67-County Alabama Garden Party: Chambers County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) Chambers County Slow-Cooked Rabbit, Veggies and Gravy with Southern Tomato Grits (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.

Chambers County

Chambers County is a place so relaxing and calm it would make Rip Van Winkle look frenzied by comparison. This would be a great place for a de-stressing spa weekend. Without fancy potions or facelifts, just by soaking up the sensible pace in this part of Alabama one could return to surging city life with your envious friends raving, “You look so rested.”

Not many in Chambers County need to be reminded to “Stop and smell the roses” or the magnolia blossoms or the soothing herb gardens. You won’t find uptight urbanites jacked up on Starbucks java, instead you’ll find folks lingering over lunch and sipping one more cool glass of iced tea while catching up with their families and neighbors.

There are thriving businesses in Chambers County and lots of recreational fun things to do, but mindless “busyness” just isn’t a part of the vibe. People here feel sorry for any frantic, overwrought busy bee, bless your heart.

“Slow furniture” was a collection of maybe 20 pieces I designed several years ago. Chambers County would be a good place to build those ideas into reality. Most people don’t think of furniture moving at all, but “slow furniture” was created to encourage “conscious slowing and relaxing.”

Much “slow furniture” could be constructed with local pine and hardwoods. Soft goods like pillows and hammocks could be made from locally-grown cotton. During the late 19th and the 20th centuries, Chambers County was the center of Alabama’s textile industry and cotton still grows here.

“Slow Food” is an international movement which began in Europe but now has thousands of devoted chefs and food enthusiasts in the U.S., including Alabama’s nationally renowned chef, Frank Stitt. “Slow Food” is a rebellion against rushing through the drive-thru lane of “fast food,” grabbing a sack of unhealthy grub and eating like scurrying rodents in a rat race.

The standard American dining table is 29 inches high. The standard, European dining table is 27 inches high. Puritans who settled the northeastern U.S. were taught to sit up straight, eat and get back to work. Those blessed to live in the American South where the mild climate and fertile soil allowed for growing more food with less work continued to enjoy a longer midday meal until the mid-20th century. These sagacious Southerners also often took a nap before getting back on task.

If the table you and yours eat from is 29 inches high, you might consider sawing off the legs a couple of inches. This will make you lean in and listen to your fellow diners. It will help you linger longer. Then, add a lazy Susan or lazy Lenny so someone doesn’t have to keep jumping up for condiments. Stop and smell the Chambers County bounty. Savor the garden-grown soups and the orchard-grown fruit pies. Try our recipe for Slow-Cooked Rabbit, Veggies and Gravy with Southern Tomato Grits.

Lollygagging and laziness are not priorities in Chambers County. The goal is achieving balance and having energy when speed is desired. There are famously fast-thinking and fast-acting people with roots in this southeastern part of Alabama. Fast-fisted Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber,” a world champion heavyweight boxer, was from Lafayette near the foot of Buckalew Mountain. And quickdraw gunman Pat Garrett, from Cusseta, stealthily tracked down the rascally outlaw, Billy the Kid, and took him out. Trigger Alert: “Took him out” means shot the thieving jerk deader than a doornail.

Wise Chambers County folks fish and picnic on the shores of the slow-moving Chattahoochee and Tallapoosa Rivers and tell funny stories about the ridiculous city slickers who are too wound up to enjoy the good life the universe has provided in this tranquil serenity of Alabama.

Here are other positive and pleasurable ways PLANTS + PEOPLE come together in Chambers County:

*HISTORIC LANGDALE MILL FARMERS’ MARKET- 6000 20th Ave. (Farmers Pavilion), Valley, AL 36854, Fridays 3-6 p.m. (Eastern Time) opens in May

*LAFAYETTE FARMERS- MARKET- The Chambers County Agriculture Park (Rodeo Arena), 1084 Alabama Highway 77, Lafayette, AL 36862, Mondays 3-6 p.m. (Central Time) May 7-end of September

*CHAMBERS COUNTY FARMSTANDS- Fred Kendrick (Lafayette), Kim Slay (Lafayette), Mason Farmers Market (Lanett); U-PICK at Jack-O-Lantern Lane (Lafayette)

*LAFAYETTE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH- (Downtown Lafayette) Structure built from native timber erected in 1836 by early Alabama settlers from Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas

*WEST POINT LAKE- 500 miles of wooded shoreline fed by the Chattahoochee River; excellent hiking, fishing and outdoor enjoyment

*PLANTING AN IDEA- If we can recruit woodworkers and pillow makers, let’s make some easy chairs, 27-inch “Linger Longe”’ dining tables, napstands, prayer chairs and other “Alabama Slow Furniture” prototypes in Chambers County. I’m glad to share all my drawings and specs. While we’re waiting for that idea to percolate, how about returning to our textile roots and making top-quality hammocks from a waiting-to-be-launched Alabama Hammock Company at a former fabric mill? Chambers County can lead Americans to Easy Street and some folks down in “The Valley” will be in high cotton.

