Appalachia Appalachian Food

Jerk Coffee

“One old man, now he was so stingy-this ain’t no joke; it’s a fact-he took coffee beans, and he dried ’em in the stove just about like you’d fix a peanut. Then he took a string and put a hole through several beans of the coffee, put the string through it. Wouldn’t let his wife bother it. Called it “jerk coffee.” Then, he’d hold the coffeepot lid up and hold these beans down in here on this string and let it stay so long. Then he’d jerk it out. Hang it up, let it dry, and use it again.  And that’s what’s called “jerk coffee.” I’d call it water.

It ain’t no joke. I’m a-tellin’ you the truth! Then they got to where they’d save the grounds. They’d buy ’em, make their coffee, and then they’d take ‘e out and put ’em on a board and let ’em dry. They they’d go back and make it again. Which it got very weak towards the last of it.

And that’s the way the thing went, just to tell you the truth. There was a lot of stuff then that people don’t fool with now.”

Stanley Hicks, 1911 Watauga County – “Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie” written by Patsy Moore Ginns


If that wasn’t enough coffee talk for you visit this post from the archives about saucering and blowing your coffee.


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  • Reply
    January 14, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Remember hearing old folks telling of parching acorns then grinding them to make coffee

  • Reply
    February 24, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Most Cracker Barrels make what I call “wave” coffee… …I think that they may have waved the coffee beans just over the top of the water between it and the steam coming off of it…. making jerk coffee a real strong like brew…

  • Reply
    February 21, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    I never learned to drink coffee – even thinned out or with cream and sugar added its just too bitter from me. This mightily worried my 4’10” great-grandmother. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was already 5’8″ (grew to 5’11” but with back and other bone problems I’m now down to 5’7″) – anyway – Granny was always trying to get me to drink coffee. She was such a quiet, sweet, and gentle lady but this not drinking coffee got to be to much for her. She got squarely in front of me, shook her finger under my nose, and in her Swiss-German accent very sternly said, “You MUST drink coffee. If you don’t you will be too tall to catch a man!!!”
    I did try but just couldn’t stomach the stuff. Granny kept after me. She died when I was a freshman in High School and just a few months after that I started dating. Actually my first date was with the man I married – at the time he had one inch on me. Wish Granny could have met him.

    another thought: Shirl mentioned “fixin” supper – we use that all the time. Also use “fixin’ our hair”. “Even worse” (according to a previous girlfriend of my youngest son), we talk about “fixin to get ready to”- leave, get dressed, repair something, tell a story, plant something . . . . Any body else?

  • Reply
    February 19, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    I’ve never heard of it, I’ve heard of Hobo coffee, I have drank coffee that tasted like stain water, no coffee flavor. No cream, no sugar for me, just straight up. Reminds me of one of the last times our Daughter was in the hospital, I had gone to the lobby to get a cup of coffee, they had one of those that had the little cups of coffee and you’d plug the thing in and it spit out coffee, and man that stuff would curl the eyebrows on a bat, one lady was making her some and after it got thru she took a sip and hollered, wow, that stuff so strong it make me drunk, I couldn’t drink mine for laughing.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Possibly out of necessity? Might have been fortunate just to have enough to afford the coffee beans?

  • Reply
    February 19, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    I went in the cafeteria at work one time and asked them if they could make me some coffee that was just a bit stronger than they usually made. “No problem, how much do you want?”
    “10 gallons.” I said.
    “What are you going to do with that much coffee?
    “Well if it is just a little stronger than what you serve, I can mix some chat in it and patch the holes in my driveway!
    After that I ducked and ran. Cooks often carry knives, forks and other dangerous weapons.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    February 19, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    It would be terrible to have to live this way. I can see where it would have been difficult in days gone by. Im thankful for the abundance of the good Arabica coffees we have now and the filtered water to brew it.!
    My Granny used to tell the story that her Mother told her about helping out a boarding house back in the mountains (I’m thinking about 1900 or so?) and this ‘traveling man’ sat his coffee cup on the floor one morning. When ask ”Mr Brown, why is your coffee on the floor’, he replied that ‘it was so weak he was afraid it would faint”.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I never heard of “jerk coffee”, but I’ve seen mama and daddy both saucered and blowed their coffee. I suppose it was habbit from the “depression days”. Daddy would take a cup of coffee, fresh from the
    pot, and put a heaping small spoonful of Instant Nescafe to strengthen it more. (as if it wasn’t strong enough.) Anyway, I always thought the saucer was in case you spilled some. …Ken

    • Reply
      Don Davidson
      January 15, 2019 at 11:15 am

      Ken, saucering and blowing go way back before the Depression era. I don’t think we really know how back it does go. Don

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 19, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Somewhere along in there seems like one might as well quit coffee altogether before nobody could tell the difference between it and plain water.

