“That must have been some picnic,” my friend commented, as we viewed the 19th century painting of French artist Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe – The Luncheon on the Grass. It features a nude woman at a woodland luncheon with 2 fully dressed men. With her fair skin, and slightly plump, voluptuous figure, she is, perhaps, their fantasy picnic guest. We giggle, like preteens, at this risqué picnic, until I notice the provisions they have brought for their afternoon meal. Now, a little fruit, some crusty bread, and a naked lady might do it in Northern France, but this is East Tennessee, and we like to eat, and if you tell us picnic, you better be ready to bring it.
Recently wanting to plan a picnic with locally sourced items, I immediately think of one of the vendors on my Food Tours, Willy’s Butcher Shop in the Bearden District of Knoxville. Learning about this world of high quality meats might be, as owner Willy Carithers says, a life changing experience. Willy creates and procures products that would make an amazing picnic – house made sausages, cherry wood smoked bacon, pork chops, prosciutto, dry aged steak, crab cakes, or even king salmon. But recently I noticed a packaged sauce on the counter. I became immediately intrigued because it is the only item made by someone other than Willy that I have ever seen for sale in his shop. Norris Dam Good Sauce, the label boldly stated.
Several days later I received a phone call from Michael Hatcher, the creator of Norris Dam Good Products. “Willy told me you were interested in my bbq sauce,” Michael related. I always love it when businesses work together to support and recommend each other. A few more days later, I was in possession of a jar of Norris Dam Good BBQ Sauce and a tin of Norris Dam Good Pork Rub.
Michael Hatcher attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, but began cooking when he was a youngster. “My sister and I liked to cook breakfast for my Mom and Dad, we always thought it was sweet.” Michael now has over 20 years experience in the culinary world. He worked as the chef at Gourmet Market in Johnson City and spent a little over a year working at Blackberry Farm with Chef John Fleer. But it was his Mother who always encouraged him to bottle his bbq sauce. “She always wanted me to live my dream.”
The name Norris Dam Good Sauce came about as most names do, beginning as a joke that, over time began to sound catchy. Michael’s parents and grandparents were from Norris, and his grandfather, George Archer, opened Archer’s Food Center, which is still operating in the town center of Norris. “We’d visit Norris several times a month. Growing up with family around the table, Norris is just…” Michael searches for the word, “Norris is just Home.” His statement reminds me of the children’s book, Appalachia by Cynthia Rylant, in which she observes, “Those who do go off…always come back to the part of Appalachia where they grew up. They’re never good at explaining why. Those who don’t live in Appalachia…don’t understand it.” Michael has not only come back, he has found a way to celebrate family and the food of his part of Appalachia.
Norris Dam Good Products are made at a custom food processing facility in Knoxville, but Michael’s Dad helps him with the marketing and distribution side of the business. They began with the idea last October and made their first batch in mid December. 50 gallons are produced at a time and they are now on their third batch. The sauce and dry rub are available in 8 locations and online. Michael chooses to sell his products in butcher shops and specialty gourmet markets that are owned by people he knows personally, in order to support their businesses as he grows his.
Michael’s Norris Dam Good Sauce is all natural, with a mix of brown sugar, cider vinegar, tomato puree, and whole grain mustard combined with seven spices and whole leaf herbs to develop a full flavor. “You can use it as a salad dressing, in a pulled pork omelet, for bbq, or in a crock pot with chicken,” says Michael. “Oh, for a picnic,” he continues, “you could make grilled corn – brush the corn with the sauce, wrap it in foil, and grill it. I love cold corn,” Michael emphasizes. “Make a flank steak – brush the sauce on while you cook it and after you finish.” “Oh, cold steak salad!” I jump in. “Make a sandwich with corn relish, or make a naan flatbread,” continues Michael. “For a cold meatloaf sandwich,” he says, “replace a ketchup glaze with the sauce.”
