April 2016 Newsletter

It’s all gravy at Piney Woods Lodge

Southwest of Eufaula in Barbour County and almost due east of Troy, Piney Woods Lodge is a top-notch outdoors destination – particularly for hunters, anglers and folks who love to eat (see their pheasant and tomato gravy recipe below). Owner Keith Wade says the hog hunting is spectacular at his place, which covers more than 3,000 acres. You can book a two-day hog hunt by visiting the Piney Woods website.

Piney Woods also offers deer, turkey, duck and quail hunting as well as continental pheasant shoots, not to mention some great bass, crappie, catfish and bream fishing. Check out the video courtesy of the Pursuit Channel’s “Southern Harvest” program and Global Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing.

Now, here’s that recipe we promised:

Piney Woods’ pheasant and tomato gravy

3 lbs. pheasant breast filets

1 quart sweet milk or buttermilk

4 cups self-rising flour

1.5 tsp. garlic salt (can be altered to taste)

1 Tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (can be altered to taste)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Pecan oil or vegetable oil (enough for depth of 2 inches in iron skillet)

2 quarts of home-canned, crushed tomatoes (if you’re not into canning vegetables, you can find these at your local farmer’s market or can use store-bought)

Homemade biscuits


Place pheasant breast filets in a large zip-close bag. Pour enough milk of choice to cover completely and marinate for at least 4-6 hours. (Can marinate overnight.)

Mix flour and seasonings. Reserve 6 Tbsp. of flour mixture for Tomato Gravy recipe.

Drain pheasant.

Heat oil in very large iron skillet or Dutch oven to frying temperature. Be sure oil does not smoke or get too hot to cause burning and resulting in undercooked pheasant.

Coat pheasant in flour and drop gently, single layer, into hot oil. Cook until golden brown on all sides, turning when necessary. Transfer pheasant onto a large sheet pan, lined heavily with paper towels and place in a 250-degree oven to keep warm as you continue to cook pheasant in batches.

Tomato Gravy:

Reserve about 8 Tbsp. of oil used for frying pheasant.

Heat oil on medium and whisk in reserved flour mixture, gradually, until dissolved.  Continue stirring until browned, about 10 minutes. Adjust temperature to prevent burning.

Pour in crushed tomatoes, increase heat slightly and bring to a slow boil. Cook and stir often until tomato mixture reduces to a gravy consistency.

Serve pheasant over split, homemade biscuits and ladle tomato gravy on top.

We win the wild game cookoff!

AWF cookoffThe Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association team, led by chef Philip Davis, smoked the Alabama Wildlife Federation Tri-County Cookoff field on April 28, winning the Best Overall prize for the smoked quail rice casserole with Piney Woods tomato gravy (we told you it was awesome!), First Place in the Fowl category with the quail casserole, and Third Place Game with a venison cheeseburger pizza.

The Best Overall prize puts the ALBBAA team in the State Championship competition set for August.

A large crowd gathered at the Alabama Nature Center – the perfect venue for the wild game cookoff. Check out the AWF website for more information about upcoming competitions.

Reserve family fishing fun time

The Forever Wild Land Trust has set aside several Saturdays in the upcoming months at the M. Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area in Hale County for fishing for families and small groups. Reservations are required for the property, formerly known as the State Cattle Ranch, and can be made by calling 334-624-9952. There are three catfish and three bass and bream ponds scattered throughout the property.

“We feel like having a family or group of friends make reservations is a good way to ensure that everyone has a safe, fun outing,” property manager Bill Mason said in an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources release. “We would particularly like to see youth have the opportunity to fish in these ponds.”

When reservations are made, the release said, each group will be assigned a pond along with details such as creel limits and what kind of tackle to bring. There is no cost, but anglers between the ages of 16 and 64 are required to have a valid Alabama fishing license. Reservations will be made on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fishing will be from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the following dates: May 7, June 4, June 18, July 2, July 16, August 13 and August 27.

