Appalachian Dialect

How Big Is A Mess?

A mess of beans

In the last week, a few Blind Pig readers have been wondering exactly how big a mess of something is? A mess is enough for a meal. Here is a portion of what the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has to say about the word mess in regards to food:

A noun
1 A collection or portion, esp of meat, sufficient for a meal.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 98 I ‘low I done growed a bit, after that mess o’ meat. 1937 Hall Coll. Cosby TN The bear killed lots of stock. He wouldn’t eat but two messes out of a big’un and then kill him anothern’n (Neil Phillips) 1940 Haun Hawk’s Done 112 I started that day I sent her up yonder to Arwood’s branch to pick a mess of wild sallet.

I’m most familiar with using the word mess in regards to describing a quantity of vegetable or a quantity of fish that is sufficient for a meal.


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  • Reply
    Rochele Royster
    March 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Creasy greens a wild plant high in vitamin A and C. Super yummy with a minty taste. Google it. Also, a mess….just enough for a meal.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Tammy-thank you for the comment! Adding a T to words is fairly common in Appalachia. Along with the sallet you mentioned I’ve also heard onct for once and acrosst for across and there are others : ) If you follow this link you can learn more about creasy greens: 
    Have a great evening!

    • Reply
      Dina Allison
      July 14, 2018 at 3:54 am

      I live in Alabama and I’m very southern in everything I do my habits ,hobbies personality and speech but my speech has either evolved or advanced I’m not sure which . the older generation to me used er on the end of about every word . I can remember my mama would call us in for a number of reasons and when she called me it was always reallyg loud and drawn out. I can hear mama right now like I did when I was 5. It was always DEEEE NERRRR and I’ve never done that unless I’d be Reminiscing about old times and then examine them that my grandma would in an endearing way and an endearing way and I’m very southern,very country and to top it all off I’m a percent country Tomboy and I nerves add elongated ER everyone’s name . Just wanted to share that thank you for letting me God bless.

      • Reply
        July 16, 2018 at 10:24 am

        Dina-thank you for the comment! Adding an er to a name is really common in my area of Appalachia. Ida becomes Ider and Zelma becomes Zelmer. I said it was really common, I should have said it was really common in days gone by. You don’t hear it near as much today 🙂

        • Reply
          Tamara Henderson
          March 23, 2021 at 2:57 pm

          Where I come from in West Virginia, it was common to put ie on the end of a word or name that ended in A. For example, Bertha became Berthie and soda became sodie. We had an elderly lady that lived next door to us. Her name was Stella, but mom called her Stellie 🙂

      • Reply
        July 29, 2019 at 5:24 pm

        I grew up just outside of Nashville. One of my teachers always called me “Brender”.

  • Reply
    January 4, 2017 at 2:30 am

    Howdy folks! I was raised by my grandmother’s sister who did a lot of gardening and canning for the winter. She used the phrase “mess o’ beans” and cooked polk sallet (but in hind sight I think it really was supposed to be “salad” and people from the old south pronounced it in a way that came out as “sallet” so it got passed down that way. Does anyone know for sure? Also, does anyone know what creases/creeses are (not sure of the spelling)? I can remember her picking a mess of those creeses found growing wild. I was very young so I just remember they were some kind of greens that grew close to the ground sometimes near creeks or at least that’s where she picked them. Sometimes she would mix them with other greens to make a mess for supper. I sure would like to know what they really were/are. Bless her soul. She passed away when I was only 21 so I didn’t have her around to remind me of these things later on in my life or to be my motherly influence as an adult but I have such fond memories of the way she would talk and how she lived the old ways of living and used the old timey phrases like “I think I’ll set a spell to git rested up” and others. This site is a good reminder of my childhood with her. Anyway, if anyone knows the answers to my questions, I’d love to know. Thanks! 🙂
    Have a blessed day!
    NE Georgia

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 31, 2014 at 4:09 am

    Jim apparently didn’t go back to check, but the answer to his question was, as b ruth suggested, cucumbers. That bit of wisdom came from our father who refused to eat them, saying he wasn’t about to eat something that even a pig wouldn’t.

