The foodways of Appalachia have been brought to film, thanks to a partnership between the Division of University Relations and the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services. Since June 2009, the two offices have teamed together to produce five documentary food films. These are available for purchase at www.etsustore.com. To schedule a screening/discussion, contact Fred Sauceman at (423) 439-4317.
A Red Hot Dog Digest examines the popularity of red-dyed hot dogs in Southwest Virginia. The film includes archival footage of old television commercials that promoted Valleydale meats as well as interviews with proprietors of businesses along Lee Highway that depend on the red hot dog for their livelihood.
The Corner Dog House in Bristol, the Dip Dog in Marion, Skeeter’s in Wytheville, and Dude’s in Christiansburg are the four Virginia establishments featured in the film.
The Corner Dog House is a walk-up business in a Bristol neighborhood that has been selling Valleydale hot dogs, once made at the company’s Bristol plant, since 1962. With a Marion address but a location the owners describe as “out in the middle of nowhere,” the Dip Dog sells some 500,000 batter-dipped, mustard-painted red wieners a year. The business opened over 50 years ago.
Skeeter’s sells red hot dogs out of a building on Main Street in Wytheville where the future Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the president’s second wife, was born. And in Christiansburg, Dude’s once tried to eliminate the red hot dog from the menu because of dietary concerns, but customers revolted, demanding that the dyed product be restored.
“This film presents an informative yet lighthearted peek into a super-unique and super-local foodway,” writes Amy C. Evans, oral historian for the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.
Beans All the Way: A Story of Pintos and Persistence covers The Bean Barn in Greeneville, Tennessee, going back to the time when the business first opened as Britt’s Grill shortly after World War II.
The title of the film is taken from the name of The Bean Barn’s featured dish, invented in the 1950s when cook Reagan Walker combined some homemade beef stew and soup beans and then sprinkled chopped onions on top. Walker’s son Dan, Greene County trustee, is one of several people who are interviewed in the film.
Beans All the Way is still served today at The Bean Barn on East Church Street by owners Jerry and Donna Hartsell. In the film, Jerry recalls eating at Britt’s, in the same building, when he was in high school, and Donna, a South Carolinian by birth, says she only knew butter beans over rice until she moved to Tennessee and learned of soup beans.
Romie and Zella Mae Britt operated Britt’s from 1946 until the late 1970s. The film opens in Greene Lawn Memory Gardens, where pinto beans are reverently tossed onto their gravestones. Zella Mae died in 1999, Romie in 2003. Two of their daughters, Geraldine Pierce and Janie Melton, appear in the film. Geraldine remembers her mother’s frugality in stretching hamburgers with day-old bread: “Mom could take five pounds of hamburger and make 10 pounds out of it.”
According to the film’s producers, “The Bean Barn’s centerpiece dish defines a community, a culture, and an entire region: soup beans and cornbread, the iconic, dollar-stretching, belly-filling, soul-enriching meal of Southern Appalachia.”
Among those who praise the restaurant is Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger. “Well, I’ve brought people from all over the world to The Bean Barn,” Niswonger says in the film. “If we’re going to have one meal, I’m going to have it here. As you know, I have a restaurant downtown at the hotel, but this is the place they need to see to get a feel for what East Tennessee is all about.”
Southern Cultures, winter 2009