Sunday, September 16, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

KNOXVILLE, TN—You’ll never know what it feels like to be in a totally orange city until you enter this lovely town on the banks of the Tennessee River on game day. It’s the home of the Volunteers, the pride of the University of Tennessee and today is the first SEC game for both the Vols and their rival from the Sunshine State, the Florida Gators. Tailgating here is a daylong affair of slow cooking: baby back pork ribs, beef brisket, smoked chicken and many dishes brought from home by home chefs.
Tailgating here takes on a new dimension with festivities on countless boats docked on the river just outside Neyland Stadium. These partying partisans may be having more fun than anyone.

Frank Spence, a former top Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons executive is a respected student of Southern culinary traditions who maintains that “The Great Skeedadle” in 1861 probably set the stage for the first tailgating party.

A native of Nashville, Spence was referring to the Union army retreat the after the first battle of Bull Run. “Accompanied by their beautiful women, Congressmen set up colorful tents for a fancy hillside picnic to observe the assumed destruction of General Lee’s army. Unaware of the looming defeat, party wagons-the forerunners of today’s caterers- arrived loaded with picnic baskets of gourmet food, and bottles of fine French Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Because of the sudden panic to reach Washington’s fortified safety, the unpacked goodies were abandoned. Unloading everything from the rear of the wagons, jubilant Southern soldiers celebrated with a feast and told about the experience after the war.” Thus, says the ebullient Mr. Spence,  “both the name and the tradition of tailgatin’ was born.”

Tailgating in Dixie means great food but, wonderful beverages are just as important. This is Tennessee and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is the one I spot being poured more than any other.

Earl and Dottie Maynard are here in the lot beside the stadium with their friends and enjoying fried chicken (“Dottie’s secret recipe batter,” says Earl), grilled hanger steak along with boiled shrimp, creamed corn, sliced Grainger tomatoes and some lovely mandarin orange cake.  This was served with many beverages including Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider that had a fresh sweet apple flavor and with Tennessee food became a marriage made in heaven.

The bottle of “Jack” was going down fast with each cocktail mixed by Earl.
On this day, I concluded that boxed wine deserves a place at tailgating. They are unbreakable, easy to dispose and offer surprising quality. CalNaturale is made from organically grown grapes and comes in one-liter portable containers. The Cabernet Sauvignon made some nice sangria.

This is pure Americana. Fun, food, superior beverages enjoyed by cheerful tailgaters. They don’t know me (I could be the opposition) but they smile, and several offer me food and drink. I accepted Earl and Dottie’s invitation because they remind me of other friends who do these things on many Saturdays somewhere far away.

Well, it’s time for toe to meet leather and I’m going to watch the game, comfortably satisfied after a great pre-game meal enjoyed with a glass of “Jack.”  As one reveler said, “it’s not just who wins or loses, but also what you ate and drank that counts.”

NOTE:Jefferson, the revolutionary gardener, is the subject of a new book, See:

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