Note: This is part of an occasional series about short road trips you can take from Columbia.
As the holiday baking season begins, my father needs to buy his yearly supply of pecans for pies.
After careful research on his part (making me call around to places in Florence, Gilbert and such for pricing and availability), he decided this year to purchase his lot from the Golden Kernel Pecan Company in Cameron. Since hes talked about the ride to Cameron, along Highway 176 or Old State Road, I told him that Id be happy to act as chauffeur. A perfect time for daddy-daughter bonding or at least time for story-telling.
Highway 176 is a back way from Columbia to Charleston. If you dont like the hustle and bustle of I-26, then I suggest you give this route a try.
Pop REALLY wanted to go the long way so rather than just hopping on 176, we drove around the Congaree Swamp and through Gadsden. From Columbia, that meant we drove to the end of Bluff Road (Gadsden) and turned right on to Hwy 601. This route took us around the Congaree National Park, over the Congaree River and eventually through St. Matthews.
Before you get to St. Matthews, between the river and the town are rolling fields of cotton, sometimes stretched white as far as the eye can see. Baling had just begun on this trip so some fields newly stripped of plants were now beds for huge rolls of cotton awaiting pick-up.
The town itself is interesting. Hwy 601 runs along the left side of the town and railroad tracks run parallel to the highway, so to get into St. Matthews proper, you need to negotiate one of the two-lane bridges across the tracks. The town is the birthplace of Academy Award nominee actress Viola Davis and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (Chicago Bears and former USC Gamecock).
Navigate the old town proper on the right side of the highway and, if you like old homes, get back on 601 and go about a block and turn left into the older neighborhoods. Do a Sunday drive routine (go real slow) or park and walk around and enjoy the architecture.
After passing through St. Matthews, continue along 601 until it intersects with Hwy 176 and hang a left. Also called Old State Road, Hwy 176 rolls through cotton, corn and peanut fields on the way to Cameron.
Along the way, pecan trees line the road at short intervals and huge turn-of-the-century homes, some in a refined state, some in a state of collapse, dot the landscape.
My dad tells me that a few of the homes near the crossroads of what are now state highways once were way stations along the carriage route between Columbia and Charleston. Back in the day, he says, the trip took two days with horse and carriage. Stops along the way were for the resting and remounting of horses on the journey.
Cameron is a pretty town. The town motto is That pretty town between Columbia and Charleston. Really.
There are historic homes and large farms in the area and the Ulmer-Summers House is right across the street from Golden Kernel.
Homeowner David Summers great-grandfather came from Branchville after the Civil War and bought the Ulmer house in 1868 in a tax sale. In 1924, Golden Kernel started out as a pecan shelling operation (the family grew pecans and raised hogs). The nuts were cracked by hand and Golden Kernel not only sold what they grew but bought nuts from Holly Hill, Aiken and Orangeburg to crack, ship and sell.
Today the operation buys and sells nuts grown in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. The goodies available in the outlet store and online (pecan pies and pastries, fruitcakes, toffee and brittle and roasted and seasoned nuts) are all prepared on-site in Cameron. The outlet store also sells other South Carolina products (canned vegetables, spice mixes and etc.) as well as smoked hams.
My dad had called ahead and reserved two big boxes of cracked pecans, which were quickly squirreled away into the back of his truck. He also left with a bag of pecans coated in dark chocolate (a heart-healthy snack?) and directions to the nearest barbecue joint (because it was a bit past lunchtime)... Sweatmans in Holly Hill.
On to Q!
I dont know how we eventually found Sweatmans, because Dads GPS system took us down one-lane roads running next to graveyards and across fields, but we eventually got there after about a 40-minute drive. (Looking at an actual map after the fact, had we just traveled down 176 to Holly Hill and hung a left just before going into the town proper, it would have been a more direct route. But my dad and his GPS... and me with my not-so-smartphone... lets just say that we ran across some things we didnt know existed in that part of the state.)
Sweatmans, if youve never been, is only open Fridays and Saturdays and serves up a mighty fine que. We ordered takeout, but the main draw at Sweatmans is the buffet (with ribs!) and that you can have any of the three sauces (mustard, red or vinegar-pepper) on the side. Dad and I had chopped barbecue plates for ourselves and ordered a half-chicken for my sister.
Back on the road, again under the direction of Pops GPS, we eventually found our way back through the countryside and home again. Nuts... safely delivered.
Golden Kernel Pecan Co.s Pecan Pie
Makes two pies
2 unbaked pie shells
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup white corn syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans
Cream butter and sugar until light. Stir in syrups. Add beaten eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add nuts and pour into two unbaked pie shells. Bake at 325 for one hour.
Chocolate-Nut Bourbon Balls
Makes about 5 dozen
11/2 cups pecans, divided
1 (9-ounce) package chocolate wafer cookies
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
Spread the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the pecans are lightly toasted and fragrant. Cool.
Grind the cookies in a food processor to make 2 cups of fine crumbs. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Without cleaning the food processor, chop 1 cup of pecans and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar. Add to cookie crumbs.
Dissolve espresso powder in the bourbon. Stir into the crumbs with the corn syrup and melted chocolate. Mix until completely moistened.
Place the remaining 1/2 cup pecans and 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar in food processor and pulse until finely ground. Place in clean bowl.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper.
Pinch off bits of dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Toss each one in the pecan-sugar mixture to coat and place on prepared cookie sheet. Chill until firm.
Place in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
From Bourbon, by Kathleen Purvis