Sandy Tarwater Hood (Sannie Mae) was born and raised in Sevierville, TN.  Like many Sevier County locals (including Dolly Parton, Sandy’s schoolmate) during that era, Sandy’s family had extensive roots in the mountains now known as The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Sandy’s own grandparents, Eldridge & Ida Ownby, lived and worked in the Elkmont and Tremont areas with the extended Ownby family.  Some of the Ownby family can be found at rest in the Old Elkmont Cemetery not too far from the site of the former Wonderland Hotel, near the present day Elkmont Campground.

Sandy and Leah

Logging was king during those times and helped to sprout many small communities in the valleys of the mountainous terrain.  While most of the men spent long days working for the logging companies, much of the work done around the home was performed and perfected by the matriarchs.  Everyday life was different, if not downright hard by today’s standards, and the garden was the lifeblood of family.  Preserving and canning helped to ensure that families had plenty to help get through the harsh winters of the East Tennessee mountains.   

Once the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was dedicated in 1940, many of these mountain families were relocated to nearby areas.  At that time, Eldridge Ownby moved his family closer to Sevierville into an area known as Waldens Creek.  He operated a small farm.  Sandy, affectionately known as “Sannie” by her grandfather, spent countless summer days with her grandparents and soaked up the stories of life in the mountains.  She still talks of walking barefoot in the freshly plowed fields of “Papaw” Ownby.

Leah and Sandy sitting on a blanket outside smiling. Leah is holding a tray of green beans.

Married life brought Sandy to Benton, TN, where she spent the next 50+ years raising her family and cultivating her own garden.  As time passed, she perfected those heirloom recipes she had learned from her family. Her daughter, Leah is now the 5th generation of the family to embrace the tradition.  Today, Sannie Mae still practices preserving and canning so that you too can get a “taste of the Smokies”.

Encouraged by family and friends, Sandy started Sannie Mae’s Heirloom foods in 2011.  She is now joined by her daughter, Leah, and Leah’s husband, Scott.  All of Sannie Mae’s heirloom recipes are strictly confidential and custom prepared by an FDA-approved canning partner.