“We make an icebox chicken,” Michael states. At that point I stop writing and look up. “Use a good, all natural chicken, fry the chicken the night before, it’s double breaded with a brown sugar brine. Of course you couldn’t use the sauce in that.” “Oh, you could dip your cold chicken in the sauce!” I exclaim. Honey, I’m already way ahead of the game on this imagined cold chicken. It’s reminiscent of another famous literary picnic – Mole and Water Rat’s picnic at the river bank in The Wind in the Willows.
It’s Mole’s first time – his first time at the river, first time in a boat, and very first picnic. “And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!” exclaims Mole. As for the boat, his whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses. After a short while, Ratty reappears, staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon basket. “There’s cold chicken inside it,” states Rat. I often wonder about Rat’s pause here, whether it was to determine if Mole liked cold chicken, or to show off his culinary prowess.
“ColdtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgerkinsaladFrenchrollscresssandwichesspottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater – “ “Oh stop stop,” cried the Mole in ecstasies, “this is too much!” Ratty could have proved himself a true Southerner with his reply, “Do you really think so?”
Michael’s Pork Rub is a mix of sugar, salt, garlic, paprika, pepper, mustard, and other spices. “We use it to make chex mix, put it on popcorn, make a roasted pork tenderloin sandwich.” He has other sauces and rubs in the works, and his eventual goal is to open a restaurant – a bbq and chicken shack, where he can use and sell his products. Of creating Norris Dam Good Products, Michael says, “It’s something I’m really proud of.”
“Picnics…well, salads…you have a corn salad recipe, don’t you?” My friend asked. “Yes,” I reply, but would an East Tennessean really admit if they didn’t? This one is super simple. I call it a Trinity Salad, an Appalachian Trinity Salad. It consists of the Appalachian summer staples – quick boiled corn, green beans, and fresh tomatoes. “What did you plant?” I randomly ask, just making conversation over a spring family dinner. I get a look back inferring – oh you know what has been planted here every year for the past hundred years. “Beans, corn, and tomatoes,” was the definitive answer. Fresh vegetables out of the garden do not need much added to them at all. “Oil, vinegar, and salt, just a little bit” my Mother simply states. Take it with you in a jar and pour it over the veggies when you arrive at your picnic destination.
Dessert should be easy as well – here’s one called Too Easy Peach Pie. “Here’s how your Grandmother wrote it,” Mom says as she produces the holy grail of my childhood – my Grandmother’s notebook of recipes. Its fragile pages are lightly rumpled from being thumbed through over time and covered with beautiful handwriting and faint food stains. Just a glance at it takes me back in time a few seconds, until I hear Mom continuing, “It’s called peach pie but use whatever fruit is in season.”
You can find fresh, local peaches in this area. I got mine from Shannon Meadows of Mountain Meadows Farm. The Meadows farm is in Anderson County, but you can find them at 5 area farmer’s markets weekly throughout the year or sign up for their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. CSAs are a fun way to pay one price and receive a surprise mix of vegetables and fruit every week. Shannon’s Mother and Father began selling at farmer’s markets in 2000 and in 2009 asked Shannon and her brother to come back and work on the farm with them. They all work full time cultivating 20 of their 120 acres of land. Although they do grow vegetables and other fruits, “Strawberries and peaches are our biggest sellers,” Shannon tells me. “Our goal is to have more fruit and eventually have a U pick farm.”
If making this pie for your picnic, I might suggest baking individual servings in half pint jars. My reasoning for this comes from a recent family dinner where I went to the kitchen counter to get dessert – the Too Easy Strawberry version of this pie, and the baking dish was already completely empty. I returned quietly to my seat at the table, not wanting to embarrass anyone for really wanting lots of pie that day. Some days you just have those days – Pie Days. However, individual portions will insure everyone gets a taste. Make them pretty and customized to your guests with fabric and ribbon around the lids.
Well, there it is – it’s beautiful in East Tennessee, and that’s going to be Some Picnic.
Too Easy Peach Pie
5-6 peaches, peeled & sliced
1 ½ cups sugar
2 T. flour
1 stick butter, melted
5 slices bread
Place fruit in buttered 8x8 baking dish
Place bread over fruit
Mix remaining ingredients and pour over bread
Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes