Tennessee Food Traditions to Taste or Take Home


The Old Mill and Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge
The Old Mill and Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge

This state takes food traditions seriously and many are woven into the modern day diet along with the burgers and pizza. Products are sold to visitors that allow tastes of the past and there are restaurants that serve foods cooked using recipes that have been around since the 1800’s.
The tradition of making preserves and grinding grain helps us remember the tastes and hard work of our ancestors as they worked to preserve food to last through the winter when fresh foods were not available.
Here are a few of the food producers that are preserving food history and places to dine out with history.

Foods of the Smokies sells food products in the Great Smoky National Park visitor’s centers. Area farms make everything from jams and preserves to sorghum molasses, using the cooking techniques of the past.
I tasted some of the samples and particularly enjoyed the Pumpkin Butter. Although pumpkins are grown far and wide, I had never heard of using them to make preserves and went searching for a recipe for this local specialty.

Deb Dwyer has offered to share her family recipe for Pumpkin Butter that is featured on her blog, Appalachian Folkways. http://www.appalachianfolkways.com
See the recipe section for this recipe.

Jars of Moonshine at the Ole Smoky Distillery
Jars of Moonshine at the Ole Smoky Distillery

At the Ole Smokey Moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg you can taste and buy corn whiskey as it has been made in these parts since the pioneers settled. Moonshine was made by farmers and sold as a way to make extra income.
During the Prohibition period, when no alcohol production or consumption was legal, moonshine corn whiskey was made in homemade stills.



Moonshine made the old way.
Moonshine made the old way

Moonshine Sutton is a present day pioneer who continued to make and sell moonshine illegally until he committed suicide to avoid being sent to jail. His widow helped the Ole Smokey Distillery develop a business that carries on the tradition by selling moonshine whiskey bottled in preserve jars. This booming business is located on the main street amidst the tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and visitors can watch the whiskey being made in stills behind screened windows.
Vats of fermenting grains are the beginning of the process, all on display at the distillery. The Ole Smokey Distillery tells the story of historic Moonshine production on plaques in front of the production. Pic http://olesmokymoonshine.com/about/distillery

Thomas Sutton has been cooking pancakes at The Pancake Pantry for 37 years.
Thomas Sutton has been cooking pancakes at The Pancake Pantry for 37 years.

The Pancake Pantry – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

“Where should we go for the most authentic pancake experience?” I asked a lady working in a store.
“Everybody heads to the Pancake Pantry, three blocks on the left.” she said with no hesitation.
Waiting in line for twenty minutes seem to make the table even more precious.

This establishment was the first pancake restaurant in Tennessee and has been serving for 54 years. They now serve 24 varieties of pancake, including some fancy innovations.
We wanted to sample the more traditional types and ordered cornmeal as well as sweet potato pancakes.
I headed into the kitchen to meet Thomas Sutton who has been flipping pancakes for this establishment for the past 37 years. He never stopped moving and I’ve never seen so many pancakes in one place.
Light, fluffy and filled with tradition of pancakes of the past, this is a Tennessee restaurant legend. http://www.pancakepantry.com

The Old Mill Historic district of Pigeon Forge
The Old Mill Historic district of Pigeon Forge

The Old Mill Historic District of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Today the historic district of Pigeon Forge works hard to keep the traditions of the past alive. They like to say, “If you turn at stoplight 7, you go back in time 175 years.”
A historic district has been preserved amidst a world of tourist attractions that has grown up around The Old Mill, once the center of town. A pottery studio and gallery, a candy shop that makes candy with equipment from the 1920’s, a metal forging shop and soon, a corn whiskey distillery.

Chuck Childers is the miller at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.
Chuck Childers is the miller at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.

The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge has been grinding grains since 1830 and continues to produce today. Families would bring their corn and grain to be turned into cornmeal or flour and would pay by leaving some of the grain to be sold in the local store. The mill was the center of the community, a place where the locals would collect their mail, post notices on the door and catch up on the latest news while having their grains milled.
Chuck Childers has been the miller at the Old Mill for the past few years. He showed us the workings of the mill and showed us how little has changed about the way they grind the corn to make cornmeal and wheat to make flour in the last 175 years.
The water wheel still provides most of the power that turns the grindstones.
“When we get too busy we need to use electricity for a short period of time, but revert back to water power as soon as we can.” said Childers.
The Mill is known as a production mill because it is in full time production grinding grains and producing other mixes and products that are sold on their website.
A full range of flours, coatings and mixes can be purchased online. They range from 100% pure cornmeal, flours, oatmeal and grits to mixes including for coatings of fried green tomatoes and hushpuppy and sweet potato biscuit mixes. These are all based on old time foods and are making old time food traditions easier to cook.

Fred Stritch works on old machinery to make handmade candy
Fred Stritch works on old machinery to make handmade candy

The Old Mill Candy Kitchen

Interesting machines can be seen through the window of the Candy Kitchen in the historic district of Pigeon Forge. Fred Stritch the candy maker showed us his taffy puller, a machine that has been dated at over 200 years old. Another machine cuts and wraps the taffy logs and is over 100 years old. The shop makes many kinds of traditional candies, chocolates and fudges and has the look and tastes of an old-fashioned candy shop. http://www.old-mill.com/info/candy-kitchen

The Old Mill Restaurant

Located in a building next to the Old Mill is a popular restaurant with a rustic style. Classic home cooked style meals are served that includes the food traditions of the south. We dined on Rainbow Trout and with the meal came a corn soup, hushpuppies, and corn biscuits, salad, a choice of potatoes (I chose a baked sweet potato) and dessert. They are famous for their Pecan pies. All breads are made with flour and cornmeal ground in the mill. Good down south cooking can be eaten at the Old Mill Restaurant. http://www.old-mill.com

The Pottery House Cafe and Grille
Pottery House Café and Grille

Pottery House Café and Grille

Across the street from the Old Mill Restaurant is the more modern café. It has a menu ranging from full meals to hamburgers, as well as interesting takes on traditional foods such as deep fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. I dined on catfish with a jalapeno corn pudding for dinner. Desserts include traditional pies and all breads are baked using the cornmeal and flours milled at the Old Mill.


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