John Sheffey by Robin McDonald

Sculptor is a Black Belt Treasure

For the average visitors to Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center gallery in Camden, eyes are quickly drawn to the colorful display case filled with mallard ducks, cardinals, baby bluebirds and bald eagle heads. Once they discover these lifelike creations are not stuffed, but hand-carved works of art they stop dead in their tracks.

They want to touch – but that is never allowed.

They want to know how much they cost – nowhere near what they are worth.

They want to meet the man behind these masterpieces – which is encouraged and likely to happen at most BBTCAC-sponsored events.

What begins as a block of Tupelo gum wood, harvested from his West Alabama swamp, over time is transformed into a meticulously carved, deceivingly solid work of art once in the hands of Dallas County artist John Sheffey.

This 73-year-old retired Army colonel never set out to become an artist, but what began as a hobby very quickly led to an award-winning craft. John begins by recovering the relatively soft stump from a swampy area on his rural Minter, Ala., farm shared with his wife, Peggy, herself a talented quilter. He then visualizes the bird, duck, owl or turkey that each block of wood will become.

John’s years of engineering experience help him create detailed blueprints and drawings for each carving, which he then painstakingly hand carves, and burns the meticulous details of each feather. Once finished with this process, which often takes weeks or months to complete, he paints five to six thin coats of oil paints to slowly build a realistic depth of colors.

The man behind these one-of-a-kind, wildlife-inspired sculptures is as much of a treasure as his art: always ready to tell a tall tale, give advice on turkey hunting and tips on planting, or give a hug or word of encouragement to his close friends. But don’t expect to find his carvings available anywhere but Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center. His work has been sold and exhibited exclusively at the BBTCAC gallery in Camden since it opened in 2005, where John has been presented Treasured Artist awards, written about in magazines and newspapers, interviewed for television shows, and included in the 2015 published “Visions of the Black Belt” book. His work is cherished dearly by his collectors and admired by all who see it.

To see John Sheffey’s sculptures that are currently available for sale at Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center, or to learn more about BBTCAC’s other 400-plus artists, art classes or events, please visit www.blackbelttreasures.com, call (334) 682-9878 or visit the gallery at 209 Claiborne Street in Camden to see them for yourself.

Kristin Law (photo by Robin McDonald)

Find a festival and have fun!

Summertime (well, almost) and that means Alabamians’ thoughts turn toward outdoor festivals and fun. There are plenty set for the Black Belt, including the April 30-May 1 Southern Makers-Montgomery event that celebrates the Year of Alabama Makers with a festival at the Union Station Train Shed from noon until 5 p.m. both days. There will be live music, a Southern Makers Bazaar with more than 100 “creative folks sharing their stories and selling their creations,” according to southernmakers.com. There is a story series and workshops and demonstrations. Don’t miss it!

The 37th annual Chunnenuggee Fair is in Union Springs on May 7. Chunnenuggee, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., features live entertainment, food and crafts vendors, children’s games, door prizes and a cake sale. Visit chunnenuggeefair.com for more information.

Coming to Auburn beginning May 30 is a week-long bluegrass festival called Bluegrass on the Plains. Monday, May 30, through Saturday, June 5, at the University Station RV Resort, this festival features 20 bands and much more. Visit bluegrassontheplains.com for more information.

The Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana is June 3-4 at the Hank Williams Boyhood Home & Museum. This tribute to the country music legend features music, arts, crafts and food. Visit hankwilliamsfestival.com for more information.

The Alabama Tourism website has a listing of all the festivals and events coming our way.

Fish for fun and (maybe) profit

Tournament season is in full swing in Alabama Black Belt – fishing tournament season, that is. The region is blessed with great fishing in the Alabama River, the Tombigbee River, the Pea River, the Chattahoochee River and the Choctawhatchee River. Lake Eufaula is an angler’s paradise.

The tournaments found in the Black Belt are too numerous to list here, so visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources site for an extensive interactive roster of these events. Hook up the boat trailer and get out there to compete for prizes while you’re enjoying a great day on the water.


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<p>Counties included are Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Wilcox. Counties included are Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Wilcox.

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