My most recent visit to Virginia began with a trip to Wintergreen Resort. We rented a pet friendly, one bedroom condo with a fireplace up top the Blue Ridge Mountains. Unlimited firewood was included. The stone fireplace sharing its warmth, paired with my journal and a cup of coffee, made every morning inspirational. Surrounded by true winter greenery, this mountain resort’s landscaping is built into my favorite mountain range in the United States, Appalachia. Everywhere I looked, strong broad-leaved evergreens like rhododendron and mountain laurel waved at me. Hiking with my pup Jesse we saw the beginnings of spring throughout the trails. Lichen and moss made a stark presence everywhere. Scattered clumps of daffodils were up and smiling at us, while skiers continued their sport one last week.
This mountain getaway is primarily known for its skiing and golf, which makes it a four season resort. Along side the miles of hiking trails, there is also tennis, swimming, a spa. In the Mountain Inn you will find shops and restaurants. You can rent a condominium or house, but many folks live in this mountain village year round. I had the opportunity to work the front desk of the Mountain Inn for about 6 months in the mid 1980’s. It was a great job for an 18 year old city girl. I learned a lot about customer service that I carry with me to this day.
Wintergreen is also home to the Nature Foundation of Wintergreen. It’s website states its mission, “The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen encourages and enhances understanding, appreciation, and conservation of the natural and cultural resources of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” I’ve taken part in some of the programming they offer, including guided hikes and historic tours. For more information check out twnf.org for a calendar of events.
My mother Sarah Jane’s home place, at the top Spruce Creek, shares a property line with Wintergreen Resort. This area was once part of the Village of Wintergreen. It seems Wintergreen Resort borrowed the name and the rest is history. My Hatter grandparents raised nine children in that mountain hollow with no electricity or indoor plumbing. They raised everything they ate and most likely used everything they had to its fullest potential.The home place still stands and is owned by Hatter cousins. I remember vividly one night my Grandfather pointing out a few lights on top of the ridge as they broke the darkness in his private hollow. He wasn’t happy about these lights. Many of the mountain folk were not happy about this invasion of the outside world.
My mother and her siblings were the seventh strait generation of Hatters to live among the Blue Ridge since 1794. I’m talking about real mountain folk who sustained their family lives through farming the rocky soils of the mountains, raising animals for slaughter and preserving their fruits and vegetables. This was no easy task and not to be taken lightly. It was back breaking work, but it was the mountain way . Before electricity and refrigeration, spring house kept things cold and root cellars stored the garden bounty. What you raised you lived on and depended on to get your usually large family through the winter.
I’m thankful that the legacy of sustainable living left by the mountain folks from the old days continues with our generation. A hand full of my first cousins still grow their own foods, raise animals for butchering, have root cellars and smoke houses on their property to store their bounty.Our Uncle Jerry Hatter raises chickens and bees. Uncle Button and Aunt Kathy who live on Spruce Creek, maintain hydro power on their property to power up their home. The top of Spruce Creek can still claim no power lines.
After our Wintergreen Resort getaway, my husband Brian and I spent the day with my cousin Matthew Hatter and experienced another kind of winter green day.
It was a brisk sunny morning and we were dressed for an adventure. We meandered around the forks of the Tye River, also known as Nash. I wanted to explore what I believe to be the original Hatter lands, so I asked Matt to be our guide and he obliged. As we walked and chatted, making sure not to trespass, Brian spotted a lady in black and yellow gloves checking us out. Here we made the acquaintance of the owner of these lands, Barbara Coffey. She filled us in on a bit of her family tree and backed my theory of the our Hatter family original lands were located on this spot. Ms. Coffey was gracious enough to let us explore a little and shared with us her beautiful accordion playing. It was a adventure I won’t forget.
Not wanting to over stay our visit, we headed back to Matt’s place a few miles up on Campbell Mountain Road. Matt is a avid hunter, and raises all the meat and vegetables he eats. Next to his home is his garden and low and behold the winter greens were making a show. Bringing out scissors he harvested two bags of turnips with greens, kale, mustard greens, and green onions.
Winter greens are Mother Nature’s gift to us. They tend to be rich in vitamins A, C, and K. These wild greens were a delicacy to the mountain folks, after a long winter without fresh vegetables. My mother was drooling when I brought them home to her. “Oh, boy! What a treat”, she said. Matt also filled up our cooler with pork from his last butchering and some venison. Thanks Matt for all of the goodies and for your wonderful company.
For the latter part of our trip, Brian and I stayed with parents who now live in the town of Waynesboro. Nestled up tight to the Blue Ridge, this town host many hikers from the Appalachian Trail as well as The Shenandoah Valley Plant Symposium every March.
That same day, my Mom and I prepared supper together. The winter greens were the side to some chicken and home grown onions and store bought sweet peppers. Mom shared with me the proper way of preparing and cooking winter greens, as well as some stories of growing up in the mountains. She started with the turnips, apparently her favorite.
Separating the turnips from the greens,she washed them well, repeating the washing three times. Mom likes to use the actual turnips in her salad or mix them in mashed potatoes, but the greens are what she was looking forward to eating.
I was cooking the chicken on the stove, while she was on the last wash cycle at the sink next to me. The best time to get your folks to talk about their childhood has to be while cooking up their favorite comfort foods from years gone by. She said to me, “My mamma used to say if you were poor you left the stems on and if you were rich you cut them off”.
Because I was tending to the stove I didn’t see what she was doing. Turning to her I asked, “Which one did you just do?”
“I cut the stems off,” she answered with a big smile.
My parents are far from rich, but growing up the way she did, she feels blessed to have all the extras in life that she knows her mother would have appreciated. This includes a washer/dryer, stove, central air/heat and indoor plumbing.
So we washed the greens well and cut the stems. Boiled them in water for a good six minutes, strained them and repeated this boiling step two more times. This boils them way down and they shrink. It seemed like we had half of what we stared with. Sauteing the greens is the next step. Bacon grease or lard would be the mountain way to fry them up, but my Mom said no way. We used olive oil and a little salt and pepper.
It was wonderful cooking with my Mom once again and hearing her stories.
Her stories of the historic Village of Wintergreen while cooking winter greens will forever stay in my heart.
Recipe for Mustard Greens
1 In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat until the onions begin to brown and caramelize, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more, until fragrant. 2 Add the mustard greens and broth and cook until the mustard greens are just barely wilted.
You can also cook them as we did the turnip greens, adding what you like for taste.