    • Reply
      Brenda Hofsommer
      August 21, 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Watercress .. grows mainly near creek beds.. hence cresses

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Depends upon one’s opinion, and also, I’m thinking, where one grew up.
    For instance, many would call some rooms in my house a mess although I find them comfortable and happen to like ’em that way. While for others, a mess means disarray, and for others it means enough for at least one to consider it a meal or part of one.
    Funny how some words work that way, isn’t it.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    July 30, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Love the conversation about how to define a “mess.” Just today had something I never tried before — sweet potato butter. Scrumptious! Anybody have a recipe? I’d like to try to make some.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    How are your Gypsy Peppers growing? I so hope your peppers do well, I think you will love them like we do.
    Ours aren’t not doing so well just yet, our tomatoes took over and made a bit of shade. They look better now.
    Cooked that mess of Okry for supper…stewed with ripe tomatoes out of the garden and homemade butter. Corn on the cob, fresh! For meat…a thick sliced country beef bologna sandwich, with onion, mustard, mayo, mater and lettuce…cut in half…
    That is a country supper!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    July 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I have never understood the quantity of a “mess.” Mama would go into the garden and say, “I picked a ‘mess’ of beans for supper.” The neighbor would drop off a bushel basket of tomatoes and she would say “Richard dropped off a ‘mess’ of ‘maters.” I’m still confused.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 30, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I’m very familiar with the term. Last week we had a mess of squash and I ate a bait of it!! My definition would be to have enough for ever how many folks that are going to be eating it.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    A “pot” of dried beans or fresh beans except for green beans which were a “mess”. Corn was a “mess” & when we were kids a mess was a gigantic soup pot full–I was amazed when my SIL said they had to break ears in half as no one would eat a whole one.
    Ruth, I slice & dry okra & it is good to drop a handful in soup & also cooked with canned tomatoes.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Misspell on Product and Cucumbers…my correction thingy isn’t working on this new computer, but could be operator error!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    and Jim…I just come back in here after washing a mess of squash…Will it never end! LOL
    Your question stirred up memories in my mind. My Grandma and Aunt kept a huge hog out below the crop of the barn. We would take that old boy food when we were kids, as well as going with her to slop the hog. It was a big one and in a few months would become ham and bacon. My Aunt would not feed her hog onions unless they were cooked in stuffing or other meal prouct. She swore her hog or any hog she ever had would not eat “CUMCUMBERS”! Now then I never tried to feed it anything but what she said I could feed it. Mainly stealing corn out of the corn crib to get it up to the trough so we could look it over and listen to it rout around in the pen. Oh boy, those were the good ole days. I wish we had one on foot down by the edge of the woods fattening up for winter!
    Thanks Tipper,
    I am anxious to hear what veggie his hogs wouldn’t eat!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    For supper night before last, since I had the door thumbolted, I had a mess of native Rainbows and White Runners with a big ole tomato. Took me awhile to get over it.
    And Jim, I grew up on a place where daddy had 58 sows and 6 Registered Bores. They won’t eat POLK SALAT…(after it’s boiled
    a couple of times and fried with
    Scrambled eggs, it’s good.)…Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Wren
    July 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Pigs won’t eat pickles cause they smell like their feet?

  • Reply
    Carolyn Hunt
    July 30, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I grew up with the term mess as in picking a mess of beans and “sallet” aka turnip greens,collards greens & my favorite polk sallet.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    July 30, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I always thought of mess as enough of anything that you would care to eat. A bait in my terms is enough and then some of something to eat. Almost a gorge of something.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

    A mess is one meal; for a person, for a family or an army. A mess is what’s left after my wife cooks.
    Question for Jim Casada: Do corn cobs count as a vegetable?

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 10:27 am

    My Mother (the eldest of 8) and her just younger brother and her parents used this term frequently, so I heard it all my life. The younger siblings did not, nor did we. I think my Dad did,
    as well. I always equated it with ‘a gob’. She would also say ‘bait’, as in, ‘He eat a bait ‘o them black-eyed peas.’

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I know “mess” as related to vegetables, beans, & greens, of any kind;when serving family style fried chicken, shrimp, gumbo, hot dogs, at a fish boil – usually referring to finger foods; a military meal; anything untidy – particularly when children are involved as with any room they’ve been playing in, kids making mud pies, or a rug rat/toddler and the area surrounding these tots in a high chair when said little ones are learning to feed themselves!

