Tar Heel Cookery

North Carolina cooking is getting lots of attention these days. UNC Press has recently published Marcie Cohen Ferris’s Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South and Mildred Council’s Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook. Another well-known Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, has just come out with Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home.

Naturally, we started to wonder how all of this began and searched our catalog for the oldest North Carolina cookbook that we could find. We came up with the book The Family Token, or Book of Practical Arts and Sciences, by “An Eminent Physician,” published in Greensboro in 1854. There is an impressive amount of information in this slim volume. It contains not only recipes, but home remedies and moral advice. Thus, not only can you learn how to roast mutton and fowls, the author gives advice on treating a common sore throat (gargle salt, vinegar, pepper, and water), and killing weeds in a brick walk (keep them moist with brine three weeks in spring and one week in fall).

As a service to our readers, we present the following recipe from The Family Token:


One cup of sugar, one of cream, three eggs, a tea-spoon of saleratus; cut in strips, twist and fry in lard.

If you don’t have any saleratus in your cupboard, baking powder is an acceptable substitute.

State Songs

All true Tar Heels know that our state song is William Gaston’s “The Old North State,” adopted as the official song by the state legislature in 1927.

So we were surprised to see another song staking the claim. Bettie Freshwater Pool’s Literature in the Albemarle (published by Ms. Pool in Elizabeth City, 1915) includes the poem “Carolina,” labeled as “(State Song).” It begins:

I love thee Carolina!
Broad thy rivers, bright and clear;
Majestic are thy mountains;
Dense thy forests, dark and drear;
Grows the pine tree, tall and stately;
Weeps the willow, drooping low;
Bloom the eglantine and jasmine;
Nods the daisy, white as snow.

Then the chorus:

Let me live in Carolina
Till life’s toil and strife are past!
Let me sleep in Carolina
When my sun shall set at last!
Where the mocking bird is singing–
Where my heart is fondly clinging.
I would sleep when life is o’er
Sweetly on the old home shore.

The closing lines proclaim that the “Brightest star of all the Union / Is the glorious Old North State.” Perhaps this was an unofficial state anthem before Gaston’s got the nod? We think the only way to settle this is with a head-to-head matchup, just like on American Idol. Let the people decide.

Alamance Plaid

Alamance PlaidWhenever we walk through the county history section in the North Carolina Collection, one book always catches our eye. Most hardcover books used to be bound in cardboard which was then covered with cloth (many still are today, though more and more publishers go simply with the board covers). When it came time to bind Walter Whitaker’s Centennial History of Alamance County, 1849-1949, they probably didn’t have to think very hard about what kind of cloth to use.

Alamance Plaid, the cloth that made the county famous nationwide, is purported to have been the first plaid produced commercially in the Southern United States. We’re disappointed, however, that it never really caught on with bookbinders. Our libraries would be so much livelier if it had.

Western N.C. Reads Ehle

Community reading programs are popping up all over North Carolina. We can’t think of a better way to get to know your neighbors, especially when the books chosen deal with the history and culture of our state. Folks throughout western North Carolina are participating in the fourth annual “Together We Read” program by reading and discussing The Road, John Ehle’s 1967 novel about the coming of the railroad to the North Carolina mountains. Ehle will be honored on Wednesday at a program at Western Carolina University.

Ehle’s 1965 non-fiction book, The Free Men, about the Civil Rights movement in Chapel Hill in the early 1960s, is an excellent companion to Timothy Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name. Tyson’s book has been a popular choice for community reading programs, already used in Wilmington and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

David Sedaris on Dogs

Sedaris The North Carolina Collection attempts to acquire translations of novels and other works by North Carolina authors. We’ve been particularly successful acquiring translations of popular novelists such as Orson Scott Card, Patricia Cornwell, and Nicholas Sparks. Hundeleben is something a little different—original verse (dog poems!) by Raleigh native David Sedaris, translated into German and amusingly illustrated.

Fall Book Preview

The Washington Post has published their great fall book preview, which includes a few works by North Carolina authors to which we can look forward.

The Life Around Me by Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons is a long-awaited sequel to her 1987 novel, Ellen Foster. Mirror to America, the memoir of John Hope Franklin, acclaimed historian and emeritus faculty member at Duke, will be published in November. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the publication this month of Driven From Within, the fifth book by Michael Jordan.

October 1864: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

This Month in North Carolina History

Image from Harper's Monthly titled "Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore."

