Around the Opry Table

A Feast of Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry


By Kay West

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Country music and country cooking fans everywhere will savor this new official cookbook of the Grand Ole Opry and its members, featuring favorite recipes of country music legends past and present and the stories behind them.


Copyright © 2007 by The Grand Ole Opry®, Gaylord Entertainment

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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First eBook Edition: April 2009

ISBN: 9781599952772

Also by the
Grand Ole Opry:

The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon

Available from Center Street wherever books are sold.


My thanks to Gaylord Entertainment’s Steve Buchanan and Melissa Fraley, who during this endeavor became Melissa Fraley Agguini and a mother to boot. One can get married and birth a baby in the time it takes to write a book. They invited me to do this project, and I am immeasurably grateful for that opportunity. For invaluable assistance behind the scenes and access to the inner sanctum of the Grand Ole Opry, I thank Pete Fisher, Gina Keltner, Brenda Colladay, Dan Rogers, Tim Thompson, Jo Walker, Becky Sanders, Tommy Huff, and Sally Smith. For his razor-sharp memory and irreverent humor, Jerry Strobel. For infinite patience and encouragement, editor Christina Boys. For their scholarly knowledge of and deep affection for the Opry, John Rumble with the Country Music Hall of Fame Library, and Ronnie Pugh of The Nashville Room at the Nashville Public Library.

My thanks to all the Opry members who generously shared their time, stories, and recipes with me; it was an honor to be in their presence. Appreciation as well to managers, tour managers, agents, lawyers, label executives, and publicists—the hardest-working people in show business—for their logistical aid.

Though I spent countless hours in solitary confinement and social quarantine working on this project, it did not happen in a vacuum. For being there, in thought, word, and deed: my family and especially my children, for their good nature and generous hearts; Mother’s Resource Group: Janet, Pat, Bridgett, Michelle, Barbara, Joanne, Claire, Christine, Tracy, Jill, and Monica; League of Beleaguered Women: Liz, Christine, Susan, and Carrington; Nashville Heat Baseball Moms: Betsy, Sue, Felice, Katie, Anne, Nancy, Mary Ellen, Susan, Rosanne, Jill, and Ellen; and in a league of his own, Gentleman John. The Nashville Scene’s Liz, Jack, and for the longest time, Jonathan; Nashville Lifestyles’ rooster in the henhouse, Bill; spiritual advisors Becca and Charlie; Wacky Jayne, Kimmie, Susie Q, Amanda Carol, Caroline, Hunter, and always Gay; Nashville Sounds Baseball and Tracy; Mirror Restaurant’s Colleen, Michael, Stephanie, Albert, OMB, Hal, and Kim; Nashville Fire Department Station 9 for the willingness to test recipes and their brutally honest critiques; RRT, for the safety net; and finally, because if he can’t be first, he wants to be last, Wayne Halper. This would not have happened without you. There’s a pie with your name on it.

Uncle Dave Macon with Opry announcer George D. Hay.

Uncle Dave Macon

Joined the Opry cast in 1925


Ahandbill promoting a schoolhouse show—a typical venue in small towns—in June 1930, touts the headliner, Uncle Dave Macon, as “the greatest trick comical banjo player in the South.” Whether or not trick comical banjo playing was a highly competitive field at the time is not known, but there is no doubt that Uncle Dave—who was fifty-five years old when he joined the Opry—was a consummate showman and a larger-than-life personality.

Born in 1870 in Smart Station, Tennessee, he spent the first thirteen years of his life on a farm in Rutherford County. In 1883, his father—a Confederate war captain—purchased the Broadway Hotel in downtown Nashville, relocating his wife and ten children from country to city. The Broadway was the road home for many traveling entertainers and musicians, and young Dave took advantage of their presence in the lobby of his father’s hotel to learn banjo at the feet of the masters.

When his father was murdered in 1885, his mother moved the family back to rural Tennessee, where she operated a country inn and raised her brood. Macon married Matilda Richardson in 1899, sired seven children, and operated his own horse-drawn wagon company in the Kittrell community of Rutherford County, Tennessee. He indulged his love of the spotlight by providing “pass the hat” entertainment at area schools, introducing himself as Uncle Dave to put children at ease. In 1918, when the automobile burst out of its starting gate with more horsepower than his stable could hope to muster, he parked his wagons and decided to take a stab at making music his livelihood. His ebullient stage persona and mastery of the banjo captivated audiences, and for the next seven years, Uncle Dave barnstormed the South, making regular appearances for the Loews theater chain. In December 1925, he was invited to join the cast of WSM’s Barn Dance by announcer George D. Hay, known as the Solemn Ole Judge, or simply Judge Hay, after a stint writing a humor column titled “Howdy, Judge” for the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. Uncle Dave’s membership predated even the name Grand Ole Opry, which was bestowed by the judge. Hay, who prided himself on dispensing catchy nicknames, introduced the entertainer as the Dixie Dewdrop.

