Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Grabbling New Taters

Grabble potatoes

grab, grabble, gravel verb
To dig up with the hands, esp a potato early in the season, and smooth back the dirt around the plant to leave it intact.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 293-94 To “grabble ‘taters” is to pick from a hill of new potatoes a few of the best, then smooth back the soil without disturbing the immature ones. 1969 GSMNP-38:106 They’d plant a few rows of early potatoes to grabble out. 1977 Hamilton Mountain Memories 33 Papa’s big potato patch was outside the garden and we were not to “grabble” there, for he said it kept the plants from producing big potatoes. 1980 Brewer Hit’s Gettin’ In east Tennessee, a few people still “grabble” for new potatoes. A few others “grabble” for fish under rocks and stream banks. 1981 Brewer Wonderment 92 What Lucinda calls “grannying” is called “grabbling” in some quarters. 1990 Oliver Cooking Hazel Creek 13 Everyone looked forward to new potatoes which, as soon as they had matured sufficiently were “grabbled” out of the ground and then boiled in their jackets until tender; a gravy of flour & milk was then made in the water & the potatoes cooked & served in this. 1995 Montgomery Coll. Grab, Grabble = to grab a few potatoes without disturbing the plant (Cardwell).

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


How to grabble potatoes

A few weeks ago, Granny sent me down to the garden to grabble her out some new potatoes. We haven’t been planting potatoes for the last couple of years, but The Deer Hunter wanted to give them a try again this year-so we have 2 long rows of potatoes in the big garden.

Grabbling early potatoes

I was able to grabble a small bucket of potatoes for Granny. Chitter came a long to document the process with her camera. I think she did a pretty good job.


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  • Reply
    spezhull ed
    July 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    i plaint mi taters ever yer jus like b.ruth sez onlee i dig a trench on down to the house an when thays reddy i just move the block an run em rite in two the seller
    thets kinda how i do mi chikins two i got a too inch pipe run in the kichen winder when u here a hen kakel u better head fur the kichen er u’ll have agg on the flore

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    I forgot to tell you the reason I don’t fry my new taters whole like B. Ruth. If you leave them whole, you have to chase them around the plate so long they are cold before you can get them in your mouth. Same with peas, I put them in a bowl and melt some cheese over them to glue them together. That would work for taters too but it would take way too much cheese!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I know, I’ve been on here ’bout all day.
    However, we come in from the big garden about an hour or so ago. I hadn’t been down there lately, it’s a trip for me at the end of the day especially. I wanted to see all the winter squash, okra, potato vines, beans etc.
    Roy said, “I’m worried about these taters, and said that he heard that when the vines stay so pretty and green this late into the season, showing no sign of dying, that there’s a good chance that the potato’s aren’t making too good! Have you ever heard this? Our red potatoes in the front small garden have already died and Roy pulled them/dug a couple of weeks ago. Of course the front garden is a lot sunnier, dryer and hotter…so don’t know about that!
    As for that Winter Squash, I guess I will have to go to the farmers market to rid myself of it. The bad day and good day just took off what come up and I think more come up than we thought. Good thing it all didn’t come up, for we planted a lot of seed.
    I can’t wait to try that savory Pink Jumbo banana squash, it’s a big’un too. I’ve cooked one of the Thelma’s Sanders Sweet Potato squash, fine taste for a squash. The cushaws are huge. I think some the Thelma’s are ready to pick, but after researching, I decided to try to wait until close to the first frost.
    Put another 120 Roma tomatoes in my son’s dehydrator. Brought in a peck of small round tomatoes off just two vines bought in SC…Was told they were meaty paste tomatoes…
    Mother Nature has been working overtime with sun and rain here this year.
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I counted my gourds today. Would you believe even with the deer eating on them I have at least 15 dipper gourds. I know there are some hidden. Most are long handles. A couple of lolly-wapus ones, fat all the way down like an oversized zucchini. They have mostly stopped blooming now. I noticed a few of the babies have turned brown and shriveled on the ends. I count those out due to the rain. Just hope all the rest do well. I’m in a gourd painting mood!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 24, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    I took a cravin’ for some ‘new’
    taters and grabbled about a dozen
    for supper. This was over a month
    ago, but the taste hadn’t changed.
    My granddaughters love new taters
    so I gotta be ready when they come
    in and dig ’em a few boxes…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I love me some grabbled new potatoes. I like them cooked until tender then “thickened.” Salt them a little and pepper them a lot. Then grab a big spoon and dive in.
    Best of all I like them like B.Ruth only I cut them in half before I boil them. I put them in the pan cut side down and fry them until that side is golden brown then flip them over and flatten them as flat as I can get them without overcrowding the pan. When that side is brown I sprinkle them with salt and pepper and maybe some shredded cheese.
    PS: If you bend your spatula handle too much trying to flatten them, grease the bottom of a drinking glass or coffee mug and use that so you can throw your weight into it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 24, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Oh me, here we go…
    My better half who is from Alabama said and swears…his Granddaddy planted taters this way.
    Dig your ditch on a 70 degree angle slope. Put a cinder block crossways on the lower end of the ditch. Place potatoes about 12 inches apart the entire length of the ditch. Cover with a
    good layer of straw ( 3/4 of the depth of the ditch), and then fill the remainder with dirt. Once the potato vines have matured and died, remove the cinder block and catch the potatoes in a bushel basket as they roll down the hill out of the ditch…
    Be careful to avoid injury if you have an extremely large harvest!
    This would be interesting to plant taters on a good day sign and a bad day sign just to see how many baskets one could fill
    here in Appalachia!….Next year please try this and let me know the results!
    Thanks Tipper for the space for posting Roy’s comments!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 24, 2014 at 10:22 am

