If you are heading out on a road trip of your own this summer, we hope you have safe and happy travels! Share a picture with us along the way!
I was truly blessed growing up to be a part of a family that traveled. Since my parents were both school teachers, we had plenty of time in the summer to pack up and hit the road! Keep in mind, my parents were school teachers, so these were not glamourous vactations full of ski trips, water parks, restaraunts and hotels. Our road trips consisted of tent camping (thank you K.O.A.), dinners from the cooler (a.k.a. cooler crud) and finding all the cool stops along the way that were free or cheap! While our trips may have been a strain on the family budget, they were full of fun and happy memories (somehow you forget the stressful times when it is over). My brother and I were really lucky to have gotten to see so much of the United States of America!
From Mt. Rushmore, Devil's Tower, and The Grand Canyon, to a tour up the west coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. We visited the world's deepest hand-dug well in Greensburg, Kansas, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, an Indian Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico, and the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado.
Every once in a while, usually in the fall, we got to go to places like Disney World and Sea World!
Of course, as a teenager these trips got a little embarrassing. We were getting the car serviced in California on one of our trips, and I realized that my dad was wearing a tie-dyed tank top, shorts, fanny pack, and Mickey Mouse socks with sandals. We were quite a sight!
Y'all, this blog would be too long if I named all of the fun places my family traveled over the years! We usually landed in Colorado for a week or so somewhere along the way to visit with my grandparents and play in the mountains we all still love so much!
Being able to travel and see so much of our beautiful country did so much to help shape who I am today. I am a southern girl at heart, but I am sure you can tell by touring my home and reading my other posts that my style and personality has been heavily influenced by sights and experiences I was exposed to on our journeys! What a priceless treasure, to have been able to soak up different cultures, styles, people, and landscapes. Thanks to my adventurous parents for being willing to load us up and be away from home for weeks at a time. Your kids are better people for it!
In honor of all of these nostalgic feelings this summer, Tara, Jorj and I thought it would be fun to spread the southern love across the whole country! During the month of July we want to get a new Facebook "like" from at least one person in every state! So, if you are reading this, and you don't already follow us on Facebook, head on over and like our page! If you are a Facebook fan already, we hope you'll tag a friend from a far away place and help us reach our goal!
If you are heading out on a road trip of your own this summer, we hope you have safe and happy travels! Share a picture with us along the way!
I enjoy picking on my husband, who is fairly simple in his wardrobe choices, about how much he likes to “accessorize his food.” If there is a gravy, sauce, relish, or any other condiment anywhere nearby, he will find something to put it on!
Of all the possibilities, I believe his favorite is peas with relish. There are many options, from the type of peas to the type of relish. Black-eyed peas are a favorite here in the south, but other varieties include Cream Forty or Cream 8, Pink-eyed Purple Hulls, Zipper peas, Crowder peas, or Ladyfinger.
Apparently, peas were once thought of as only feed for livestock; however, when times got tough in the South, peas became a staple food to help many families survive. Now, peas have earned a place of honor on any southern plate, and anyone who has shelled peas knows not to throw away even one little pea. The process of shelling peas by hand is a rite of passage for growing up Southern. I remember shelling peas while watching tv in the evenings, blisters forming on my thumbs which were already colored green or purple depending on the color of the hulls, the pile of hulls growing rapidly while the buckets of peas to be shelled seemed to multiply and the bowl of peas I had worked so hard to shell would never fill up! After so much work, those peas were savored and never wasted!
Now’s the time of year to put up peas in the freezer. After shelling the peas, blanch them in hot water for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Drain the peas and shock them in an ice-water bath, then drain again. Scoop the peas into freezer bags, label the bags, then store the bags in your freezer. If you don’t have time to shell your own peas, contact your local canning plant. They may have a sheller machine, or they may know someone like our friend, Owen Paulk, who will purchase shelled peas and even get them in freezer bags for you!