Y’ALL COME to Chambers County on your 67-County Alabama Garden Party tour, relax and unwind.

Many thanks to Laurie Johnson for her original recipe for Slow-Cooked Rabbit, Veggies and Gravy with Southern Tomato Grits. (Note: I shared this delicious meal with friends Vincent and Brooke Desnoes, who recently moved to Alabama from Paris, France. Vincent, who is a French “foodie,” told me that hunting rabbit on Sundays and cooking rabbit for Sunday dinner are a tradition in his native country. Vincent described this slow-cooked rabbit and grits, “Un Grand, ce delicieux lapin! Merci au Chef.”)

Chambers County Slow-Cooked Rabbit, Veggies and Gravy with Southern Tomato Grits

Enjoying a “hammock nap” on a spring afternoon or a “sofa nap” with a quilt and a fireplace on a cold, dreary day are comforts for which we all yearn.  Cooking slowly is a perfect way to prepare a meal, but still take that nap, read that book or just unplug and savor some downtime.  This recipe, ironically, uses slow cooking to prepare rabbit, a very fast animal.  Rabbit is muscular and lean, so it should be cooked “slow and low” to be moist and tender.  Today, we can take advantage of a free range, farm rabbit, a great butcher (a shout out to Patrick at Snapper Grabber) ready veggies, and an electric slow cooker, luxuries that our forefathers and mothers didn’t have.  This rustic flavor hearkens to a time when an early morning hunt was a necessity, not a bonus, and the bounty of the garden and slow-cooked game was cherished.

Ingredients:

  • 1 approximately 3-lb. cleaned rabbit, cut in pieces.  Roll the tenderloin flaps with bacon.
  • All-purpose flour – about 3 tbsp. for dusting rabbit pieces and another 3 tbsp. for gravy
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 8 bacon slices – cut in halves – two halves for the tenderloin flaps
  • 2 large sweet onions – peeled and quartered
  • Solid vegetable oil (like Crisco) or any other cooking oil of your choice
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • Liquid – about 3 cups beef or chicken broth, 1/2 – 1 can dark beer and 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • Herbs – 5 dried bay leaves and a handful of fresh herbs – thyme sprigs and sage leaves
  • Veggies (your choice) – 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms and a cup of 2-inch carrot pieces
  • Southern tomato grits (Make your favorite cheese grits and then add a spoon of tomato paste and chopped fresh tomato.)

Instructions:

  1. Shake rabbit pieces in a large zippered bag with flour, salt and pepper. 
  2. In a cast iron skillet, brown the bacon.  Drain on paper towels and reserve, keeping the rendered bacon fat in the skillet.
  3. Sear the onion in the bacon grease and transfer half to a slow cooker that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Save the others for the next layer.
  4. Quickly sear rabbit pieces in bacon grease, adding oil if needed.  Do this in 2 or 3 batches and save the bacon wrapped flaps and garlic for last.  Move rabbit pieces to slow cooker and cover with remaining onions, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and sage leaves.
  5. Deglaze the hot skillet with the broth and beer and stir in the tomato paste as it sizzles.
  6. Pour skillet liquid into the slow cooker.  Supplement with additional broth or beer, if needed, to get the liquid to about the middle of the top layer of vegetables.
  7. Slow cook on high for 2 hours. Add the mushrooms and carrots and switch cooker to low for another 4 hours. Switch to warm mode.
  8. Scoop out about a cup and a half of liquid from the cooker.  Combine in a hot skillet with about 3 tbsp. of flour and stir to thicken into gravy. Season with salt and pepper. 
  9. Serve rabbit and veggies over fresh Alabama greens and a side of southern tomato grits with bacon and herb garnishes.  Enjoy your modern, SLOW version of this FAST game.

 

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

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Ben South