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Wednesday, 24 August 2011 12:40

Oliver deserves more credit for his writing skills

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I started to write this column about Duane Oliver before I discovered that he has just published what he tells me is his “last cookbook.” We’ll see. This one is titled The North Shore Cookbook. It is a follow-up to Cooking on Hazel Creek and Cooking and Living Along the River. All are about cooking on the “north shore” of Lake Fontana in the present day Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Duane grew up on Hazel Creek, the largest watershed on the North Carolina side of the Smokies. After retiring as a professor of art history at Western Carolina University, he followed his mother’s suggestion to write about family and regional history. Many of the recipes in this new book date from the early 1900s or are “later variations” of those cooked along the Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee rivers before they were dammed to form the lake. If something can be boiled, baked, fried, stewed, simmered, sliced, diced, cubed, or whatever, there’s a good chance there’s a recipe for it in The North Shore Cookbook. For good measure, there are also mini-treatises on rolled oats and the Quaker Mill Company; self-rising flour; raising hogs; chickens that hid their nests in the woods; and similar topics. The spiral-bound 272-page text is available at local bookstores or can be ordered directly from Duane Oliver, 558 Westwood Circle, Waynesville, N.C., 28786. Call him at 828.456.8289 to iron out the details.

We now return to the point of the original column, which was that Duane is undervalued as a writer. His magnum opus, Hazel Creek From Then Till Now, is always cited as a source for regional topics. Therein, he covers every aspect of domestic life from building a cabin to springhouses, corn cribs, barns, fences, spinning wheels, cupboards, and so on.

But the quality of Duane’s writing is never mentioned when Western North Carolina writers like Mooney, Kephart, Wolfe, Ehle, Morgan, Frazier, Rash, Byer, Crowe, et al, are being considered. Duane can really write. This was brought home to me yet again by a memoir I recently chanced upon that he wrote about country stores for the Spring 1996 issue of the “Fontana North Shore Historical Association Bulletin.” Therein Duane captures the essence of those things that trigger memories of days gone by. Some excerpts:

My childhood memory of stores at Judson, Fontana and Proctor is that they were good places to buy a ‘dope’ … usually an icy cold Orange Crush … Those old general stores had a certain distinct smell, not the antiseptic, air-conditioned smell of today’s stores. Your nostrils were assailed with the pungent smell of onions, the dusty smell of potatoes that still had a little dirt clinging to them, the cool, spicy smell of apples from far-off places packed in bushel baskets with narrow strips of blue tissue paper, the acrid smell of kegs of nails, the sharp smell of unwrapped bars of soap guaranteed to produce the whitest sheets ever hung on a clothes line, the warm summery smell of towsacks full of cottonseed hulls, and best of all to a child the sweet smell around the drink box where emptied bottles stood in cases waiting for the Nehi truck from Bryson City to take them away and chase off the hungry yellow jackets that always buzzed around the bottles ...

In the middle of the floor was a big pot-bellied stove with a long stovepipe going up into the darkness through the roof … On cold days the stove roared contentedly as it was fed coal or wood, and ‘tramped snow’ with a funny chuffing sound when a snowstorm was coming. It was especially comforting to scrooch up to the stove and warm frozen backsides or put your shoes against it until you smelled rubber starting to melt ...

Candy, a child’s delight, could be bought in bars for a nickel … horehound drops, orange wax candy glistening with sugar, peanut-shaped mallows, gumdrops, and long black licorice sticks whose taste was exotic and not especially good, but a stick lasted for a long time for it didn’t melt in your mouth … candy cigarettes whose ends were red and we held them nonchalantly as if they were real until they melted and we ate them.

These stores not only sold dopes, candy, cloth, thread, needles, shoes, overalls, work shirts, shotgun shells, soap, farm supplies, soda crackers, matches, kerosene (coal oil), pencils, ink (when did you lat see a bottle of it?), dishes, canned goods, and lard, but flour in cotton sacks that when they were washed could be made into all sorts of things … dresses (if you could get two with the same flour pattern), blouses, shirts, bloomers, as well as aprons and curtains …

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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