July 6th, 2011
04:15 PM ET
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Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and this week, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. E.T.

Douglas Jones works at CNN International

We were at a lake in east Tennessee on U.S. Independence Day weekend when someone’s grandfather brought out three glass jars and started passing around the flavored moonshine. In these parts, it wasn’t a surprise.

We had just returned to camp and already the barbecue grills were sizzling. The coolers were open and you could hear that crisp rush of ice falling as hands pulled out more cold beers.

We were three Americans from CNN who went to Tennessee to show a group of international journalists a bit of Americana on the most American time of the year: 4th of July weekend.

Fresh out of the lake water and still drying off, our group was exhausted after a trip on the Tennessee River catching catfish with our hands. It’s a practice called catfish “noodling” or “grabbling”.

Marty Jenkins, his brother and grandfather were all at the fryers helping pour white flour and onions onto the cut potatoes. For the catfish fry batter, a group of girls gathered around a table cracking open eggs from a stack of double-dozen Wal-Mart brand cartons.

As the burgers and chicken wings cooked on the grill, grandmothers appeared with banana pudding and coconut pies. Before we knew it there were tables full of food. Then an older gentleman brought out the moonshine.

Immediately a circle formed around the clear liquid in glass jars. There were three flavors: watermelon, peach and “original”. Each brave soul made a child-like cringe and giggled a little as they took a sip. It was all about sharing and the group watched, to see if you could handle the tough stuff. The men explained how it was made and how it was a part of the culture in Tennessee.

We had some laughs and sat back down with plates of fried, grilled and baked southern goodness. Everyone told stories about where they were from and the group of journalists from all over the world told the southerners about different idiosyncrasies in their countries. It was a great experience to take something so American and share it with a group that was so international.

The experience reminded me of something I’ve known for a while. Food brings people together, no matter who they are. Food reminds us all that we all share many ideas about friendship and family.

It was an appropriate way to celebrate the birthday of the melting pot of cultures that is the U.S.

Read more about catfish noodling on CNNI Back|Story

Previously - Shine on, you crazy distiller

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Filed under: BackStory • Fourth of July • Moonshine • Sip • Southern • Spirits • Stunt Booze • Television

soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. beth

    I'm an East TN native, and occasional 'shine drinker. I just "discovered" Midnight Moon for myself; their Apple Pie version is delish, and the Cherries variation is powerful, but delicious (especially when you bite into the fruit – that gush of PGA is swoon-worthy). Wonder if you were up near my neck of the woods, Douglas? I live just outside of Knoxville. Y'all come back soon now, ya hear?

    July 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Ann

    Tried moonshine once – just a sip, and it made my lips go numb for an hour! (And I prefer my scotch neat, so it's not that I can't handle straight liquor.)

    That stuff's not for me. I like something I can sip and enjoy without getting stupid.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • aunt matilda

      Ann, you darlin' little thang, sometimes the point is to get stoopid for a short while...

      July 12, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  3. Just Sayin'

    try some grappa - It is a little smoother than moonshine

    July 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
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