Having performed his singing, banjo-picking, joke-telling act professionally since an early age, and with several recordings for Vocalion and vaudeville tours under his belt, Uncle Dave Macon was the first bona fide star of the Grand Ole Opry cast. The sheer energy of his performances and his folksy, conversational introductions to his songs leapt through rapt home listeners’ radios, and tremendous crowds turned out for his traveling shows.

In 1939, Republic Studios in Hollywood expressed an interest in making a movie of the growing national phenomenon of the Grand Ole Opry, and sent one of their executives to Nashville to catch the show. WSM executives decided to take full advantage of Uncle Dave’s charismatic personality and gracious Southern hospitality and asked if he would entertain the gentleman at his farm in Cannon County. Uncle Dave enthusiastically accepted, and directed his cook to prepare a “real, sho-nuf Tennessee dinner with all the trimmings.” Opry announcer and program director Judge Hay, who was part of the party, was so impressed that he wrote about it in his column, “A Story of the Grand Ole Opry,” which ran in Minnie Pearl’s Grinder’s Switch Gazette.

“After Uncle Dave asked the blessing, we were served a dinner which is not for sale anywhere in these United States … rich country ham, fried chicken, six or seven vegetables done to a Tennessee turn, jelly, preserves, pickles, hot corn bread and white bread. Then came the cake….”

On the drive back to Nashville, according to Judge Hay, the man from Hollywood turned to him and said, “I have never met a more natural man in my life. He prays at the right time and he cusses at the right time and his jokes are as clever as the dickens.”

Not surprisingly, Uncle Dave was chosen to be one of the stars of the film Grand Ole Opry, along with Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys, and Judge Hay, in 1940. When it came time for production to begin, Judge Hay and Uncle Dave took the train to Hollywood while Acuff and his group drove Acuff’s Ford limousine touring car. According to Acuff biographer Elizabeth Schlappi, Acuff carried along a rather unusual piece of luggage in the trunk.

Knowing that it was highly unlikely there would be any country ham on the West Coast, Uncle Dave had prevailed upon Roy Boy—as he had dubbed him—to tote one with him in a wooden crate. Acuff agreed, and as he recounted to Schlappi in Roy Acuff: The Smoky Mountain Boy, “I put it in my car and started off with it. We soon found that the border guards were checking everything at each state line. I guess they were looking for fruit flies or whiskey or something. Well, anyway, everywhere we stopped, we’d have to undo that ham box, knock the slats off, and let them examine the ham.”

By the time filming was completed, Uncle Dave had polished off the ham. He asked Acuff to take the box back so he could use it as a hen’s nest. The easygoing fiddler agreed.

Uncle Dave Macon not only ate ham every chance he got, he sang an ode to it in his stage show, adapting a late nineteenth-century black minstrel tune, “Ham Beats All Meat,” as the basic recipe for “Country Ham and Red Gravy.”

Country Ham and Red Gravy

Uncle Dave Macon

Rich folks go to market house to buy that mutton and lamb

I am going to the country store to get that good sweet ham

Oh, how them people yell, when they heard the dinner bell

Oh, how them onions smelled, three miles away

Uncle Dave continued performing at the Grand Ole Opry until three weeks before his death in 1952; in 1966, he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Every summer in Rutherford County, Uncle Dave Macon Days, founded in 1977, honors and celebrates one of the county’s most famous sons. The family-oriented event draws nearly fifty thousand people to Murfreesboro for one of the few old-time music competitions in the country, and a purse totaling sixty-one hundred dollars is awarded during the music and dance contests. The three-day event concludes with that fine old bluegrass festival tradition, a gospel sing and a stirring rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Pee Wee King.