At dawn on the first of October 1864 the body of Rose O’Neal Greenhow washed ashore in the surf near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. Perhaps the most famous spy of the Confederate States of America had died as dramatically as she lived.

Rose was born in 1813 or 1814 into a planter family in Maryland. Her father, John O’Neal, was murdered by one of his slaves in 1817. His widow, Eliza O’Neal, was left with four daughters and a cash-poor farm to manage. In part to help family finances, Rose was sent, in her mid-teens, to Washington, D. C. along with her sister Ellen to live with their aunt, Maria Ann Hill. Mrs. Hill and her husband managed a highly regarded boarding house across from the U. S. Capitol. The house was often referred to as the “Old Brick Capitol” since it originally had been built as the temporary meeting place of Congress after the Capitol had been burned in the War of 1812. Pretty, lively, and intelligent, Rose was popular with the members of Congress who boarded with her aunt, and she had several suitors. In 1835 she married Robert Greenhow, a wealthy bachelor who had trained as a physician but ultimately became an official in the United States Department of State. In addition to bearing a large family, Rose became an important figure in Washington society. She was charming, witty, politically astute, and a fervent champion of the southern states in the increasingly bitter sectional struggles of the 1840s and 1850s. The death of Robert Greenhow in 1854 left Rose financially stretched, but she continued her association with important national political figures, particularly President James Buchanan. Rose considered the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to be a national disaster and whole-heartedly supported secession and the newly formed Confederacy.

Sometime in 1861 Rose Greenhow was recruited as a spy for the Confederacy. She quickly formed a network of agents from among her Washington circle of Confederate sympathizers and began enthusiastically and efficiently gathering information about the Union Army camped around the capital, which she transmitted to General P. G. T. Beauregard who commanded Confederate forces in nearby Virginia. Rose charmed information from important beaureaucrats, army officers, and politicians including, it was rumored, a Republican senator who sent her passionate love letters. She gave Beauregard the date on which the Union Army would began its advance on his position in 1861 and was credited by him with an important contribution to the subsequent victory at the battle of Manassas. Rose refused, however, to become the stereotypical spy who blends in with her background to escape detection. She continued vigorously to defend the southern cause and lambast Republicans. After Manassas she began to come under suspicion. She was arrested in August of 1861 and held for the next year and nine months without being charged or brought to trial. Rose was hardly a model prisoner, reviling her guards, complaining about her treatment and generally making herself a thorn in the side of the Lincoln government. At the end of May 1863 she was exiled to the Confederacy.

Rose Greenhow was given a heroine’s welcome in Richmond and thanked personally by President Jefferson Davis for her aid to the Confederacy. Davis also took the unprecedented step of asking Rose to promote Southern interests in England and France as his personal, if unofficial, representative. In August 1863 Rose and her youngest daughter, also named Rose, sailed on a blockade runner from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Bermuda where she booked passage to England. Rose was warmly greeted by many in the English aristocracy who sympathized with her and her cause. Over the next year she spoke with a number of leaders of British politics and society including Thomas Carlyle and Lord Palmerston. She was granted an audience by Napoleon III of France and visited with southerners who had taken up residence abroad. A British publishing house brought out her memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington, which was a success.

In August 1864 Rose returned to America, convinced that she could do nothing to persuade the British or French governments to recognize the Confederacy. On the last night of September her ship, the blockade runner Condor approached the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the run to Wilmington. It was spotted by a U. S. naval vessel early on the morning of October 1st and ran aground trying to escape. Rose was carrying dispatches for President Davis and her book profits in gold coins in a leather bag around her neck. She demanded that the captain set her ashore immediately, although he tried to convince her that the ship was safe under the guns of Fort Fisher until she floated off the shoal. In the end Rose had her way and with several other people was launched in a boat for the shore which was only a few hunded yards away. Within minutes the small boat capsized. Rose sank out of sight immediately while the others clung to the overturned boat and ultimately survived. Her body was buried in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Blackman, Ann. Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005.

Ross, Ishbel. Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy. New York: Harper, 1954

Greenhow, Rose O’Neal. My Imprisonment and the first year of Abolition Rule at Washington. London: R. Bentley, 1863.

Image Source:
“Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore.”
Half-tone plate engraved by C.E. Hart from a drawing by Stanley M. Arthurs.
In Harper’s Monthly Magazine, March 1912, p. 575.

