Johnny Cash's Raspberry Vinegar

Today, February 26, would have been Johnny Cash's 78th birthday. He was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, Feb. 26, 1932. My teenage years included listening to him on the Grand Ole Opry on the radio of my old chevy. (You can hear his voice here).

This is the first image I remember of Johnny Cash. He was sitting on the deck of the house he and June Carter Cash had leased, just down the road from us on the Long Creek arm of Table Rock Lake. He'd sent one of his sisters up to invite us to come meet our new neighbors.

It was a somewhat odd meeting, he seemed nervous, even shy. He and June were sitting at a picnic table, eating soup that June had made. They invited Josh and me to join them, we'd just eaten and said our no thank-yous. But Johnny never took his guitar off while he ate. He'd say a few words, strum 3 or 4 notes and go back to eating. June did most of the talking that day.

Over the next 2 years, Johnny and sometimes June, would stop by and visit. They had to drive past our farm and garden to go to town and he'd often stop and buy eggs. He liked our organic, free range eggs, and  he liked the farm. Sometimes he'd come by and we'd just walk around in the garden, him telling stories, me listening and feeling fortunate to have this amazing musician in my garden. He had a farm in Tennessee that he was proud of, and where he and June lived when not touring. He told me about his buffalo, about the ostrich that he had to get rid of because it tried to kill him, about the chickens he missed hearing sing.

This was back in 1993 and '94, although I didn't believe it had been that long until I looked at the canceled stamp he and June gave us when the Kingsland Post Office opened for one day, to cancel the special Carter Family postage stamp and to commemorate Johnny's birthday. That was back when he and June were doing guest appearances on the t.v. show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and David Letterman.

They'd come by the house and say they were flying out to Los Angeles and did we want them to bring us anything. Then in a few days they'd stop by and tell stories about the appearance. With David Letterman, Johnny was upset because Letterman wouldn't let Johnny sit and talk like Letterman did with most guests. He'd overheard Letterman say, "That guy's spooky, I don't want to have to talk to him." Johnny was hurt and evidently word got back to Letterman because a few nights later, Letterman apologized on the air.

The Cash's were here because they had a music show in Branson and the show ran for almost 2 years. We went to see it several times, including when both of their kids, John Carter and Roseanne Cash were visiting. It was always a great show but the producers never put much money into promoting the show and the attendance was always low. Johnny once said to me that he could go to Japan or Australia and draw 100,000 people for a show, but in Branson he was lucky if he got a thousand.

One day Johnny stopped by and went in our herb shop at the edge of the garden. Usually he just looked around the garden and visited, but that day, he said he had a sore throat and wondered if I had anything for it. He was getting ready to leave for a months' tour of Australia. I looked around for something, anything I might have that would help. In my shop I sell my books, the products and dream pillows we make, Nail Fungus Soak, but little else in the way of medicinals. But that summer I'd been making raspberry vinegar and had made some with thyme. Thyme, as  you know from my last post, is an antiseptic and antifungal, raspberry vinegar is soothing to the mouth and throat. So I handed him 2 bottles of my raspberry vinegar. He paid me and left and I didn't see him and June again for over a month.

The day they got back, they stopped in front of the house and got out. Johnny said in that amazing, deep voice, "I want to thank you for that vinegar, I think it saved my Australian tour. Now, I want 6 more bottles, just to keep on hand." I was so pleased I almost laughed out loud.

Here's the recipe, which you can also find in my little book, Making Herbal Vinegars, along with 54 other herb vinegar recipes. Not only is it soothing to itchy throats, it's my favorite salad dressing, just by itself.

Raspberry-Thyme Vinegar

4 quarts fresh raspberries (2 reserved for later)
6 sprigs fresh thyme
Enough pasturized apple cider vinegar to cover the berries (about 4 quarts)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

In a glass container, combine 2 quarts of fresh raspberries and the 4 quarts of vinegar. Cover and briefly shake the container daily. At the end of 2 weeks, strain out and discard the berries and replace with 2 quarts of fresh berries. Cover, shake daily for an additional 2 weeks.

Strain out and discard the well-drained berries, then filter the vinegar through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, stirring to dissolve, and add the sprigs of fresh thyme. Bottle and keep out of direct light, such as in a pantry or kitchen cabinet. It will be ready to use in one more week.

I've always found that famous people like to be treated as just people, and so I've never made a fuss over the people I've met. I never once asked Johnny or June to take their photo, something I've regretted over the years. They certainly wouldn't have cared, and it would have been nice to have. But I always treated them like neighbors, and they treated us the same way. I've a basket that June brought one day from an antique store. Another time she brought me a glass cake plate she'd found because it reminded her of one her mother, Mother Maybelle Carter had.

Happy birthday, Johnny! We'll have raspberry vinegar on salads today to celebrate the memories of you as our neighbor.


Anonymous said...

what a fascinating and heartfelt story Jim. I know Johnny Cash was a huge influence on a lot of musicians (and regular folks too probably). As a musician myself, I sure can appreciate his contributions to the industry. And his last record is especially cool because he did one of Trent Reznor's songs and Trent is from here (Mercer, he walked into the high school gym one night recently to watch his nephew play basketball). How cool that Johnny and June were your neighbors, and to have them as guests in your garden is even cooler!

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Jim, I love that story. I always treasure what you write, but this was one of the best.


Sharon Lovejoy

Dittony said...

Dear Jim,

What a lovely remembrance. I have loved Johnny Cash and all the Cash and Carter family music since I was a little girls. My birthday is tomorrow and I always appreciated that Mr. Cash and I almost share a birthday!

Grumpy Gardener said...

Damn, that's a good story, Jim! Reminds me of the time Elvis came over and cut our lawn. (Nah -- just kidding, but I wish.)

What'd you think of "Walk the Line"? Personally, I loved it, though I thought Joaquin Phoenix sounded more like Johnny than Reese Witherspoon did like June.

Happy birthday, John. You need to talk to your web designer though. I know you're in a ring of fire, but it looks like you're in hell.

Jim Long said...

Sharon, thank you for your kind, sweet words. Writegardener, yes, I was honored to have him visit my garden. Happy birthday tomorrow, Dittany! Grumpy, I'm certain Elvis would have been glad to mow your lawn had you just asked (and waved a grilled banana and marshmallow sandwich at him).

I have to admit I had a twinge of regret today as I listened to Fresh Air with Terri Gross, replaying her interview with Johnny C. some years back. He said how much he appreciated and thrived on fans attention. I treated him like an everyday guy, never once asked for an autograph or a photo. Gee, I wish I had expressed the fan adoration I felt, but thought was inappropriate. Oh, well, his cook fixed his Thanksgiving dinner in our kitchen, so he knew we appreciated him.

Patsy Bell said...

Jim, I just want to say thank you. What a treasure to have such a memory and thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this story. As my grandfather (who lived just down the road from you) used to say, "I'm proud to know you."

Jim Long said...

Hi Patsy,
Thank you for enjoying my memory of a neighbor. And I greatly enjoyed your grandfather, too. He was an interesting gardener and I saw him and his mule every spring, turning the soil.

pat Crocker said...

Oh, so Jim (and most likely so John also!) this post is! So wonderful and filled with human-ness!
More please, pat

comfrey cottages said...

what a delightful post jim! so very cool:) thank you for sharing your recipe also! your writing has taken on a new dimension this year dear, and i for one think it just rocks:)

Gail (www.yardflower.com) said...

What a beautiful story.
I love the way you write.
Thanks - Gail