Monday, June 9, 2014

AN "AHNVEE" FOR PEACHES

Woodbridge Inn, Jasper, Georgia
When most people get an "ahnvee" (Cajun term designating "longing for") for a certain food to eat, they drive down to the supermarket or convenience store, perhaps search out a Farmer's Market nearby to satisfy their ahnvee.  However, we've been known to develop a yen for peaches during a summer afternoon in New Iberia, Louisiana and drive four hours to Ruston, Louisiana, arriving after dark to book a room, then getting up at daybreak to search for a fruit stand.  A few hours later, we were back on the road with a truckload of peaches, feeling smug because we had gotten our "satisfied."

Nowadays, we just pack up and travel over to north Georgia, a little over two hours away from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, and spend the night and part of the next day searching for peaches near Ellijay, Georgia.  This week-end, the ahnvee, which is second cousin to "senescht" (a kind of mystical longing for something and a word closer to nostalgia in meaning) overtook me, and we set out for Jasper, Georgia, a town of approximately 4,000, near Ellijay.  I'd never been to Jasper and was skeptical about its attractions, but I was pleasantly surprised to visit one of those small town America sites that was not only near peach suppliers, it offered European fare at the famous Woodbridge Inn and a community theater called the Tater Patch Players that promised a Sunday matinee we decided we couldn't miss. 
Block of marble on
Woodbridge Inn lawn

Jasper is the home of marble mines now owned by Polycor that were developed in 1844 by Samuel Tate who mined a rich vein seven miles long and 1/2 mile wide with a depth of 2,000 feet.  A mansion in town still attests to the wealth he accrued from marble that has been used to construct the New York Stock Exchange annex, the Lincoln Memorial, the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland and other notable buildings in the U.S. Many of the buildings and places of business in Jasper have a chunk of the beautiful marble in their yards that enhance the beauty of this clean, charming town.

The Woodbridge Inn, established in 1880, is situated on a site that was once the place of worship for Cherokee Indians who held prayer sessions at sunrise and viewed Sharptown Mountain while chanting their prayers. The first inn on the site was built in 1844 and offered hospitality to some of the early governors and other government officials.

The present Woodbridge Inn was purchased by Joe and Brenda Rueffert in 1976 and has been featured on CNN and the Food Network, in Southern Living and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Hans Rueffert, the chef, caters to varied appetites, including those of vegans and others who need gluten-free fare. Of German lineage, Hans offers special dishes like Champignon Schnitzel and Kase Spatzle, and we savored the house mustard-tarragon vinaigrette salad dressing. We ate at a table in a dining area near a large picture window that overlooked a herb garden and enjoyed the view, as well as the laughter of satisfied customers dining at two tables in our cozy corner. Although Hans, the chef, has undergone major surgery on his stomach and esophagus, he still enjoys cooking and serving excellent cuisine. In May, he led a tour called "Food and Flowers" to the heart of the Julian Alps, a trip that featured three cooking classes, nature walks, and dinners in Italy, Austria and Slovenia.

Near Ellijay, we found peach satisfaction in the R&A Orchards—but the peaches had been shipped from south Georgia since much of the crop in the R&A Orchards hadn't been picked, and some of it had been destroyed during the freeze this winter. The clerk who sold us a basket of the delicious fruit told us that the biggest threat to crops in the area is hail, which is frequently as large as golf balls with spikes in their sides that make holes in the fruit and damage it.

Newborn goat
Further down the road, back in the boonies, we discovered Mountain Valley Farm Store at the end of a dead-end road in sight of the North Georgia Mountains.  The Farm is noted for grass-fed beef and free-range pork (another ahnvee we've had since leaving Cajun country). We spent time outdoors peering at baby goats, a few weeks old, that were frolicking behind a fence—just long enough for me to pick up some barnyard waste on my sandals!

According to Jodi Helmer's Farm Fresh Georgia, there are more than 130 farmers' markets in Georgia where vendors sell products they grow, raise and make, and many of the restaurants in the state now offer food from local farms. A plethora of U-picks thrive in the region around Ellijay, and some of them operate on a system that trusts customers to calculate the cost of their pickings and leave their payments in a locked cash box!


The matinee of the Tater Patch Players, a hilarious performance of Play On, was the surprise event of the "Ahnvee for Peaches" trip, and we returned to the Mountain with increased appreciation for adventures in Small Town America.    
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