Most folks cook their peas with ham-hocks or a few pieces of bacon, but in an effort to be a little more healthy, we’ve switched to using Goya seasoning or just cooking them in chicken broth. You still get that meaty flavor without all the fat and sodium. Adding relish to peas gives them extra flavor, and you can use relish made from just about anything. My mama always made pear relish when I was growing up because we had pear trees. My mother-in-law makes green tomato relish from the piles of tomatoes they grow or have been given. A few years ago, my sister and I made a vegetable relish from zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, which I believe has become my husband’s favorite (Shhh! Don’t tell his mama! :)
Visit our Recipe Archive to find my Vegetable Relish recipe card!
Born and raised in the South, Sweet Tea was served at every meal. There was this unspoken understanding that everyone wanted tea--so there was never any need to ask your family members or guests what they wanted to drink with their meal. Sweet tea was what I knew to be the beverage of choice, and it has remained so throughout my life.
I learned to make tea at an early age, due to how often this task had to be done. After moving off to college, I continued my weekly tea making. To my surprise, not everyone knew how to make sweet tea! So, just in case your tea making skills are a little rusty, here are a few tips on making perfect, southern sweet tea.
The first, and possibly most important, tip is in choosing the right tea bag. We believe in using Lipton tea bags, they just taste the best! You can purchase one gallon tea bags or family size tea bags--either will work fine!
Now that you have the main ingredient, let's make sure you have the most important: sugar! In our opinion, perfectly southern sweet tea takes two, yes TWO, cups of white granulated sugar.
Now, boil water on the stove in a tea kettle or pot. Measure out two cups of sugar and go ahead and put that into your gallon-sized tea pitcher. Once your water is boiling, turn it off and immediately pour it into your pitcher along with EITHER one gallon tea bag or two family size tea bags. Give your pitcher a stir dissolving the sugar and let it sit for 15 minutes. Remove your tea bags and finish filling up your pitcher with cold water. Give it a good stir again and place your tea in the refrigerator until cold. Serve over ice with the option of fresh cut lemons!
**Helpful Tip: If you are a busy bee like me, I have a convenient alternative to the normal tea making process. You will need a large microwave safe measuring cup, mine holds 8 cups. Fill with water and your two family size tea bags. Pop it in the microwave for 7 minutes--and wallah! You can let the tea sit up to 20 minutes in the microwave before mixing up your tea and sugar. This works well for me when I am doing chores all over the house and not necessarily in the kitchen to watch for the water boiling on the stove. When you are ready, pull out your freshly steeped tea and mix in a gallon-sized pitcher with two cups of sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, finish filling the pitcher with cold water.
Don't you love the mid century mod glasses in the photographs? We have two sets available in the store! Click HERE to take a look!
Shop our favorite Sweet Tea themed products below!
Even though I was raised in a small, rural area in the south, I never learned the art of keeping up a garden or canning and "putting up" vegetables. My family traveled a lot in the summers and I didn't have a grandma to teach me those important southern traditions.
When I moved back after college I turned to my friend Mrs. Carolyn for a little help! I have known Mrs. Carolyn my entire life. She was the secretary at the elementary school where my parents taught and our families have been long time friends. When my dad was opening our shop and cafe 13 years ago, he called on Mrs. Carolyn to help in The Cafe. She has been with us ever since! She lovingly tends to our Cafe guests every Tuesday and it is her pimiento cheese recipe that has become famous in our little town.
Carolyn and her husband always kept a summer garden. Several years ago she let me come out and pick peas with her. We took our peas to the local canning plant to have them shelled and then she helped me blanch and bag them up to freeze them. One summer she helped me with okra and this summer I got a lesson in canning her delicious sweet pickles!
We have decided to share her secrets with you, with her permission of course. :) The pickle process takes a few days to complete, so be sure to have a little time on your hands! Here is your peek into Mrs. Carolyn's pickle making methods.
What you will need:
Give them a good wash and set aside.
Once all of your cucumbers have been cleaned, begin cutting! You will want to cut off the ends of the cucumbers and discard them.
Try to cut your cucumbers as uniform as possible to keep your pickles looking and tasting consistent!
Cutting is the step where you may want to recruit a little help.
Mrs. Carolyn follows along with the directions on the Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime package for the basic measurements. (She adds a little extra here and there to get them just right.) When you begin the "liming down" process, make sure that the bowl or basin you are using is not made of aluminum because of the reaction that could take place with the lime.