    and referring to Dolores’s comment.
    Yes, you generally wait until the vines die to dig potatoes.
    Grabbling was told to me this way many a year ago and heard the term all my life! Dad said, folks just couldn’t stand the secret the vines held underground. So the nosy farmer, probably after a long lean spring, he/she just had to check on the taters. Remember that potatoes should be hilled (dirt pulled up to the plant) as they grow. The farmer would take to the garden his most precious tool, his hands and start digging easing into and down the side of that hill under the plant to check out how the little miracles were growing and if there were some present. All along trying not to disturb the plant roots too much. As he was probably hungry and had fresh onions maybe some peas or beans and as one or two just fell off in his hands while digging he took them to the house. Not of course wanting them to waste. They were so good, he went back for more. Remembering this the next year he did the same thing. And that is how my Dad said grabbling began, and he was from ‘baccer country Mars Hill NC.
    Thanks Tipper,
    I just wanted to ‘splain what I remembered about grappling!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    July 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

    This year seems to be a better year than last for root crops. I grabbled a couple of messes last week and they are approx. 3 inches already, this is larger than they grew last year and sweet potatoes were just strings last year so I skipped them this year. I love “New Potatoes” boiled then browned in butter with salt, black pepper and paprika.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Mom would gravel new taters for supper every day and still have tons left to mature and hold up for winter. She made a tater and gravy dish that was delicious served with cornbread. Most of the time the tender potatoes were scrubbed and added whole to a pot of green beans.
    I haven’t raised potatoes in years. Maybe I should raise some to sell. If I could get half the price Kroger is charging for a one pound bag of new potatoes I’d be happy.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    July 24, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Grabble is a new one to me. Mama never grabbled taters. Instead she said scratch out. Daddy loved a meal with only tater soup and cornbread. I don’t know if the Irish heritage of many mountain folk left a lingering love of potatoes. I do know that I’ve seldom tasted a version of cooked taters that I didn’t like.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 24, 2014 at 9:05 am

