Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Food COVID-19

Vegetables and Hickory Chickens

tomato growing on vine

“Along with milk and eggs, vegetables were an integral part of our diet in the mountains. The vegetables most commonly used in our community were green beans, corn, potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes. We always had mustard and turnip greens, which we cooked and sometimes just ate raw. In the spring there was poke, the first green we looked for after frost had gone from the ground. Spring also brought us hickory chickens.

Hickory chickens were what we called the spring mushrooms named morels. Every April, Father went into the hills and gathered a bag of hickory chickens. I asked him why he called them hickory chickens and he replied because they tasted like chicken, only better, and he found them under hickory trees. In some parts of the mountains they are called dry-land fish and people insist they taste like oyster.”

—Sidney Saylor Farr – “More than Moonshine”


I’ve only seen one morel growing near here. It was way up the creek in an area we don’t go to much because it takes so long to get there. I’ve never heard them called hickory chickens, but I like the name.

COVID-19 has a lot of people contemplating planting their first garden. Maybe its because they have more time on their hands or perhaps its because they’re worried about food. Whatever the reason I wish them well and hope they are bitten by the gardening bug and continue to grow food for their families even when this is over.

I can’t remember not having access to garden food. Granny and Pap always grew a garden as did my Papaw and Mamaw. I’ve always known about growing a garden.

Just before the stay at home orders started a friend and I were talking about our gardens and how they might be needed more than ever this year. Each of said we were thankful our husbands are hunters.

Another friend who was nearby but not really part of the conversation said “My family never planted a garden and I’ve never been around a gun. Ever. I wouldn’t even know where to start trying to grow food.”

I felt sort of shocked by her statement. I was reminded of the time the girls brought home a girl from college for the weekend. The young girl went out into our garden and just stood there with a rapturous look on her face. She said she’d never seen a real garden.

I told my friend “All you have to do is google how to start a garden. You’ll find all kinds of information to help you get started. And even though I’m going to sound like I think I’m your momma, please learn about gardening and how to grow food it will serve you the rest of your life.”


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 20, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    I used to see morels all the time. I had no idea what they were. Now I know what they look like, I don’t see them anymore. I think they are kinda like ginseng, they hear you coming and hide.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    April 20, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    tipper you never fail to amaze me with your knowledge…mix it with humor and love…well that describes you….im so blessed to have found you all those years ago…you continue to teach us new things every time a new post arrives…thank you so much…sending love and prayers that you all are safe and well
    happy spring
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Good advice Tipper
    I think people are getting aware of not being able to go to the grocery store anytime and get what they want. It’s good to have a garden i think everyone should put a garden out that can. ( Fresh is Better) i would love to try those mushrooms that taste like chicken.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    April 20, 2020 at 11:57 am

    I used to grow vegetables in an area of my back yard and in planter boxes. Living in Hawaii, I could grow year-round. Okra does exceptionally well here. The state flower is the Hibiscus and okra is a close cousin to that plant. Alas, the Parkinson’s and Spinal Stenosis makes it difficult to carry items and maintain my balance. It is the produce section at the supermarket for me.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Seems like when I turn back those pages in my memory files, I see gardens galore. First picture comes to mind is seeing my grandmother with a big rim hat and my grandfather standing nearby as a mule driven plow turned over the ground in their garden in NE MS. Coming from farms, they always had a big garden. Then when I was a little girl growing up in a small Illinois town, my daddy had a vacant lot about a block from our house that he put a garden in and oh the wonderful tomatoes that came out of that garden. Later he built a house on a lot big enough to put in a garden in the backyard and again wonderful produce flowed from it. He was a bird and squirrel hunter too. Then when I got married my husband put in a garden and we tried to continue doing it. Now my son has brought in big planters that stand about to my waist and I can still plant tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, okra and little tommy toe tomatoes. He placed these planters near my back patio so I can just step out and pick whatever is ready. This son puts in his own garden in his yard and grew great big watermelons last year. My oldest son lives down south and he puts in a huge garden and has set up his own watering system which runs under ground and then comes up thru a little plastic pipe and sprays out. He has it on a timer. You can’t walk out in a garden and not get a smile on your face; that is, if you love to eat vegetables.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 20, 2020 at 10:52 am

    We always had a garden when I was growing up. Granny always had an orchard, too.

    Mama worked so hard to see that we had food on the table. She had to draw water up from the well to wash jars and vegetables but she did not falter. As kids will, we avoided helping whenever we could–something I feel guilty about till this day!! And she shared with many who otherwise would have gone without anything fresh.

    I am concerned about the available food supply & am glad to have the garden. We eat from it so much especially in summer. I plan on canning & freezing more this year, health permitting.