Sprinkle one cup of Pickling Lime over your freshly cut cucumbers.
Now begin filling your basin with water to ensure that your cucumbers are covered.
Make sure to give them a good stir so that the lime distributes evenly throughout the water. After "liming your pickles down", let them sit overnight, stirring occasionally (otherwise the lime will settle to the bottom).
The next day, you will want to begin the rinsing process. To ensure that you wash all of the lime off of your cucumbers, you will need to rinse them multiple times.
Using a colander, rinse your cucumbers off and rinse out your basin. Place the cucumbers back in the basin and cover them with water again. Let the cucumbers soak in the clean water for one hour. Repeat this step two more times!
After you have soaked the cucumbers in clean water three times (at one hour each time), drain them again with your colander. Rinse your basin and place the cucumbers back in, covering them with ice water this time. Mrs. Carolyn let her cucumbers soak in ice water for three hours before moving on to the next step.
Now it is time to get your pickling spices ready. You can use a piece of an old (clean) t-shirt, as Mrs. Carolyn has done, or even pantie hose! Tie up your spices so that they are not loose in your pickles. We used two tablespoons of spices, tying up one tablespoon per bundle.
Now it is time to bring your vinegar, sugar and spices to a boil. (Not in aluminum!) It is important that your cucumbers go straight from the ice bath into the boiling mixture. This gives them that special crunch!
You can follow along with the recipe on the Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime package, or do what we did! Mrs. Carolyn's pickles are perfectly crispy, sweet and tart--so her version is a little different. We ended up using one whole gallon of white distilled vinegar. *This is where experience comes in. She knows what to add by simply looking at it!
We also used eight pounds of sugar.
We even had a special guest show up to help! Abi is one of Mrs. Carolyn's biggest fans.
Keep stirring as your vinegar begins to boil. You will want to stir as the sugar dissolves.
Once the sugar is dissolved and the vinegar is boiling, carefully add in your cold and drained pickles!
Mrs. Carolyn added more vinegar than is stated on the Pickling Lime Package to ensure that her pickles would be covered.
Give them a stir and wait for the vinegar to come back to a boil.
Once it comes to a rolling boil, turn the stove off and let your pickles sit over night.
The next morning, bring your pickles to a boil one more time. Let them boil for 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally.
As your pickles cook, they will darken--this is the color you are looking for!
While your pickles are boiling, get your clean jars, lids and rings ready. You will need to boil a little water in a separate pot to drop your lids down in. The rim around the lid will need to be heated in order to seal on the jar correctly.
Begin filling your jars once your pickles have boiled for 30-45 minutes.
Make sure that your pickles are submerged in the liquid by pressing them down with a spoon. You want to ensure that you have enough liquid in your jars to prevent any from going bad.
Be sure to wipe the rim of the jar clean before placing your warmed lid on top. You will want to get rid of any sticky liquid that may have gotten on the outside of the jar.
Screw your ring on as tight as you can and set the jar aside.
Mrs. Carolyn likes to leave her pickle filled jars sitting on the counter while she waits to hear the jars seal with a "pop"! (Although Mrs. Carolyn does not process her pickles, it is recommended that you process your jars of pickles in a water bath for at least ten minutes to prevent any presence of bacteria.)
The best part about pickle making (besides the outcome) is all of the "waiting" time. That gives us plenty of time to chat!
Once the lids on your jars have "popped", you are ready to enjoy your pickles for months to come.
We hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse into a classic Southern kitchen. We'd love for you to give pickle-making a try yourself, and let us know how it goes!
We have a few things over in the store that you might find helpful if you do decide to make a batch of pickles of your own! Purchase a Canning Kit to dress up your jars or an enamel basin to make the liming and soaking process a little bit easier!
Summer is here,and so it begins! Our gardens and neighborhood farmer's markets are full of fresh fruits and vegetables ready to be enjoyed. It seems like we Southerners live for summer and the excitement of growing, picking and putting up our own produce. Although I don't enjoy eating many vegetables (yes, I know I'm weird), there is just something nostalgic about taking part in this Southern tradition. (And my husband is thankful for my participation!) I particularly LOVE the fresh fruits that become available to me in the summer. If you know me, you know I love to bake--and summer is a baker's delight!
