There are few foods that have make me dreamy-eyed my entire life but ham and potato salad are definitely life-long loves. Consequently, a traditional smokehouse has had a near mystical quality my whole life. And going out to see DeeDee Darden at Darden’s Country Store and their smokehouse has captivated my imagination for years. I went several years ago and wrote abut it on my personal blog when I did a farms A to Z. And once I had the image and smells in my mind, I knew I had to go back as I started this website/podcast.
Getting out there immediately after Thanksgiving meant seeing the Dardens in their busy period — a big change from my previous visit in February as they had just started salt curing the hams which you can see in the photo here.
There have been quite a few updates at the store and farm in the years that passed. Some were cosmetic like new paint jobs on the store & smokehouse’s exteriors and some new ways to showcase the world of agriculture for school children. They also sell some of their homecooking — from greens to chicken pot pies and most! The aroma of ham, the sense of generations of tradition all served up on a roll…. and they incredible feeling of hospitality, those were all the same! So are all the local favorites like chocolate covered peanuts.
Touring the Smokehouse with DeeDee
During the calendar year, the Dardens salt-cured and smoked more than a thousand hams. All of that was done in a smokehouse that has served that purpose for decades. Seeing how that works is something that I’d never thought about when I was a child and chances are, I may not have believed hams taking most of a year to get cured & smoked!
She also shows the way a ham looks after it is cooked, deboned and is ready to go! And they have a world title slicer making sure there are all the paper thin slices a person could want available! I’ve eaten ham biscuits each time I went and have mercy they are fantastic!
Hosting School Kids for Tours
The Dardens aren’t actually pig farmers. In fact, DeeDee visited with me during the podcast recording about their sourcing quality hams from others. They have some cattle and grow corn & cotton as well as grow a pumpkin patch for fall visitors to the farm. That keeps the family really busy in fall with hosting school groups! DeeDee takes time showing us around the farm she shares with school groups & families. From a cotton picker to drive (stationary only) and a cotton trailer to jump in, to corn boxes, a Holstein calf named Moo-fasa and other stray farm animals they have adopted and more!
Looking at some of the photo backdrops they have made — I can only imagine how many families have posted photos from this place and love the photo the Darden Country Store Facebook page shared of the team for Halloween. I see the Lion King love is strong.