LookBack11.12

Wes Browning’s Produce House stood on Broadway in Hartsville. Browning is the gentleman in the middle, wearing the large straw hat.

With November being a month that we associate with good food and good times with family and friends, we are spending this month looking at the history of Trousdale County groceries.

As we wrote last week, the pioneers did not shop at the grocery store, or any other store for that matter!

We quote from the short autobiography of J.H. Grime, a Middle Tennessee minister who was born in 1851. In the small, self-published booklet, he wrote this of his father, “If he needed a wagon, plow, or harness, he made it. Everything that was needed for the table was grown on the farm and in the garden. Nothing used for consumption or comfort was bought from abroad; they were either manufactured or grown at home.”

The family used honey as a sweetener or sorghum. He was a teenager before he ever saw a sugar bowl on a table.

But when the first dry goods stores were built in Hartsville, they did offer sugar and other items that couldn’t be raised on the sun baked earth of Trousdale County — such as coffee, tea, spices, and flour.

Grime wrote that “The majority did not grow wheat, and never saw a biscuit on their table; and those that did grow it, had biscuits Sunday morning only.”

Grime grew up in Putnam County and would later live in other counties and towns as part of his career as a preacher, including neighboring Wilson County.

As for his own table… When he first married, he followed his parents’ example and was entirely self-sufficient. “It is true we did not have any biscuits, or sugar, or coffee and what the people call ‘extras’ on the table. Our diet consisted of corn bread, meat and gravy, with chicken and eggs, milk and butter, sorghum, and such vegetables as we could grow in the way of potatoes, cabbage, beans, etc.”

He also noted that the family never went to the store for garden seeds. That too was something they produced for themselves!

Since people were so self-sufficient, there was no need for what we call a “grocery store” in town. The dry goods stores managed to provide the few items of food the typical farm family might need but couldn’t grow for themselves.

A dry goods store did not have a cereal aisle or a frozen food section, a dairy aisle or a butcher.

People would raise their own animals and butcher them, usually a chicken for Sunday and pork for the rest of the week. Pork was the most popular meat because it could be salted down and kept in the smokehouse for later use.

What if you didn’t live on the farm? There were people who lived in town who had jobs other than farming.

Even town folks kept a milk cow in a shed behind their house, had a garden and raised a few chickens.

As we know, a successful entrepreneur finds ways to make money from the public. Eventually a new business showed up in town — just for those who didn’t have the room or incentive to keep a chicken coop or the time to milk a cow twice a day.

That was Browning’s Produce House — the forerunner of Hartsville’s first grocery store.

Wes Browning ran a produce house in town and this is the way it worked: Browning would buy fresh produce, eggs, milk, butter, and live chickens from farmers. He would then sell those items to townspeople. The produce that Browning sold would change with the season and depended on what farmers brought to his loading dock.

County Historian Eleanor Lipscomb wrote of these businesses in her own book on local history, published in 1996. “Years ago, the produce store served two types of customers: farmers who would take their eggs, live chickens, and turkeys and sell them for cash, and, on the other hand, the town folk, who would buy eggs and the fowls, still alive, waiting to be carried home to be killed and dressed, then eaten for supper.”

Eleanor noted, “Every cook had to be skilled in the art of dressing and cutting up a chicken to be fried!”

How many of our readers would have turkey for Thanksgiving this year if they had to chop off its head, pluck off the feathers, and then clean and prepare it?

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