As a kid, I discovered wild blackberries trailing through the woods behind my Nana's house.
Though these look like just plain old woods, look a little closer.
As a kid, I loved the adventure of hunting out the ripe berries and showing off my bounty. As I stumbled upon each darkened berry, my soul smiled. Now as an adult, I have found that my experience hasn't changed much. I still feel that flutter of excitement when I spot perfect berries ready to be picked.
I love finding new and delicious ways to enjoy these summer treats--juice, jellies, syrup, cobblers, pies...you name it, I've tried it! Syrups and cobblers are my go-to options because you don't need a ton of fruit to whip up something delicious!
This past week, I chose to make a little syrup with my haul--since it was a LITTLE haul!
You won't believe how we chose to enjoy our syrup that night. Nana made her delicious cornbread, like only she can do, and we decided to dip it in our fresh blackberry syrup! Phillip was skeptical at first, but later admitted that it tasted like blackberry cobbler--talk about a southern makeshift dessert!
You may not be brave enough to dip your cornbread in blackberry syrup, but you have to try these delicious Blackberry Pie Bars if you get your hands on fresh blackberries this summer! The only thing that could make them even more delicious is adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
If you want to store your fresh summer berries in style, we have just what you need! How cute are our ceramic berry baskets? What a simple way to dress up your kitchen and have a little fun with your summer finds!
Whether your eggs are fresh from the farm or from the carton, our ceramic egg holders are the trick! Not only are they cute, but they make reaching in the fridge for a few eggs easy when your hands are full!
Be sure to have joined our email list on the Homepage or our Recipe Club to receive the Blackberry Pie Bar recipe and many more! We love sharing our favorites with you, and we would love for you to let us know what your favorite summer recipes are too!
A few years ago, my family began doing something we never thought we’d do - camping! Now, we didn’t want to invest in a camper or RV because we knew we’d feel like we had to use it for every single trip we took, and I still enjoy sleeping in a hotel room for some trips! Instead, we purchased a tent, which claims to sleep 6 people, but in reality has just enough room for the four of us. As our boys grow taller and taller, that tent gets smaller and smaller!
I love going camping in our little tent, though. Not because I’m really that "outdoorsy," although I do appreciate the natural surroundings. I love it because it’s time spent with my family with little to no distractions! When we’re at home, we don’t stop to look for fireflies or build a fire to roast marshmallows. My boys enjoy riding their bikes through the woods so much more than they do at home. Just the simple things like playing cards or eating hot dogs are so much more fun than they would be at home.
On a camping trip, we’re in close quarters with each other, which would be annoying at home. Even when we go on vacation and stay in a hotel room, we have more space. And, since we’re physically closer, I think it also brings us closer together in our relationships with each other. We go on adventures together, doing things we’ve never done and seeing things we’ve never seen before. I love knowing that we are building memories with our boys that they will have for a lifetime.
I’d like to share with you some of our favorite camping spots so far. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had great experiences at the same locations! Since we’re really just getting started with camping, we’d also love to hear your suggestions for our next camping trip!
1. Tybee Island
This was our first tent camping experience, and it was a great one! We went with my sister’s family, who had actually been tent camping before, which was a big help. Tybee’s beaches are a lot more natural and less "tourist-y" than many beaches, but we liked that. There are lots of cute little shops and our favorite seafood place, "The Crab Shack." Of course, Tybee is also just minutes away from Savannah, so there’s plenty to do!
2. Anastasia Island State Park
Anastasia Island is just across the Bridge of Lions from St. Augustine, with a more natural and less crowded beach. Of course, the trip to St. Augustine is quick, so we enjoyed touring the St. Augustine Pirate Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Castillo de San Marcos. Of course, my boys’ favorite moment was when they fired the cannons from the fort!
3. Red Top Mountain State Park
We loved Red Top Mountain because our tent site was right on the banks of Lake Allatoona! My boys just slipped right off the rocks and in to the cool water! We visited the Booth Western Art Museum and The Etowah Indian Mounds. Both were fun and informative field trips that even my boys could appreciate.
