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A Quick Getaway
August 31, 2005

I ducked, almost sliding off the bench.  And just in time.  The talons of the vulture almost knocked off my hat.  The way I remember it, I felt the breeze come off his wings.

            I wasn’t scared. Well, maybe just a little bit nervous; plus, the breeze felt good.  I was sitting in the raptor (birds of prey) show at CallawayGardens near Pine Mountain, Georgia, and  Vinnie-the-Vulture was just about as tame and friendly as my dog Frank back in Bainbridge.

            I learned a lot about vultures that very hot August morning.  They are clean (don’t ask why their legs are white!) and perform the valuable service of keeping our countryside and roadsides clean.

            I’ll have new respect the next time I see a flock along the road.  This may happen soon, because we’ve been on the road a lot lately, and we plan to keep it that way!

            This summer we spent about as much time in our trusty Jeep as we did at home.  I’ve got wanderlust.  I’m thinking about the roads that lead away from and toward home. 

            Now, I know if I hop onto Highway 84, I can go to Cairo or Donalsonville, and that U.S. 27 will take me to Havana in one direction and Colquitt in the other.  But are there adventures further along the road?  That’s what I was finding our when Vinnie skimmed my hat.

            Our Moscow-born and London-based daughter-in-law Irina was here us visiting.  When she’s here I try to serve her up as much of the American experience as I can.  This time we wanted a short trip to spend the weekend with Atlantan daughter Katy.  The perfect solution?  Head up U.S. 27 to Pine Mountain—not too far a trip for us, and just a hop and skip for Katy.

            We took our usual route to Columbus, but instead of getting on I-185, we stuck with 27.  (I-185 actually gets you to Pine Mountain more quickly, but I was on a 27 adventure.)  We went right through downtown Columbus.  If we’d had more time, or if we’d had kids along, we’d have stopped at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center and the Port Columbus National Civil War Museum. We saved that for next time and headed through the rolling countryside, through Hamilton and right into beauty.

            When we made our plans, I thought we’d spend all of our time at Callaway Gardens.  But wait!  There’s more much more than the Gardens.  We enjoyed going into the shops in quaint Pine Mountain.  I particularly loved the used bookshop; not only for its inventory, I bought three books, but also for its name—Cup and Chaucer.   But for our treat we passed on coffee at the bookshop in favor of ice cream at the Purple Cow. 

            Bob and Katy took over Irina’s American experience with a field trip to the Little White House in nearby Warm Springs.  What an inspiration to see where so many folks received treatment for polio and the modest and lovely retreat of the thirty-second President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  

            While they were day tripping, I stayed back on our screened porch at Callaway Gardens.  A great way to spend a lazy Sunday morning.  The troops got back in time for a trip to the Gardens and an organ concert in the Ida Cason Callaway Chapel.  Perfect!  The deep bass tones had an accompaniment of thunder from an approaching shower.

            More, much more.  The weekend wasn’t long enough.  I took votes on favorite things.  We each got three because who could decide on one or even two?  I went for the organ concert, the vegetable garden, and, naturally, the screened porch and my books.  Katy joined me in choosing the organ concert and her dad on the Little White House; plus, she was enamored of the koi at the Horticultural Center.  Bob chose the Horticultural Center as well, and he’d looked forward to seeing the But terfly Center since it opened.  Irina, loved it all, but finally decided on the butterflies, the vegetable garden (in made her think of her garden outside of London) and the Birds of Prey show with my pal Vinnie.

What to eat in this lovely country?  The openair made us work up an appetite, and the vegetable garden was an inspiration.  For Sunday night supper, we enjoyed the view—and the food—at Callaway Garden Country Store.  One of the specialties is a country cup of black-eyed peas and turnip greens with the Garden’s special tomato relish.  I had to have it.  The peas and greens came out in individual cups with the sauce in a tiny bowl on the side.  I got instructions to eat them separately and put the relish on the peas.

            I wanted to put the relish on everything.  It was sweet, hot and delicious.  We dropped by the store on Monday.  I hoped I could buy some relish—it’s not for sale.  I begged an employee (here nameless) to tell me how to do it.   She told me that while it can be made from fresh tomatoes, she makes it at home using canned.  I tried.  It’s good.

Sunday Supper Spicy Tomato Relish

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

  1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

hot red pepper flakes, to taste 

            Add sugar to tomatoes and juice and heat in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Cool and taste for sweetness.  If you need more sugar, reheat.   Add the pepper flakes very gradually—they heat things up fast.

            This amazingly simple recipe is great on top of black-eyed peas, but that’s just a beginning.  It’s good on rice, mashed potatoes and (for me) best of all, scrambled eggs.

            My secret source at the restaurant assures me it can be double, tripled or “just cooked up by the pot full.”

            Now on to a good down-home dessert.   We began our Pine Mountain adventure with the delightful country-style buffet at the Callaway Gardens Mountain Creek Inn.  We were late, and we were hungry.  By the time we’d all made a couple of trips back for more turnip greens and fried chicken, no one had room for dessert—we thought.  Then Irina came back from a scouting trip with a dish of bread pudding.  Plenty of room!

            Again, I didn’t get the Callaway Garden version, and then when I got home, I couldn’t find my favorite.  

            It makes me wonder about bread pudding and how such a simple sounding dish became so popular.  On another trip this summer, I heard that bread pudding is a distinctively New Orleans dish.  They haven’t heard this story at Callaway Gardens—or lots of other places. 

            How about it?  Do you have a favorite bread pudding recipe to share?  Please send it along to me.  There’s more about bread pudding coming up!

            And while you are sending in recipes, how about some good scuppernong suggestions?

Post-Script:  If you are looking for a great weekend getaway, consider Pine Mountain.  Check it out at www.pinemountain.org or call 800-441-3502.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network