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 9:48 am

    This post deserves an “Oh my goodness.” It reminds me of my Mom who was always cooking or giving away a mess of green beans.
    Also, Jim Casada has stirred up an almost forgotten memory. I guess I get my Country girl award from him, as I certainly made sure no onions in the scraps or in that hog chop (what my Dad called that sack of Hog feed). I always hated feeding the pigs as they would become anxious and spatter food all over me with their heads. Wonder if any of your readers had tattle tail pigs who would squeal into the night if a young and forgetful child forgot to feed them?

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Now I know why those two teenage boys helping with the storm cleanup looked at me funny when I told them I was going to try to pick a mess of beans before it got dark.
    I’m still scratching my head over Jim’s question. I’m going to guess it’s onions they won’t eat.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    July 30, 2014 at 9:19 am

    A mess always means vegetables when I cook. My Lincoln County native mother only used the term when she cooked greens. I’ve used it most of my life to describe many vegetables. When I cook dried beans I say a pot of pintos (or whatever type.) To me a mess means enough deliciousness to reheat for another meal.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 30, 2014 at 8:51 am

    The description in the Dictionary of Smoky Mt English is exactly the use that I’ve always heard and used myself.
    Of course a mess of ramps that is sufficient for a couple of folks is not the same quantity as a mess of ramps for a half dozen.
    But a mess of ramps, eaten raw by one person, is more than enough to empty a roomful of people who didn’t have a mess themselves.
    Mess is a very flexible word.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 30, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Tipper–My experience in the use of mess pretty much parallels yours–“Momma fixed a nice mess of squirrels,” “I caught a fine mess of trout,” or “I need to get out in the garden and pick a mess of beans.”
    However, I’ve also heard it used in a slightly different context, such as “He stirred up a mess of pure misery when he got into that hornet’s nest.”
    Jim Casada
    P. S. while you are on a vegetable kick, here’s a one-question quiz which will tell readers just how country they are. If you know the answer, you can proudly wear the “Pure Country” label. Now the question:
    What is the one vegetable a pig won’t eat?

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Mess has always been a military setting for eating. A mess us when I try to do something and have everything all over the place including a craft project or having some friends over for a social time. I am still learning some new NC uses. Happy day and make sure you have a delicious mess.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I only recall hearing ‘mess’ used when referring to a ‘mess o’ beans’which I still say out of habit/tradition when cooking up a big pot full. Wonder if that has any connection to ‘mess hall’?

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    July 30, 2014 at 7:52 am

    My neighbor was very generous with my mess of beans. I got at least three meals out of them.

  • Reply
    jane bolden
    July 30, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Always heard mess used that way but didn’t kow exactly what it meant.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 30, 2014 at 7:22 am

    We pick a mess of beans, catch a mess of fish, or even eat a mess of green.
    I have always thought of a mess as just a bit more than needed for a meal so to have leftovers

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 30, 2014 at 6:09 am

    I couldn’t see where my comment posted yesterday or last night. So I will comment about my new trial produce today.
    I hope to get a mess of Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumbers (Melothria scabra) before frost. 65 to 75 days to make on tiny fragile vines that should be trellised. They can be pickled but have a sweet taste and then a sour pickled taste. Supposed to fall off the vines when ripe. They look like miniature watermelons only about 1 to 2 inches long. You can google them to see pictures. I planted them late, but they like the warm weather, compost and weekly water.
    I also am waiting on a small black/purple tomato…but not sure it will make a mess or even one…
    I found a recipe in a new book recently purchased for that Pink Jumbo Banana Squash from Sow True seeds. So let my garden bring them on…LOL
    This new book I found has recipes for every vegetable imaginable.
    Roy come in with another mess of okry. I saw some dried at Muddy Pond yesterday. I wanted to try a pack and see how I liked them. It appeared that they or someone had sprinkled on some type of salt and seasoning as they dried. I supposed you would eat them like stick okry candy pods…weird, I know! Pricy at 6.25 for a package of okra pods…so I may try to dry some in the pod just for fun, They must blanch them first so they will hold the green color, then let them dry off and put them in the dehydrator.
    Thanks Tipper,
    I got to get a mess of this antiquely stuff ready for the 127 Worlds Longest Yard Sale that starts next Thursday week.

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