4. O’Leno State Park
We just visited O’Leno State Park recently, and again, my sister’s family came with us. Located in North Florida, O’Leno is apparently short for "Old Leno," which was once a bustling little town in the late 1800s, until the railroad was diverted around it. We took a short hike from the park area to see where the Santa Fe River actually disappears underground! The river continues underground for three miles before it resurfaces in River Rise Preserve State Park. This time, we didn’t plan much in the way of activities, but we did kayak down the Santa Fe River and saw several springs, including Lilly Springs, where we found "Naked Ed." Yes, he is naked, as my son discovered in attempting to be the first to arrive at the springs! He has a small dock where he sits with a wall to protect your eyes, and he is happy to talk with visitors about his life and family and how he came to be "Naked Ed." It was certainly an experience we’d never have anywhere else!
5. FDR State Park
Our family has made several trips to Callaway Gardens, but hadn’t really taken notice of FDR State Park. Boy, had we been missing out! There were so many places to hike and picnic and just take in the beautiful views! Of course, we saw Callaway Gardens again and enjoyed the Butterfly Center and the Birds of Prey show, but we also visited Warm Springs to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House and learn a little more about his life. And, we drove a little farther to Pine Mountain to the Wild Animal Safari! That was one of the most interesting and fun adventures we’ve had! If you go, rent a van - I promise, it’s worth it!
One thing that has always bothered me when we camp is the amount of trash we accumulate by using paper cups and plates. I don’t really like using plastic (just personal preference) and I certainly don’t trust my packing skills enough to take anything breakable! I’ve found the perfect solution here at The Southern Mercantile - our beautiful enamelware! By investing $36 in a set of four plates and four mugs, I’ll cut down on our trash for years to come, and I’m sure I’ve already spent that much on paper goods in the past!
A few weeks ago, Tara, Jorjanne and I had the pleasure of decorating one of our local country churches for a very sweet summer wedding. Our client was an adorable southern gal whose mother grew up here in Irwin County. Her grandparents and various other family members still live here so it made perfect sense for her to have the wedding at her family’s home church. The reception was hosted just down the road at her family’s farm. The intimate ceremony began at 10:30 in the morning, which was perfect to avoid the afternoon August heat.
The colors she chose were shades of blush and cream accompanied by lots of natural greenery. To dress up the church a little and to change things up a bit, the girls and I adorned the porch with lots of natural, southern greenery cut from the yard and a mix of roses and hydrangeas. What a wonderful way to welcome guests and set the tone for the day! I won’t go in to the process we went through of figuring out how to rig those up but I will say that no damage was done to the building and most importantly…. zip ties are amazing!
As guests entered the church they were greeted by another swag of greenery, roses and hydrangeas over the doorway into the sanctuary. This really brightened up the small entry way and framed the picturesque scene in the most perfect way.
The bride’s fiancé built a beautiful cross that they would stand in front of to be married. We dressed up the cross just a little with greenery and hydrangeas. Two urns were placed on each side and were filled with the flowers of the day. Pew markers were kept very simple with just natural greenery and blush satin ribbon.
The bouquets and boutonnieres were a mix of blush roses, greenery and astilbe. The corsages for the mothers and grandmothers were kept very simply with roses and satin ribbon. Honorary bridesmaids wore wrap around wrist corsages, similar to one that we found on Pinterest.
Weddings don’t have to be huge and fancy to be beautiful. This simple country wedding couldn’t have turned out prettier, and it perfectly complimented the theme of the day: the sweet commitment made between the bride and groom. Don’t be afraid to let your wedding décor reflect the scenery around you. What could have been more appropriate than using things that grow naturally here like camellia leaves, pitosporum, ivy, fern and hydrangeas? When thinking about your church décor, don’t get stuck in the traditional box when it comes to your arrangements, pew markers and bouquets. Let your flowers speak to your personality and help set the tone that you want for your special day!
Give me fruit, and I will make jam - I thoroughly enjoy taking berries, peaches, pears, figs, or whatever fruit I can find and turn it into jams, jellies, and preserves.
