Food Consumer & Creator
Music is so tied into my memories of the shade trees and lemonade and kids running around and falling asleep in hide and seek spots. Oh, and the food was omnipresent. It was incredible. Those memories are tremendously rich.
I was raised by my grandparents, they were mountain people, woods people. I come from Harlan County, Kentucky. That is where our biggest mountains are in Kentucky, and there is a lot of history there. My mom’s side, they were living in a rounded-out, dead oak tree until they got their house built. I was there a lot as a child.
In one of my food memories, I recall being a little girl, lying alone in bed, in my grandmother’s house. It is the early morning and I feel a warmth, coziness…comfort and love. In the air is the smell of bacon and biscuits and I can hear my family talking with the radio on in the background. I can still taste the bacon and biscuits and gravy, fried apples with butter, and pork chops. I think about this memory daily and it brings me joy and sadness.
I have a lot of memories of my grandparents. They are actually in the Smithsonian as some of the founders of bluegrass music. Right now, we’re putting together a re-release of some of their commercial recordings. My grandmother left me all the music, and the photographs. I cataloged all of it and put it in Berea College Special Collections. My memories are people coming to my house, because of the music, and staying for weeks at a time. Music is so tied into my memories of the shade trees and lemonade and kids running around and falling asleep in hide-and-seek spots. Oh, and the food was omnipresent. It was incredible. Those memories are tremendously rich.
I cook for folks. There are orphans around here. Homes with people that have nowhere else to go. A lot of the time they are musicians, poets, artists. What I have gotten into recently, that people like, and that I am passionate about, is smoking food. I don’t use the plug-in smokers. I pick my woods. I dampen my chips. I do it old school and I sit with it. I smoke almost everything. I smoke fruits, vegetables, salt, cayenne pepper, you name it. I really like the flavor. If I smoke any kind of meat that has bones, I take that and make 2-3 gallons of stock out of that smoked bone. The richness it imparts is incredible. I think this passion is going to remain for years.
There was always good meat, and gravy and biscuits in the morning with fried potatoes. We had corn, fried apples, and pork chops. It was country food. Greens with your soup beans and cornbread. Cornbread every day, and every night with fresh milk. That is what we had right after supper. All kinds of fresh pies. Everybody in my family likes the blackberry dumplings. I can still make them. I have my grandmother’s recipe book. Her sons, when they would marry, they had their wives go learn how to make this, this, this, and this! So, I can still go to my aunt’s and get my Mamaw’s biscuits, which are just incredible. There is nothing like them!
In our culture, grandparents were raising generations of children. Especially with the opioid epidemic, it became even more pronounced. It happens over and over and over, in our culture, in these mountains…grandparents raising their grandchildren. My grandma and grandpa would say, “Sissy, we’re going to the river tomorrow. Are you sure you’re not getting a sore throat?” They wanted me to call in sick to school before it was a crime to miss a day. We spent a lot of time on the river, fishing, gathering nuts and roots. Whenever I spent time with my dad or most of my family, we were outside interacting with food and nature. I carried that love on through college and continued to develop that past college. I just spent my morning going through my tinctures and what I need to make for the winter. Things are coming into season…mushrooms and herbs, so I am building. This medicine is really a huge part of my life, not just for me, but for my community.
If I’m smoking a turkey, I first make a brine. I have a specific recipe for different meats, to soften the meat. It could be an apple or pear brine, with a little citrus. I’ll do that 3-4 days ahead of time and let that sit. In the meantime, I’ll be finding hardwood. Right now, I’ve been experimenting with mulberry. I’ll get that ready and chip some of that down. I will build a fire on one side of the smoker, let that turn to ember, then I’ll put the turkey away from the embers so it slowly cooks. The turkey will cook for six to eight to ten hours, and then, in the last three hours, I will do the vegetables.
If you have cancer, or something bad, you can come to me and I will give you all that I make. I have researched and spent my life immersed in this craft of natural healing. It is medicine tied very much to the ecosystem that I am immersed in, and what comes from that medicinally. Through years of passionate research, I have developed an understanding of what it is that we’re interacting with when we are interacting with these living beings that are giving themselves up for our consciousness and health.
