LORAN SMITH: Finally, a guide to all things Southern … almost, anyway

FEATURES COLUMN: Garden and Gun magazine has hit the target by growing a guide to living the Southern good life

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

Don’t suppose there is a posthole-diggers society, but if one should exist, Garden and Gun, my favorite magazine — and that would include Sports Illustrated, which I have been subscribing to since the ’60s — would locate the person who could dig the best and fastest posthole of anyone between Muscogee, Okla., and Doerun, Ga.

If it is unique — anything from arts to moonshining, from architecture to artichokes, from gospel singing to building church pews — Garden and Gun will find it, then publish a treatise on it with such passion, insight and aplomb that it will make you want to hunt up the person whose authorship or handiwork is responsible and the rustic place from where it emanated.

Readers from all across this great land are finding out about Garden and Gun and the people and places the magazine covers, which has caused circulation to run rampant like kudzu. Before long, you can learn how to be as Southern as us Southerners. You see, G&G has published “The Southerner’s Handbook, a Guide to Living the Good Life.” Even if you were born below the Mason-Dixon Line, you will likely find out things about the South that you may not know.

It was Sterling Eason, the pretty communications director of the magazine, who alerted me about the book, which has a list of How To Do Things which ranges from “how to set a sideboard, polish silver and be a proper houseguest” to “how to season grits, fry okra and clean a blue crab” to “how to drink bourbon, make homemade bitters and mix the perfect Bloody Mary” to “how to give a memorable toast, throw a crawfish boil and host a killer tailgate.”

Believe it or not, there seem to be people who actually don’t know how to do those singular things. They are dying to find out, however. Garden and Gun wants to make it easy for them, so “The Southerner’s Handbook” will enable them to become as accomplished at such exercises as we are, being Southern with a birthright for such passions and tradition. Not since Jacob, in collusion with his mother, Rebekah, sandbagged Esau has there been such interest in someone else’s birthright.

There is an exception in this case, however. G&G wants everybody to know that what is rightfully ours, we are pleased to give away.

Don’t know about you, but it makes me proud that this sagacious publication has brought about a bee in the bonnets of outlanders coast to coast who no longer preoccupied with making fun of our accents. Next thing you know, there will be people in upstate New York and Eastern Connecticut who believe we wear shoes.

We have Garden and Gun to thank for that. Our thanks, too, that with the magazine’s encroaching circulation, people now want to come shoot a quail with us, eat barbecue prepared like nobody else can prepare it and make buttermilk biscuits with an old-fashioned touch that won’t ever be duplicated by a corporation with an assembly line.

Early in the handbook’s 247 informative and mouth-watering pages, John T. Edge, the culinary soothsayer from Gray, Ga., now anchored in Oxford, Miss., explains, “Why Southern Food Matters (So Much).”

“The rest of the country has long wanted what Southerners have,” John T. wrote. “They covet our stone-ground grits and skillet-fried okra. They thirst for our whiskey. ‘They want our ham,’ a chef friend once told me as we leaned against his truck, swigging a bottle of bourbon. ‘And, they want our history.’”

This handbook will tell you how to fry the perfect fried chicken, for example. It will make sure you know your barbecue sauce. It will even let you in on such penetrating knowledge like the fact that Chicago was named after a bunch of ramps growing near Lake Michigan. The natives called the plant shikaakwa which some French naturalist recorded as chicagou. Wonder if Barack and Michelle know that?

My life has been enriched since I began reading Garden and Gun, but the editors are not perfect. There was no mention in “The Southerner’s Handbook,” not a single word, about haywire, the farmer’s band aid. The South literally would have fallen apart after the Great Depression if it hadn’t been for haywire.

One more thing. With Sterling Eason handling the assignment, Garden and Gun knows how to suggest a column idea that brings about results.