable, learning experience.

Y’ALL COME is how I always end installments of this Bicentennial series, but with my invitation for you to come here on your 67-County Alabama Garden Party tour, I want to salute a Berry community (Fayette County) native, Jamelle Moore Folsom, wife of Alabama Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom. Miz Jamelle was the first person I ever heard sing these lines when she performed with The Strawberry Pickers: “When you’re livin’ in the country, everybody is your neighbor…Y’ALL COME!” That hospitable sentiment is pure Fayette County.

Many thanks to Ronni Rena Brasher, coordinator of the Fayette County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Also, a big buttery THANK YOU to Laurie Johnson for the easy, spicy corn-on-the-cob recipe. While taste-testing this recipe, my nephew said, “WOW, this corn is delicious, but my lips are burning! May I have another one?”

Fayette County “Easiest Ever” Roasted Corn on the Cob with Adobo Chili, Lime and Cilantro  

Summer in Alabama means a profusion of fresh, sweet corn on the cob.  Corn recipes also abound, but many involve a lot of prep; pre-silking, pre-husking, soaking and watching closely to not burn.  This EASIEST EVER method yields a consistent, tender roasted corn on the cob with virtually no prep or attention, leaving you to tend to the rest of the meal.  When done, it’s so easy to silk and dress with butter and your favorite seasoning combinations (or just good ole salt and pepper). 

The seasonings in the recipe below are our favorites.  While they chow down, the family shouts, “My lips are burning,” as they happily take the next bite, and the next!  Adjust seasonings to your taste and have some cold drinks ready!  A current, well-known Southern magazine featured corn dressed with either basil/parmesan butter, ranch/bacon drizzle, honey/chipotle glaze or smoky barbeque rub.  Use your imagination for flavors, but this basic cooking method is the EASIEST EVER!

Ingredients:

  • Fresh corn ears, on the cob and still completely in the husk – one per serving
  • Seasonings
    • Stick of butter (at least one!)
    • Coarse ground salt and black pepper
    • Adobo or chipotle chili powder seasoning
    • Lime wedges
    • Minced cilantro (optional – some love it and some hate it)

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Leave corn in husk and only scissor off excess silk “frizzles” if they exist.  Place ears directly on rack in hot oven and roast for 35 minutes.  Remove with an oven mitt or potholder to a heat-proof platter.
  • Pull back husks completely, and working over a trash can, use a potholder or paper towel to rub the corn in a circular motion to remove the silks.  While hot, the silks come off easily and completely.  Trim the husk to about 3 inches, leaving a “handle” for holding the corn.
  • Over the platter, rub the stick of butter all over the hot corn, rotating each ear as you rub.  Once moist with melted butter, continue to rotate as you grind on coarse salt and pepper, sprinkle on the chili powder and squeeze on some lime juice.  Rub on another layer of butter to blend the seasonings.  Sprinkle with minced cilantro, for those that want it, and serve hot. 
  • Store and reheat under foil in a warm oven or under paper or plastic wrap in a microwave if needed.

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

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Ben South