Pee Wee King

Joined the Opry cast in 1937


It’s no wonder that this songwriter, musician, bandleader, television entertainer, and recording artist adopted the nickname Pee Wee; born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski into a working-class Polish-German family on February 18, 1914, he grew up in Wisconsin where he was simply called Frank. He joined his father’s polka band as a teenager, playing the accordion, then formed his own band in high school, taking the name Frank King (in tribute to polka bandleader Wayne King). In 1933, he joined the Badger State Barn Dance and soon had his own radio show on WJRN in Racine. In 1934, he moved to Louisville at promoter J. L. Frank’s encouragement, backing up Gene Autry for a time. It was Autry who gave his five-foot-six accordionist and fiddler the nickname that stuck for life. When Autry moved to Hollywood, King stayed in Louisville, marrying Frank’s stepdaughter Lydia in 1936.

In 1937, he moved to Knoxville, where he formed the Golden West Cowboys, which he took along with him to Nashville, beginning a ten-year run on the Grand Ole Opry. King and the Golden West Cowboys took Minnie Pearl along as part of the Camel Caravan, a WSM touring company that performed at military installations in the United States and Central America in 1941 and 1942. King caused quite the stir when he used an amplified electric guitar onstage at the Opry in 1940, and introduced drums to the Ryman stage in 1947. He and his band were among the first Opry members to sport flashy costumes made by Hollywood tailor Nudie. King appeared in several Westerns playing himself as a bandleader; the first was 1938’s Gold Mine in the Sky, starring his old friend Gene Autry.

For a short time, while a member of the Opry, he even had a restaurant about seven miles from downtown Nashville on Dickerson Pike, called Pee Wee King’s Hitchin’ Post. Photos of King and his many friends from throughout his career decorated the walls, red-checked cloths covered the tables, and the old-fashioned country cooking made it a favorite dining spot for Opry members.

King left the Grand Ole Opry to move back to Louisville to work on WAVE radio and television, hosting his own TV show, which ran for the next ten years.

In 1969, King retired from live performing and returned to Nashville, where he worked for the Country Music Hall of Fame, at one time serving as its director. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974, and was also a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The following recipe from Pee Wee King’s wife appeared in the February 1945 edition of The Grinder’s Switch Gazette.

Mrs. Pee Wee King’s Favorite Cake Recipe

1 cup sugar   1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup shortening   1 cup sliced apples or other seasonal
fruit, or 1 cup canned fruit, drained
2 eggs
2 cups flour   ½ tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder   ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of salt   1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
3⁄4 cup milk

Cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the whole eggs and stir together thoroughly. Sift together the dry ingredients and add ½ cup at a time, alternating with a little milk, to the sugar mixture. After all the flour and the milk have been added and stirred well, add the vanilla.

Place in a greased 9-inch pan, either round or square, cover the top with sliced apples or canned prunes, plums, or peaches. Stir together sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle on top of fruit. Chopped nut meats may be added to the dough and sprinkled on top if desired. Bake in a moderate oven [350°] for 30 to 40 minutes or until done.


Among her many occupations, Minnie Pearl was the chief writer and editor of The Grinder’s Switch Gazette, a tabloid sheet published with the assistance of the WSM publicity department from 1944 through 1946. Much of the content was Opry-related news, including announcements of tour dates, recordings, appearances, and a copy of a Grand Ole Opry program with performance times, artists, and sponsors. Minnie covered comedy and Grinder’s Switch gossip, with guest columns from other entertainers and sometimes Opry announcer George D. Hay. There were also illustrations and photos, as well as recipes contributed by fans and Opry members or, more likely, their wives.

Curly Fox and Texas Ruby.

Curly Fox and Texas Ruby

Joined the Opry cast in 1937

(Texas Ruby, 1908—1963; Curly Fox, 1910—1995)

In the Grand Ole Opry’s early days, colorful nicknames frequently chosen by announcer George D. Hay were the norm—Bashful Brother Oswald, Stringbean, Little Jimmy Dickens, Grandpa Jones, Uncle Dave Macon, Pee Wee King, the Duke of Paducah, Fiddlin’ Sid, just to name a few. Musician Arnim LeRoy Fox and singer Ruby Agnes Owen established themselves as Curly Fox and Texas Ruby. While the catchy name didn’t guarantee them a spot on the Opry stage, it certainly didn’t hurt.

Fox learned to cut hair and play fiddle from his father, the town barber in Graysville, Tennessee. An impromptu performance by the flashy Skillet Lickers in his dad’s barbershop while the band was passing through town inspired Fox to hit the road himself, heading for big-city Atlanta. He started a band, the Tennessee Firecrackers, and acquired the nickname Curly, an obvious choice from photos that show him the proud possessor of a wavy pompadour. In the midforties, he traveled about with different groups, recording some songs for Decca, and taking part in fiddling competitions.