    I reckon there is no sharp bright line between being saving and being mean though.

    Reminds me of the saying, “He’s so tight that when he blinks his toes curl.”

  • Reply
    Marion Potts
    February 19, 2018 at 10:13 am

    My fatherinlaw drank one cup of coffee he said which is true but he would take a cup and put 3tablespoona of instant coffee and add hot water.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Daddy liked his coffee so strong, using the grounds twice would have been out of the question. I stumbled on a post yesterday that mentioned how southerners say things that outsiders would never understand. Fix was one of those words that has nothing to do with mending or repairing. I thought about Daddy asking Mommy to fix him a cup of coffee. I still say things like, I’ve got to get busy fixing supper.

  • Reply
    William Roy Pipes
    February 19, 2018 at 8:27 am

    My Father in Law just added coffee grounds into the pot until there was no room for water. His coffee was strong so I guess he spooned out some coffee grounds occasionally.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    February 19, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Never heard of jerk coffee but heard of a man who chewed his tobacco then dried it out and smoked it in his pipe.. Now that is the kind of person that would skin a gnat for it’s tallow.

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      February 19, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Ewwwww, now that’s tight…must not have been from baccer country…for there was always some to twist, smoke and or chew….

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 19, 2018 at 6:54 am

    I guess coffee was a rare and expensive quantity back in 1911 and people did what they could to stretch it as far as possible. It was an item that was not grown so had to be purchased. I’m also thinking that would be some weak coffee!
    Now we think nothing of buying a cup of coffee for $2 or more for specialty kinds and flavors.

    • Reply
      Martha Stevens
      August 20, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      My family has lived in Appalachia for 400 years (on the same land since 1780s). It is customary for children to start drinking coffee around age 10-12. Something I noticed when I ventured out into the world was that the coffee I was used to was much much weaker than coffee in other regions. The main reason for this is because in the past people of Appalachia had to be very very conservative with store bought goods, which were rationed by the government at times (such as during the depression era). I still prefer the mildest roast I can get and I use about half the grounds recommenced for brewing. I also recall that when I was growing up it was common to see ladies drinking coffee with a cup and saucer. They would pour a little coffee into the saucer and blow on it then drink from the saucer. I asked my grandmother why they drank coffee like this and she said it was for the purpose of cooling it down to a temperature comfortable to sip.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 19, 2018 at 6:47 am

    As I read your post this morning something sounded very familiar to me about the way folks fixed coffee. I wonder if this was during the depression. I’ve heard my parents and grandparents go on about using substitutes for coffee during the depression. Also stories of cutting back on the amount of grounds, reusing or double boiling to get out every bit of flavor .
    My Dad liked his coffee hot and strong. Mom liked hers drinkable on the first sip and very mild almost to the point of being able to see through it.
    Where have I heard the term I thought to myself?…Then like a voice way back in the corner of my mind, I could hear Dad yelling at Mom from the bedroom as she made coffee. “I don’t want no “jerk coffee” this morning! Like a lot of things I remember from childhood I never knew quite what he meant by saying jerk coffee. Mom never got mad at him for saying jerk coffee so she knew what it meant I suppose. She always said he drank too much hot coffee and too strong.
    Thanks for the memory,
    Great post…

  • Reply
    February 19, 2018 at 6:28 am

    There was many stories about “depression days” growing up I didn’t have to grow up in those days, as I heard plenty about it from my mom She said they never starved, but they had to work in the fields all day. She never liked to throw anything away which rubbed off on me a bit. My granddaughter simply calls me a hoarder, but I am doing better. Never in all those years did they scrimp on coffee, and it was considered a staple much like flour. We have a long line of dedicated coffee drinkers in the family. Once many years ago somebody I can’t recall repurposed the grounds, and it was not to my liking. It is a good kick starter for the day. Interesting story about that stingy old man. We would have called him tight, and then if he didn’t pay his share we would have said he was “down right stingy.”

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