It is a hot, sticky, messy process, but I love it! In fact, one of my most favorite sounds in the world is that little “pop” when a jar of jelly has sealed. It’s so gratifying to know that all your hard work has truly been productive!
I’ve shared with you before in a previous blog post all the tips I’ve learned through my own experience and from my older, wiser sister. She’s the one who taught me how to set up housekeeping when I first got married, how to raise my boys from the time I brought them home, and how to make jam.
There is something nostalgic about making jams and jellies; I feel a connection to the southern women of the past who used the same techniques and recipes in days gone by. Call me sentimental, but I love how my pantry full of jars reminds me of my grandmothers’ shelves during my childhood.
I also feel a sense of satisfaction in having created something from scratch that I can share with others. Since I do make jams as often as I have the time, I usually have a jar on hand to share with friends and family. Sometimes, I even make special batches to give to my sons’ teachers and church volunteers.
Over the last couple of years, we've made several different flavors of jams to sell at The Southern Mercantile. Right now, you can purchase Bourbon Peach, Blackberry, Pear, or Strawberry, which are some of our favorites! We also make and sell Paulk's Pride Muscadine Jelly, Preserves, and Sauce. Of course, we're always looking for new flavors, so let us know if you have any ideas, and tell us what's your favorite that we already make!
Aren't these jars just adorable?! Roxie and Tara designed the cutest labels and tags, then just tied them up with twine to show off the lovely colors of the jams. I hope you enjoy the jam as much as we have enjoyed making them for you!
Shop our Makers Category to find our jams and canning kits!
This summer we have gotten in the habit of getting together every Monday afternoon with some of our fellow downtown business owners and friends for a little cocktail hour. It has become a time that we can all relax, laugh and discuss the important happenings of our little town. We take turns providing a signature cocktail and snacks, and this week it was my friend Clark's turn.
Clark and his sister Candace were members of the original Alder Street Social Club. I have known them my entire life; Candace even gave me my first haircut! Clark is the epitome of a southern gentleman and has a classic southern drawl, the kind you don’t find very often these days. On Tuesday I called to ask him a couple of questions in preparation for this blog, and he answered the phone with “Hey Darlin, what is it I can help you with” and closed with “Bye Hun”. He is a talented artist, expert chef and master gardener, truly a jack of all trades. He lives at Branchwater, his country home that was built in the style of an Italian Villa.
If you attend a party at his home your drink is served in a crystal glass and the buffet is set up on silver trays. The French doors to the patio stay open at all times, no matter the time of year, and somehow this just works for Clark!
At our most recent cocktail hour Clark served his favorite summer drink, the Branchwater Toddy. This drink is very similar to a whiskey sour, with Clark’s twist! To make this drink you will mix equal parts bourbon (Clark prefers Old Taylor) and margarita mix (Jose Cuervo mix is preferred) over crushed ice and muddled mint.
Of course our drinks were served with fresh mint that Clark grew himself. I must admit I was a bit skeptical of the combination, but I must tell you it was absolutely delicious, very refreshing and not too heavy. I will agree with Clarky, it is just perfect for a hot summer evening in the south. Only Clark would also serve up “Hungarian delights” made by his good friend and pastry chef Szilvi. (They were served on a silver tray of course!)
Our little downtown cocktail hour is just another example of the sense of community that you experience when you live in a small town like ours. I so look forward to spending that time with friends every Monday! We hope you’ll give the Branchwater Toddy a try and tell us what you think!
Shop our Entertaining category to add a little southern charm to your next get-together.
The Southern Merc Girls were thrilled to be able to shoot a cooking video with our good friends, Kat and Jordan, over at Clayton Family Kitchen! It was our first experience with filming something like this (just in case you couldn't tell) so we were a little nervous about watching the finished product! A huge shout out to Chase and Jordan at Southern Blue for creating this video we can share with you. We are proud to say that we think it turned out fabulous! (Must be all those years of high school plays and drama class with the fabulous Wendy McFarland!) In this video we will be showing you how to make our famous peach beehives! Don't forget, you can join our recipe club and have access to print the beehive recipe as well as many others! We hope you like what you see, we sure had a lot of fun doing it! Please share with us on the blog how your beehives turn out at home!
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