Meanwhile, Ruby Agnes Owen was seeking her own share of the spotlight in her home state of Texas, where she grew up on a ranch, belting out Western classics to the cowboys when she was just three years old. In 1930, she went to Fort Worth with her father and brothers on a cattle drive. While Mr. Owen was taking care of business, Ruby and her brothers amused themselves by singing and harmonizing out by the wagon. One of the more appreciative members of their audience was a cattle buyer, who also happened to be a stockholder in KMBC radio station in Kansas City, and he lassoed Ruby a job at the station. Over the next few years, she sang at stations in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Cincinnati, where she teamed up with Zeke Clements and his Bronco Busters band, with whom she made her first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Missing home, she talked Clements into heading back west, but a pit stop in Des Moines led to a two-year layover thanks to a job on WHO’s popular barn dance. The emcee of Ruby and Zeke’s show was an aspiring actor named Ronald “Dutch” Reagan. Ruby, who was hardly a shrinking violet, took a disliking to the future president, and after one particularly profane tirade from the strong-willed singer, Reagan took off for California. Eventually, the big-voiced gal’s short fuse and affection for a drink or two precipated a breakup with Clements, but Ruby wasn’t on her own for long.

Curly Fox and Texas Ruby met in 1937 when they were both performing for the Texas centennial; they teamed up as an act and appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry from 1937 to 1939, when they married. As one of the preeminent husband-wife touring acts of the time, they moved from one big station to another, coming back to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry in 1944, and staying until they relocated to Houston in 1948. They spent the next fourteen years performing on local television in Texas, before bouncing back to Nashville again in 1962. Fox returned to the Opry, though Ruby, whose health was failing, made only sporadic performances. On March 29, 1963, returning from a Friday night show at the Opry, Fox found their mobile home in flames. Ruby tragically perished in the fire, which was suspected to have started when she fell asleep smoking in bed. Fox continued a solo career for some time, then moved to his hometown in Graysville, where he lived with a sister until his death in 1995.

It’s hard to imagine this notoriously hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, good-time gal in the kitchen wearing an apron, but nonetheless, she offered Minnie Pearl this recipe and it was published in the November 1945 Grinder’s Switch Gazette. Can sizes and other measurements were based on standards of that time; the contemporary equivalent is added.

Texas Ruby’s Favorite Recipe for Hawaiian Yams

Courtesy of The Grinder’s Switch Gazette, November 1945

1 No. 2 can [20 ounces] yams or 4 medium-sized yams, cooked, peeled, and sliced

8 slices pineapple

3 sliced bananas

One 16-ounce bag large marshmallows

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar

Place in baking dish—a layer of yams, layer of pineapple, layer of bananas, and a layer of marshmallows, repeating until baking dish is full. Melt the butter and the sugar and pour over the mixture and bake in a moderate oven [350°] until brown.

Roy Acuff.

Roy Acuff

Joined the Opry cast in 1938


Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House, there are seventeen dressing rooms, numbered 1 through 18; superstition omits number 13. Only one has a name on the door, though its original occupant passed away in 1992. Dressing room number 1 belonged to Roy Acuff from the night of the first performance there on March 16, 1974, when he christened the brand-new 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry House with a rafter-lifting performance of “Wabash Cannonball.” It was a memorable night: President Richard Nixon made his Opry debut, leading the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to his wife, First Lady Pat Nixon. He performed less successfully on the yo-yo, in spite of having yo-yo expert Acuff as his teacher. The president did not attempt the fiddle.

While the instrument was practically an extension of Acuff’s left arm, the King of Country Music only began playing because his original plan—to play baseball for the New York Yankees—ended after a series of sunstrokes while playing semi-professional ball in his midtwenties took him off the field. While recuperating at his parents’ home in East Tennessee, he picked up his father’s fiddle and learned to play well enough to join a traveling medicine show in 1932, one year shy of his thirtieth birthday. Not only did he hone his fiddling skills and start singing, he also soaked up lessons in entertaining an audience with humor and showmanship from the eclectic repertoire of performers.

Acuff formed his own band, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, which were later renamed the Crazy Tennesseans. Though they were regulars on WROL in Knoxville, they were not making much of an impact outside of the region, but that all changed with one song. “The Great Speckled Bird” was a gospel tune that Acuff and his band began performing in their live show to good response, and they were invited to come to Chicago to record it on the ARC label. The group cut several songs during that session in 1936, including another that would become an Acuff standard, “Wabash Cannonball.”

