I was standing in the deli section at Piggly Wiggly, because I am a lazy, lazy man. As I pondered the benefits of a tub of pimiento cheese (oranger and easier to spoon than regular cheese), my attention was drawn to what appeared to be a tiny orange pie in an aluminum pan. I picked up the delicacy for a closer look, on the off chance that it, too, might involve pimiento cheese.
Two ladies by my side peered as well. “Have you tried that pie?” one said to the other. “Ooo, my God, yes,” the other murmured. “She can make a crust.”
“I don’t care about the crust. I just want to eat all that filling.”
“She does one with chocolate and the sweet potato, too.”
“I only had the little ones. I think I’m gonna save up and buy that big one.”
My gaze was drawn to the deli case. Sure enough, there was a nine-inch version of the tiny pie I held in my hand. “JaWanda Original Sweet Potato Pie,” read the calligraphic script on the label, and nowhere upon it could be found the name of a multinational corporation. That cheered me mightily.
Despite the pitiable condition of the American economy, or, as likely, because of it, an entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in the land somehow. The shape of the GNP bothered JaWanda Jackson not a whit when she decided the world was ready for more sweet potato pies and set out to make them in her Highway 280 food studio.
JaWanda started cooking at home with her mother when she was around nine years old. She claims that marrying her husband, Eddie, obliged her to come up with a special recipe — “This man loves some potato pie,” she says — but whatever made her baking so special propelled her into going commercial in 2010.
JaWanda bakes a peerless standard, as well as variations with praline pecans, orange cream cheese, and marbled chocolate. She will insist that the sweet potato is quite healthy to eat, but that’s not why we buy her pies. We buy them because they transform the lowly root vegetable into something that tastes not merely delicious but decadent. We may differ on the fine points of pie preparation — she boils her tubers while I prefer to roast mine — but surely everyone can agree that few flavors cheer the palate like the custard and crust of a properly made sweet potato pie.
If you can’t find JaWanda’s pies at Piggly Wiggly, you can meet the baker herself among her merchandise at Pepper Place on Saturday mornings. However, if you seek an old-fashioned hootenanny Saturday evening, Irondale is where you’ll find that.
Like JaWanda Jackson, Andrea Lucas was drawn to her calling as a young girl. Instead of pies, though, Andrea took to stained glass, an art form there was precious little of in Perry County, where she was raised. Inspired by the rose windows of the great European cathedrals, Andrea started making her own stained glass works in 1999 and is now the proud proprietor of the Andrea Lucas Studios, next to the renowned Irondale Café.
Apparently feeling an impetus to bring all the arts together, Andrea has organized an unusual open house this Saturday. The gallery will be open from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. to display not only her works, but also those of area artists Lynette Hesser, Steve Loucks, Littia Thompson and Rachel Vaughn, encompassing oils, pottery, jewelry and carvings.
Then, from 8 p.m. until somebody wears out, the hootenanny. This was an art form of considerable popularity 50 years ago when folk music ruled the planet and people could name all three members of the Chad Mitchell Trio.
The hoot at the Andrea Lucas Studios will be a bit more eclectic, including spoken word artists Zachary White and L.L. Smith, a 13-year-old guitarist and singer named Skylar Wallace and, to balance the age spectrum, John Wright Jr., who, at age 86 ½, may know a few more songs than Skylar.
The proceedings conclude with a Beatles sing-a-long presided over by Alan Perlis, a former UAB English department honcho with no small skills on the six-string. Folk purists might think it odd that Beatles music should end a hootenanny, but if you remember your cultural history, Beatles music pretty much ended all hootenannies.
A special part of cultural history in olden days hereabouts was the acoustic jam. My first exposure was at Horse Pens 40 in Blount County, where Warren Musgrove used to mount bluegrass festivals and some of the best picking was by audience members playing for fun with like-minded musicians in the parking lot.
The spirit of the jam returns to Homewood this Saturday afternoon when Bob Tedrow, proprietor of Homewood Musical Instruments, revives “Pickin’ in the Park” in the green grassy space across the street from his office.
Tedrow, no slouch on the concertina, the ukulele or, let’s face it, any musical instrument, used to front informal jams in Homewood Park wherein a few friends would get together to explore the people’s key of G. For the 2014 version of “Pickin’,” he has teamed up with his associates on the Homewood Arts Council to turn the jam into a free community music festival. The basic concept pertains, in that you’re still invited to show up with whatever instrument you like to play, but instead of finding a tree to sit under, you’ll have your choice of tent stations and at least 25 professional musicians will participate in the jams. One tent will be set aside for student exhibitions and there’ll be a main stage for several group performances.
The jam runs from 4 p.m. till 8 p.m., as Chicago used to sing, Saturday in the park. The only way you could have more fun would be to bring along one of JaWanda’s sweet potato pies to munch during the tuning.