Due North 

A food-filled trip to Ripley.

In Henning, Tennessee, a straight shot 40 minutes north of Memphis on Highway 51, is the boyhood home of Alex Haley, writer of Roots and ghostwriter of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The home, which is now a museum, is modest but not small. There is a swing on the front porch.

Haley, who died in 1992, is buried in the front yard. Etched in the grave marker is "Find good and praise it." It's a fine notion any day and apt on this particular Saturday, as the museum is closed even though its posted hours promise otherwise. But the restrooms are open, so we'll praise that since there are other stops to make on Highway 51.

A few miles up is Ripley, perhaps best-known for its tomatoes, with a festival every year in honor of the fruit. This year, it's July 7th and 8th and will feature food and music and tomato tastings. If you can't wait that long, there are plenty of roadside vendors along Highway 51 offering not only tomatoes but peaches and squash and homemade salsa and fried pies and a lot of other inviting food items that, when you have a chance to go at them at home, are just as good as they look.

Fresher still are the strawberries you can pick at Carmack Farms. To get there, you turn right at the intersection of Nankipoo and Curve, off of Highway 51, and keep your eyes peeled for the signs. The strawberries are sparkling red and juicy enough to stain your shoes. They're delicious, too. If you're especially picky when it comes to picking, it might take you 20 minutes to gather a pound, which costs $1.10. In July, you can pick sweet corn.

It's time for a break now at Emily's Bakery & Restaurant (815 Highway 51 North), which, as the name suggests, is prized for its baked goods. Nothing fancy here -- fried pickles, fried cheese, fried onions, you get the picture. Today's special is the open-faced roast-beef sandwich, and today's topic among the regulars is the show Who's Wedding Is It Anyway?.

Another must-stop is Lauderdale Cellars Winery & Vineyard (1900 Highway 51 South). Go now. The owner, Roy Crowder, is moving the operation at the end of the summer to Jackson, Tennessee, where he hopes to see more tourist traffic. He offers sweet dessert wines made from peaches and muscadine and other grapes, which he'll continue to grow on the Ripley property. Until the move, Lauderdale Cellars will be open on Saturday afternoons to meet the needs of the locals who've become loyal customers since he opened the winery in 1994.

On the way back to Memphis, take a left onto the Covington town square. There's an antique store and a hip clothing boutique. After circling the square, follow the signs for the South Main Historic District, a stretch that features several charming old homes.

Now, back in Memphis, take your wine and your tomatoes and your salsa and your strawberries and everything that you've seen and experienced and consider that all of it was but one short hour's drive away.



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