Special to the Daily News
By Irma Gall
The Homespun Appalachia Festival will be this weekend at Cumberland Gap National Park.
The festival, running Friday through Sunday, features live demonstrations of charcoal making, pottery, quilting, wood working, mountain midwifery, leather tanning, corn shuck weaving, blacksmithing, coal mining past and present, African-American Attic Dolls, apple butter making, macramé, jewelry, music and additional exhibits.
Lend-A-Hand Center will be involved in the midwifery part of the festival, with nurse-midwife Peggy Kemner displaying her skills and equipment that she used in more than 500 home deliveries from the 1950s through the 1990s. Most of the babies made their first cry in homes along Stinking Creek in Knox County.
There will be a demonstration on how corn played a crucial part in earlier home life. Corn has been a staple of life since the early settlement of southeastern Kentucky. It was the main supplement feed for all the animals besides the native grasses and weeds. The leaves were harvested about this time of year to be fed as a supplement or a substitute for hay to mules, horses, cows, sheep and goats.
The corn shucks were also used as bedding.
Corn was the chief grain carefully raised, harvested and stored to give to the animals during the long winter days and months—a valuable all-around feed. Many animals had no other supplements in earlier years. It had to be carefully guarded against the wild animals and birds who could wipe out an entire crop in one raid.
Corn played a big part in human life also. There was white, yellow, colored, Indian, popcorn and sweet corn for human consumption. In the days before easy access to the grocery store, families waited eagerly for the first sweet corn, later the grated corn pone and then the dried corn ground into meal for cornmeal mush, fried cornmeal mush, corn pone and white or yellow corn bread cooked in the skillet or oven.
The evenings were made special many times with a bowl of popcorn or parched corn. Many homemakers deliberately made more cornbread than they would eat as part of the meal or to be tucked into a poke for the next days school children’s lunch or into the pocket as the miner trudged over the hill to the mines or to the ginseng hunter. Then, too, there had to be left over cornbread to crumble off the back porch for the dogs, cats and chickens as they eagerly gathered.
So it is no wonder that the early settlers quickly cleared some ground to plant corn to tide them over another year.