We thank Ted Carter of the Asheville Times, Asheville, North Carolina for permission to use the following article. Also thanks to Jim Ledbetter, 108 Sunset Drive, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711 for his interest in getting this to the readers.
October is hospitality month in the mountains. Nobody proclaimed it. Folks just feel that way during the harvest season.
Its the month of glowing colors, heavy hued and gaudy; the month of yellow pumpkins piled in the fields or in barn lots, or even along the highways; the month of the last summer blossoms (pioneers called them 'purties') the regal hardy hydrangeas, the fragile blooms of obelia, the dogwood's red berries. It's the last little growth of the fine grass in the shade of the big lawn trees, the last little growth of the ivy. Doves strut around over the grass picking up tiny seedlings, growing fat and friendly.
It's blue skies and white clouds over blue ridges and the earth so clean around us, the air so fresh and fragrant the year at its fruition.
The air is cooler in the mornings as the winds sweep out of the uplands, growing colder daily, wisping the smoke from the chimneys, the good wood smoke from the fireplace, the warming fires of autumn.
October is for recalling the days of past years when folks were close to the seasons, the days of rural living. Harvests were grand in the mountains, matching the season.
Gone are the days of rolling wheat fields, covering much of the uplands, all the way to the ridge tops in among the orchards. Gone are the days of the corn shocks and barn lofts bulging with new mown hay, still so sweet from the meadows.
Neighbors were close then, helping with the labors, 'swapping work' with each other.
Remember the wheat harvests the rippling wheat covering the fields, ready for the cutting? Remember the reapers who appeared one day big, sweaty, wholesome men; carrying along their 'cradles.' They were soon at their labors in the field, sweeping steadily onward with powerful sweeps of their sharp blades. The wheat sliced off in bundles. Somebody followed along behind, to tie it all up neatly, piling the sheaves in neat little stacks, but leaving some for the gleaners.
Remember, too, on another day how the threshing machine rolled down the road, hulking and cumbersome, pulled along by straining mules, at the 'gees' and 'haws' of the skinners?
They pulled into the wheat field and set up there for business. Remember the big stack of the boiler, with the heavy smoke pouring out, the towering frame of the threshing machine and the big wide belt that joined them, always crossed in the middle? Remember dust and the chaff of the action with all its roaring racket, the whining sound of the fly wheel, the men all tossing bundles and stacking sacks of the precious wheat?
Remember the great long tables, covered with checked cloths, set for the men out under the trees in the yard by the back door stoop? The tables were loaded down with their dinner great stacks of biscuits, sugar cured hams, chicken baked in the oven, then fried to a delicate crisp. There were steaks drowned in gravy, bowls piled high with green beans seasoned with side meat and cooked with little potatoes, round molds of butter, cabbage cooked with ham hocks, bowls of golden corn, honey, james and jellies, peach pies and fruit cakes with six or seven layers (apple sauce between them) food for hearty workers.
Hog killing time in the mountains called for other gatherings. Huge barrels were sunk into the ground near the hog pens barrels full of water. Early one frosty morning the neighbors gathered, stomping around a big bonfire where stones were heated, then thrown in the barrels heating the water for scalding. The hog was killed, all the men lifted the carcass and dipped it in the barrel, then hung it head-down on the limb of a tree where it was scraped and gutted. An expert did the butchering, cutting the meat up properly. The lard was stored in big tin cans and the entrails were properly buried. They salted the meat in the meat house and ground the scraps for sausage. There was big action in the farm kitchen, cooking all those breakfasts stacks of wheat cakes drowned in sorghum, dozens of eggs fried sunny side up or scrambled eggs with brains, platters of bacon and sausages, hash brown potatoes, plenty of fresh butter, and pans full of hot biscuits, taken fresh from the oven and coffee by the gallons.
October was friendship month, for helping all the neighbors. Folks meant it when they said, 'Light and rest a spell.' Or when they added, 'We don't have much, but what we have, you're welcome to.' They weren't talking about their kitchens. They ate sumptuously. Nobody ever went hungry in the mountains in the autumn.