Saturday, March 14, 2009

TEA ON THE MOUNTAIN AND HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST


Yesterday, temps on The Mountain hovered near 40 degrees, and a fine mist and rain fell most of the day. It could have been a gloomy time, but our long-time friend, Anne Boykin, invited us to have lunch with her in Tracy City to brighten the day. Tracy City is a small town at the end of a road that winds through the hills northeast of Sewanee and has lately become noted for its restaurant, “Tea On the Mountain.” The building that houses this eating place is a nondescript, white-plastered building with scant windows, and when we drove up and looked at the bland exterior, I thought “uh-oh.” However, we opened the door and stepped into a fine dining facility -- white linen table cloths, fine china and silver atop antique tables scattered through several rooms, the walls lined with regional art and sets of fine china displayed on tables in every room – some sets for sale, some on exhibit only.

We were served hot tea as soon as we sat down and given a menu that featured a range of entrees from crab cakes to quiche, with accompanying green salad and French bread. The appetizer was an almond-stuffed date wrapped with bacon, and the piece de resistance was a tiny chess pie for dessert. The owner came to our table and told us a story about the pie’s name being derived from the wife of Andrew Jackson referring, off-handedly, to her dessert as “jes pie.” “Tea on the Mountain” was a real dining experience on a cold March day in the hills of Tennessee, and the hospitality within the square white building made me ashamed that I had misjudged the restaurant on the basis of its exterior.

Anne, who is our food guide on The Mountain, could open a restaurant at Sewanee had she an envee to do so, which she doesn’t have. She’s one of Sewanee’s finest chefs and a model of southern hospitality. I’ve put my feet under her table many times, enjoying delectable dishes prepared according to directions from neatly typed recipes passed on to Anne by her mother, who lived on a huge farm near Murfreesboro.

When Anne and Elmer (former rector of Epiphany in New Iberia) lived in New Iberia, Anne hosted weekly church luncheons and dinners in her home, even outdoor “feeds” in the rectory’s side yard, such as the one she hosted when I left New Iberia for our sojourn in Iran during the late 70’s. At 80, Anne says she has retired, but she’s noted for providing food and shelter for people who come to The Mountain for brief stays and find “no room at the Inn.” Last summer when a Vietnamese student graduated, he invited his family (who spoke no English) to the Commencement and searched vainly for rooms to accommodate them. Anne opened her home to them, and says they parleyed quite well without either speaking the other’s language. The Vietnamese family’s favorite meal while staying with Anne was breakfast, my favorite meal at her table. They were served a Tennessee farm breakfast, complete with tiny homemade biscuits, grits, sausage…the full complement of breakfast fare.

I’ve threatened to publish the small book of Anne’s recipes taken from her mother’s repertoire, but she insists she has retired and her kitchen is closed –and she doesn’t want the publicity… until someone shows up and needs food and shelter, that is. One of the reasons we retired to The Mountain is that we anticipated everyone at Sewanee being as hospitable as Anne Boykin. However, she’s still undisputed #1 gracious hostess on The Mountain – or anywhere else she has lived in the South.
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