    We all love our vegetable garden although sometimes in picking time, I wish I’d never planted it!! Didn’t have a garden during the years I had a public job and really missed it.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    April 20, 2020 at 9:35 am

    My son-in-law is trying to learn to garden. His land stays so wet that I helped him put in raised beds this year since last year was a wash out. Last weekend the grand daughters (13 and 8) got out with an old push plow I gave him to use in the beds. He said they plowed and raked the beds and had a great day. He said he is going to make sure they help with the planting. What a wonderful learning lesson.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    April 20, 2020 at 9:11 am

    We used to have those mushrooms once in a while. They were as scares as hen’s teeth where I was raised because everyone was harvesting them; therefore, we considered them a delicacy. My Dear Mother rolled them in cornmeal and fried them. Another thing we rolled in cornmeal and fried was pumpkin bloom. Sounds strange, but they had the same taste as fried squash. The pumpkin blooms were gathered early in the morning while they were still delicate and fresh.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 20, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Dry land fish is what I hear them called. I haven’t checked yet but did have some growing over in the holler last year but not enough for a mess.
    My closest neighbor who hasn’t raised a garden in years is putting in one this year. He also is digging holes for more blueberries and fruit trees. Have never seen him work so hard. I suspect too, that they will be more people raising gardens this year.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 8:48 am

    A few years ago, the deer ate nearly every young plant in my garden. The first thing I thought was what my parents would have done if that had happened to their garden when they were raising a family. I’m glad I was taught how to plant, hoe, harvest and preserve the vegetables when I was young. The morels grow here on the farm, but I have heard they look like another mushroom that is dangerous to eat so I never hunt them.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 20, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Well, culture shock is not always of theirs about us. Never a garden and never around a gun, mercy.

    Starting a garden is like genealogy, there should be a warning beforehand that it may not be possible to quit. I am a chronic case I reckon. I have lived without one where I had no choice. But Lord willing I can keep one now.

    Like you, I hope there are many good changes that come out of this trouble. More gratitude, closer family ties and home gardens could be three of those.

    I have not found any morels in a long time but they are a very fun thing to hunt, and very tasty. I have heard they are in Georgia but I have never found them here. It is like hunting ginseng. You don’t see them and don’t see them until you see the first one. Then you start seeing them. I think it is called ‘pattern recognition’ when the eye and mind are in agreement. Without it, we ‘see’ without knowing we have seen.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 20, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Tipper–I strongly suspect you’ve been around far more morels than the one you’ve actually seen. They are camouflaged quite well against the forest floor and finding them is in part a knack of knowing what to look for and where to look. I have a goodly number of them on a piece of property I own here in upstate S. C., but I’ve found them over a fairly widespread swath of the country from the Carolinas and Virginia to Iowa and Missouri. Virtually all finds were in connection with spring turkey hunting or trout fishing, and a mess of morels and fried wild turkey tenders go together in fine fashion. Possibly even better are fried trout, morels, and ramps. Br’er Don and I had just such a feast with Ken Roper at his shop over Topton way a few years ago. I’m sending a couple of photos separately.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    April 20, 2020 at 7:42 am

    “Daffodil bulbs are Narcissus and jonquils are Narcissus. The overall scientific name is Narcissus and covers over 13,000 hybrids of both daffodil bulbs and jonquils.”

    Read more at Gardening Know How: What Is The Difference Between Daffodil, Jonquil And Narcissus

    Well, that certainly makes it clear as mud, doesn’t it!

    Here at my homeplace in the Uwharrie Mountains springs brings out Mom’s yellow daffodils first, then in the past week or so the white narcissus and her iris. Mom and Dad are gone along with the house I was born in, but I built here in 1977 after coming from from the service. I think of her as I look around the yard each spring, and wonder if any of my children or grandchildren will ever love this place as much as I do.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 7:13 am

    Yea, it’s the whole give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish, you feed him his whole life, scenario.
    This whole situation we are all involved in, not a choice of our own I might add, has changed folks way of thinking forever, we will never go back to the way some things are looked at again. Did God allow this to happen for a reason? I’ll not answer that, it’s up to you to decide, but our lives are forever changed in one way or another. Life is precious to him, born or unborn.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 6:38 am

    I don’t think those hickory chickens were common in my area. Even though ATVs have become popular for exploration of our mountains, my Dad was old fashioned and used an old farm use only 4W Drive for rambling about. Chances are any visit would include a ride in that old truck as he pointed out any rare finds such as Chinquepin trees and Yellowroot, but never once did he mention nor identify a morel. Other than reading the Blind Pig, I cannot think of anything that would take away the thoughts of these troublesome days like a ride around the mountain in that old truck. Fried mushrooms do taste a bit like an oyster, and I have found them as a great replacement due to dietary limitations.
    I had to smile about the young lady who stood in awe at your garden. The one year my garden got away from me and became covered in tall weeds I received an unexpected visitor. A young lady was looking at a vacant house next door and came rushing over exclaiming, “Oh what a beautiful garden.” I did not have the heart to tell her it was a weed patch, so she went on her way thinking she had just seen a garden. My adorable niece ran through my garden once when she was about seven years of age. I admonished her loudly to not run through the garden. Still running, she hollered back, What’s a garden?” That same niece helped me dig potatoes later like a pro. She and I also planted all the flowers a couple of times in the front of our church.

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