I grew up seasonally tied to whatever was happening in nature around us. A big thing was black walnut hull extract! Mamaw would gather green hulls when they hit the ground, stuff them in a jar, pour alcohol over them, let them sit for three months, and strain them. Then every mammal on the property, humans, cows, everybody, would take a dropper full for two weeks in the spring and the fall. That took care of any worms or parasites. She grew up in the woods with her grandfather and learned a lot from him.
The smell of the smoke and food gets on my clothes, and I get a lot more love and hugs from Tammy (my partner) when I come into the house. I love it. I don’t change clothes until after the meal. Just the fragrance of the food. I have another friend getting over cancer, so when he comes over I try to make something that just makes his mouth water, because his appetite was suffering. These smoked dishes do the trick.
People do travel to me, sometimes from great distances, and if that happens I try to set up a way to get their medicine to them. Sometimes, one person will drive three hours, and another person will drive three hours to pick up the medicine and then take it to the person that needs it because sometimes the people can’t travel. We work out ways of getting medicine to people. With COVID it grew so much. I was also trying to heal myself. It was a much deeper immersion with plants than I’ve ever been in. But, I provide this service for free. That is very important to me. If you don’t have money, you can still be treated. If you do have money, bring me some 100-proof alcohol so I can build more tinctures.
This way of living has been an approach towards capitalism. This is a twenty-five year journey. I do other things to make my living, but I always tell people, “Pick one thing you do really, really well and give it away, with your pure heart. Give it, even when it hurts.” That changes the way you view the economy, and the give and take of things. It makes you more open-hearted, generous, humble, empathetic, and loving.
This mentality of giving was instilled in me when I was young, but I took it a few steps further. If you came to my grandmother’s house, there was always food, and kids were hungry in the neighborhood. There was a crockpot with beans, and always cornbread. If you came in, you were fed. Sometimes people came because they needed to be fed. I think my mentality grew from her generosity. Sometimes she didn’t have the money, because she had limited income, so she had a tab down at the IGA grocery, just to make sure there was always food for whoever would stop by, and then pay that tab as she could.
We’re potluck people. We are hippies! I just love potlucks. It is always different, it is always diverse. People show their art through what they bring. We do that with great love, joy and respect. We haven’t been doing it much because of COVID, but it is really something so important for our community.
When I was little, we would garden and raise most of our own food. We had huge gardens, two or three acres. The work was terrible. It was hard work. We had three families, so when it was beans, corn, and tomato time we would go spend a week at someone’s house helping them to harvest. We would all go to one house and then the other, and then they would all come to ours to help harvest our garden. That is how we got all our food in. We had anything we wanted, all winter long, down in the cellar. We raised a couple of pigs a year, had a dairy cow, chickens, and turkeys. It was pretty clean food that we raised ourselves. When my grandmother got older, I made her a little ten-by-ten garden right outside her door, so she could just step down. She wanted to keep gardening, but she could barely walk. We couldn’t do the big gardens anymore. It makes me want to cry. She would call me on the phone and say, “Sissy, somebody left thirteen dozen ears of corn on my stoop. You better get home!” People would leave corn and beans by the bushels. No one would say who it was, but they still wanted to include her. It was really beautiful.
It is so important to learn that it is not all about what you get. It is not about that at all. That is a construct that has been put in us and it is total bullshit. It is not the way life, or nature works. It is not living, it is not pure. There is nothing clean about it. We have to take it out of the mix. My bottom line is time. Money doesn’t mean shit. I really learned that with COVID. I thought I knew it, but with COVID and my mobility issues, the most important thing is clearer and clearer in my mind, and that is time. That is what I am trying to hand my patients, their time, which they desperately want.
I do this around fires in the community, we call it Appalachian freestyle. It is spoken-word and we pass it around. My grandparents were musicians so I grew up in this tradition…
I’m a chef in the karma kitchen
You goin’ to find my recipes be witchin’
You goin’ be itchin’ to taste my soul food
Because its so, so hot
And I’m so, so cool
Something reached in and pulled the cork out
Made me want to scream and shout
Talk about how it feels to live from the inside out
I’m a host for the holy ghost
For the culture I’m in
I can’t express how it feels to live from within
I can see the past
Straight to Eden
Let the games begin
Timi Reedy is a mountain homesteader from Eastern Kentucky. Timi is dedicated to the land, water, air, people plants, and fungi of the region…an ongoing relationship that continues to deepen.
[ Timi Reedy is photographed on her friend’s property in Berea, Kentucky on 120mm film. ]