Brown County, Indiana

As mentioned in the last post describing our mixed experience with Allegiant Air, we flew to Indiana to visit my dad and step-mom.  Also full time RVers, they had dropped off their fifth wheel in Memphis before driving on to Indianapolis for a wedding and then continuing north to Brown County.  Marcia had use of a condo while dealing with some ongoing estate issues, and we joined them there for five days.  Marcia was eager to show us her former home town and to demonstrate that Brown County defies most expectations about Indiana.

After arriving in Indianapolis, dad picked us up at the airport for the one hour drive, which fairly well defined one of the primary aspects of Brown County compared to the rest of the state: as you head south from the capital, the infamous pancake-flat planes and fields give way to forested rolling hills.  The closer we got to the county seat of Nashville, the more picturesque the drive became, replete with post card-ready barns, hilltop log cabins, and covered bridges over clear flowing creeks.

From a botanical perspective, the timing of our visit was near perfect.  Flowering trees were approaching their peak bloom:  dogwoods (both white and pink), Cleveland and New Bradford pears, redbuds, and flowering crabapples were in full explosive color.  Some were so impressive that we had to stop and ask locals for the species.

The land didn’t just produce visual stimulation, we also arrived just as one of the areas true delicacies was coming into season: wild morel mushrooms.  Some of you from the pacific north west or mountainous regions of the eastern middle states may have had these before, but neither Rosemarie nor I had ever had the opportunity.  Given that the species is extraordinarily resistant to cultivation, pretty much your only option is to find them in the wild or buy from those who do.  Once informed of the general procedure, we made halfhearted attempts to look for them ourselves, but upon hearing that Marcia had never found one despite living in the county for a couple of decades, we gave up the task as pointless and left it to the professionals.

After a couple of strike outs at local groceries, Marcia found a place in Bloomington, that had three pounds left.  Barely had she heard the words before she had hustled dad into the truck to make a 30 minute high speed run to secure a bunch, and did so at what was apparently a great price: $30 vice the expected $50 for a pound.  She rinsed and soaked them before slicing longitudinally, coated them in a light breading, and finally pan fried them as the culinary highlight for a small party for us and her local friends.  I love new food experiences, and am willing to try pretty much anything new, but these were more than just an interesting thing to try; they were delicious in that earthy way that only fungus can provide.

Of course, shrooms were not the only fantastic edible thing we had while there, Marcia took us on a bit of a whirlwind tour of the county with special focus on the local culinary highlights.  At our request, she steered away from the high falutin’ in favor of the true local flavor.  Which lead us to the fantastic fried biscuits with apple butter at the Brown County Inn.  My god, they were fantastic.  I know I could have plowed through half a dozen, but thankfully we split a basket of four as an appetizer.

We also drove a tad up the road to the oddly named Gnaw Bone for a gigantic breaded pork tenderloin sandwich at the Gnaw Mart.  This is my kinda place: a roadside mini-mart that happens to specialize in local standard to the point that they have been featured in Gourmet Magazine and on one of the popular national morning shows.  Very Anthony Bourdain: no fancy eating area or table service, just fold up cafeteria tables in a storage room and an oversized juicy sandwich that we should have split between us.  Ah well, leftovers.

Nashville itself is also quite charming.  In the early to mid 1900’s the town became a significant art colony, primarily among impressionists.  Today the area maintains a significant relationship with that history, with art galleries and relevant events a mainstay for the town.  And of course there were antique shops a-plenty.  I had great luck in securing a handful of vintage Gillette razors at the amazing Brown County Antique Mall, whereas Marcia had better results finding a collectible eye wash cup at the giant, three story antique warehouse.

We took a drive through the expansive Brown County State Park, enjoying the previously mentioned profusion of flowering trees and clear running creeks.  There we also indoctrinated dad into the cult like hobby of geocaching.  Having downloaded the app and created an account, he also managed to find a trackable item in one of the local caches, so we look forward to hearing about how he moved that item down the road.

Lastly, I want to mention the significant influence of local musician Slats Klug, whose songs were a soundtrack to our visit.  Whether continually selected by Marcia as we passed landmarks mentioned in his lyrics, or played at the antique shops we visited, he was a constant presence.  I can recommend the highly entertaining tale of probation era shine runners in “Smelling My Way Home In The Dark,” which we played while driving along the roads and by the landmarks specifically mentioned in the lyrics.

I don’t know when we will be back to Indiana, but Brown County was one more confirmation that every state has wondrous things to show you.