Photo: Neal Hutcheson
By:Â Michael Engle
Many people seem to have a particular family member with a certain hidden food talent.Â Whether it is a grandmother’s casserole recipe, an uncle’s barbecue sauce, or a father’s steak seasoning blend, these family traditions invariably become priceless family secrets.Â Sometimes, these small-scale items emerge as bases for publicly-known brands.Â In the case of the late Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, an entire line of bootlegged moonshine has been transformed into a business, due to revised local liquor laws.Â The New York Times writer Campbell Robertson recently profiled Popcorn and the nascent industry he helped launch.
Though once illegal in Cooke County, Tennessee, moonshine production has been a fixture in its local informal economy for generations.Â As there were few alternative opportunities for making a living in the region, moonshine has been a risky industry, but successful moonshiners have used the under-the-table money to support their families.Â The associated lawlessness and corruption (Popcorn himself routinely provided pistols to local sheriffs) have cemented a negative stereotype upon the county.Â Most moonshiners in Cooke County elected to maintain a low profile, but Popcorn was the exception to this rule, since he freely and frequently pedaled his “potent but fine-tasting” corn whiskey. Read More