Acuff and his band made a guest appearance on the Opry in 1937, but it wasn’t until February 5, 1938, that Acuff’s performance of “The Great Speckled Bird” in more “hillbilly fashion” earned him membership in the Opry cast, though not before he agreed to change the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys.

A string of hits in the forties, tireless touring, and regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry made Roy Acuff one of country music’s first superstars. Tagged the King of Country Music, backstage at the Ryman and later at the Grand Ole Opry House he was simply Roy, or to up-and-coming artists and employees, Mr. Acuff. His kindness, gentle manner, and generosity with his time made him one of the most beloved Opry members of all time; to many, Roy Acuff was the Grand Ole Opry. Dressing room number 1 was the heart of the show on Saturday nights, where he received VIPs, guests, fans, and fellow members with his trademark graciousness and good humor. Rooms number 1 and number 14 (recognized today as Porter Wagoner’s) were the only two of the seventeen to be outfitted with kitchenettes—a sink, mini-refrigerator, a couple of cabinets, a three-burner electric stove, and a small oven—and a private bath complete with a shower stall. During his twenty-two-year residency in number 1, Acuff hung a sign from WSM Radio over the door leading to his bath; when the lights were turned on inside, the sign above the door lit up with the words “On the Air.”

Roy and Mildred Acuff with son Roy Neill and the family dog Brownie, 1940s.

Throughout his career, Acuff was honored with countless awards, among them entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962, their first living member; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and in 1991, a National Medal of the Arts from President George H.W. Bush.

His wife, Mildred, died in 1981; several of his longtime band members also passed away in the eighties, and in 1987, he released his final charting record, “The Precious Jewel,” an inspirational duet with Charlie Louvin, fellow member of the Opry. With his health failing, he took up residence in the late eighties in a home built especially for him on the grounds of what was then the Opryland Themepark, just a short walk from the Opry House. Acuff became a goodwill ambassador for the compound, often taking strolls on the grounds to meet and greet park visitors, or waving to fans from his balcony.

Tommy Huff, who has shared backstage hospitality duties with Sallie Smith since 2003, met Acuff when he started working weekends at the Opry in 1988. “When I came to work there, I didn’t really know much about country music,” Huff, a Nashville native, admits. “But being around it, hearing it every weekend, made me a fan, and I came to love it all, the legends and the new artists being inducted back then. I used to love to watch Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl together, the way they talked to each other. They were so close, they would finish each other’s sentences, and make each other laugh so much. They had such chemistry on and off the Opry stage, they truly loved each other. Mr. Acuff was my favorite of all the Opry members. He was so nice to everyone. It didn’t matter who you were; he treated everyone the same. In the summer, he would say to the people who worked at the Opry, ‘I’m going to throw a barbecue for you guys.’ And we’d get there one weekend out of the blue, and there’d be a spread of barbecue, corn, beans, and watermelon that he arranged for just us regular people. That meant a lot to us, and everyone loved him.”

The following recipe from Roy Acuff’s wife was originally published in December 1944 in The Grinder’s Switch Gazette.

Mrs. Roy Acuff’s Favorite Recipe for Hot Rolls

1 large-sized potato, peeled

1 cup sugar

1 cup milk

1 cup shortening

1 tablespoon salt

1 cake yeast (or 1 package active dry yeast)

2 eggs

8 cups flour (approximately)

Cook the potato till soft. Put aside 1 cup of potato water to cool. In the meantime, put into a saucepan the sugar, milk, and shortening and heat until all dissolved. Set this aside to cool. While the potato water and sugar mixture are cooling, force the potato through a sieve with a fork. Add the salt to the potato. When the potato water has cooled, dissolve in the yeast cake, then mix with the potato. Add to this the cooled sugar mixture and the 2 well-beaten eggs. Mix well.

Sift 8 cups of flour. Add to the above mixture 1 or 2 cups at a time. Stir after each addition, and continue to add the flour, 1 or 2 cupfuls at a time, until you have a good workable dough.


On Sale
May 30, 2009
Page Count
304 pages
Center Street

Kay West

About the Author

Kay West has been working in and writing about country music for over twenty years. She has been a columnist, feature writer, and restaurant critic for the Nashville Scene for fifteen years and has been voted Best Feature Writer in Nashville for three consecutive years by readers. She also writes for People, Nashville Lifestyles, and NFocus magazines and is the author of two previous books, How to Raise a Gentleman and How to Raise a Lady. Kay lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her two teenaged children.

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