Penguin Classics

We’ve heard a lot lately about Amazon.com’s offer of the Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection. For only $7,989.50, you’ll receive all 1,082 books in the collection. Before we rush to place our order, we thought we’d have a look to see how many North Carolinians were represented. We found three: Charles Chesnutt, Harriet Jacobs, and O. Henry. Since our interest lies primarily in Tar Heel authors, perhaps it would be more economical to order a la carte.


Even though we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the history and culture of “North Cackalacky,” when it comes to this unusual nickname, we’re absolutely stumped. We’d heard the name for years, and it seems to be pretty widespread, be we can’t figure out where in the world it came from. We tried the usual authorities – Norman Eliason’s Tarheel Talk (UNC Press, 1956), and the comprehensive Dictionary of American Regional English (Harvard University Press, 1985-) – but with no luck.

The folks at Cackalacky Hot Sauce (note the nice photograph from the North Carolina Collection on their home page) are on the hunt as well. They’ve brought new attention to the name, but so far haven’t been able to dig up anything authoritative on its origin. If you have suggestions or ideas about how we came to be “Noth Cackalacky,” we’d love to hear them.

September 1802: Spaight-Stanly Duel

This Month in North Carolina History

Portraits of Spaight and Stanly

In the early nineteenth century, North Carolina men from all walks of life often resorted to violence to settle quarrels and arguments. For those near the lower end of the social scale this usually meant fists and bad language. For those who considered themselves gentlemen, it often meant a duel. Preceded by a formal exchange of challenge and response, a duel with swords or pistols continued until the offended party declared that honor had been satisfied or until one of the combatants was wounded or killed. In September, 1802, North Carolinians were shocked by a fatal duel involving two of the state’s leading citizens.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, by the age of 44, had had a distinguished career in North Carolina politics. Spaight had fought for the patriot cause in the Revolution under General Caswell, served several terms in the North Carolina House of Commons, represented North Carolina in both the Continental Congress and the United States Congress, and been elected the first native-born governor of the state. Spaight’s opponent in the duel, John Stanly, was 28 in 1802, but had already followed a Princeton education with service in the North Carolina General Assembly. In 1802 he was the United States Congressional Representative from the district once served by Spaight. Both men lived in New Bern and were members of the Jeffersonian Republican Party.
Trouble began when friends advised Spaight that Stanly had raised questions about Spaight’s allegiance to the Republican Party. An angered Spaight demanded that Stanly “…give me that satisfaction which one gentleman has a right to demand of another.” Several more letters were exchanged between the two men which appeared to settle the matter, and Stanly gave Spaight permission to clear the air by publishing their correspondence. In forwarding their letters to the New Bern Gazette, however, Spaight added several remarks which Stanly found offensive. This led to an increasingly heated exchange in the newspaper and finished with Stanly distributing a handbill in which he accused Spaight of wishing to “strut the bravo” with remarks which showed a “malicious, low and unmanly spirit.” In reply, Spaight published a flyer accusing Stanly of being “a liar and scoundrel.” Stanly challenged Spaight and the two men and their seconds met at 5:30 on the afternoon of September 5th behind the Masonic Hall in New Bern. Standing opposite each other, armed with pistols, the two men exchanged fire three times with no damage except a tear in Stanly’s coat. On the fourth exchange Spaight was hit in the side. He died the next day.

There was general shock and outrage in the state over the loss of so distinguished a leader as Richard Dobbs Spaight. Stanly defended himself eloquently in a letter to Governor Benjamin Williams who issued a pardon absolving him from legal guilt. The General Assembly, however, passed on November 5, 1802, a bill entitled “An Act to Prevent the Vile Practice of Dueling Within This State.” The new law provided that anyone who participated in a duel would be heavily fined and barred from any office of trust or profit in state service. If an individual were the survivor of a duel to the death, he and any who assisted him would hang “without benefit of clergy.”

The act of 1802 put North Carolina on record as opposing dueling, but it did not stop the practice completely. For one thing, the act only applied to duels within the state. North Carolinians could cross the border into either South Carolina or Virginia where the practice was tolerated. The prohibition against dueling itself was often ignored by those who respected the old custom more than the new law. Gradually, however, dueling became less common until it disappeared in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Wellman, Manly Wade, “The Vile Practice of Dueling: John Stanly and Richard Dobbs Spaight. New Bern, 1802,”  The New East, 4:5 (October, 1976): 9-11, 45-46.

Johnson, Guion Griffis. Antebellum North Carolina: a social history. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.