    I love this word, it defines the action perfectly! Wish I had some of those new taters.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Okay, another new gardening term for me. I thought one had to wait until the plant died before pulling up the potatoes. I guess grappling might be a more gentle process. Interesting terminology! I must share with my neighbor who planted potatoes for me as an experiment.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 8:25 am

    I recall graveling potatoes out of the side of the hill, and my Mother made a wonderful creamed new potatoes. We referred to this as gravelling them. They were small and had to be scraped. My Grandson once found this exciting, but now has other interests. I fear I will be speaking an unknown language around my kin soon when I try to discuss graveling potatoes, cushaws, or watching the signs to pickle beans. Thank goodness for The Blind Pig, as it keeps me grounded in the interest I love best–all things Appalachia.
    This has been a wonderful year for potatoes, and I suppose it may be the dry weather.
    Tipper, I have found it is sometimes better to get on later, as I very much enjoy comments from your regulars. I especially would like to join Muss Cindy in singing your praises. When I was younger I could barely wear all the hats, and something was always neglected. You do well, but in all fairness, you seem to have a great deal of cooperation from your family.
    I will stray off the subject a bit to say that squash, cucumbers, greens, potatoes, and beans are doing excellent. I am fighting tomato blight with a vengeance. I quit planting corn a few years ago, as I got tired of feeding the crows.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 24, 2014 at 8:17 am

    If the timing worked just right and if Mother Nature worked her miracles just right, then fresh shelled English Peas, spring onions and those little grabbled potatoes landed in a pot on our stove. How I love me some grabbled potatoes. We grabbled red ones this year and a few white. No peas this year! Wash those little fellers under running water real good and the skins will nearly wash right off of new potatoes. What little skin is left, I just leave on, then cook. Sometimes with new potatoes, I just boil til barely tender, pour off the water, put me some (I know, I don’t want to hear about the fat) butter or margarine in the pan to sizzle, add the potatoes, let them roll around in the pan til they brown good all over, add a touch of salt, pepper and smoked paprika…Yum, so good! I could eat a few with scrambled aigs this mornin’!
    I say Tipper, unless my eyes are off, and it is a possibility, those taters look a bit big for grabbling, I mean they almost look ready to dig. Our vines (white) are still green too. It may be quite a while before they die yet! Looks like you’all are gonna have a nice crop of taters! We already dug our red taters. We didn’t plant many reds this year, so didn’t get many and only grabbled once early on.
    Now Cindy, that’s a tater grabbling outfit if I ever did see one. Tipper sure does fill her life and many others with her many hats.
    Great post Tipper, potato, two potato, three potato…more!

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    July 24, 2014 at 7:56 am

    My Daddy always said gravel some potatoes. They were so yummy. My Mom would cook them with either fresh picked peas or green beans. And always a little salt pork added. I have a nice patch of potatoes growing but haven’t tried to gravel any yet. Barbara

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 24, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Yep, I know about grabbling new potatoes. It was a long handled kitchen fork that the Deer Hunters Grandmother Lura used. She would stick it the side of the hill till she felt it hit a potato and she’d pull it out. Removing the potatoes that way didn’t disturb the other potatoes growing in the hill so they could continue growing till tater digging time.
    Chitter did a fine job of documenting the trip to the garden! I especially like the back shot of you in your red socks, green pants, and blue shirt heading to the garden with the digger across your shoulder.
    I wonder sometimes if your bloggers realize how many hats you wear….wife, mother, employee, gardener, blogger, cook, teacher, historian, social media specialist, housekeeper, artist, crafter, and the list just keeps going on…..I marvel at you, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    July 24, 2014 at 7:08 am

    I had forgotten about saying that! We always said gravel out some new potatoes.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 5:58 am

    Daddy use to plant taters, we always enjoyed when he’d plow them up, we would see who could find the biggest tater.. Our house was higher on the front than the back and he had a shelve built with concrete blocks, wood frame and 1/4in mesh wire for a wrack under the floor, where they would keep during winter, he’d cover them with pickling lime, we’d have taters all winter…

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