Aprons, dresses, mountain cures, cook stoves and Bibles are all things that have come to symbolize Appalachian grannies from yesteryear, but if you really want to know what defined these mountain women and their legacies, just ask their descendants who will readily tell you, “Granny loved to dip snuff!”
“My great-grandmother was over 90 years old when I was a little girl and every year we’d go to visit her, but before we’d pull in to her house, my mother would stop at the gas station near her home and make me use the restroom there — Great Granny didn’t have indoor plumbing and her water came from the creek beside her house. Every morning, when she’d wake up, she’d take a green twig she called a ‘snuff brush’ and chew on one end of it and then insert it into her snuff can and begin packing her lips with the powdered tobacco. She kept a spit can nearby — these were fond, yet disgusting memories from my childhood!” writes one Appalachian daughter.
Her story is not unique among descendants of true Appalachian mountain-folk — truth be told, a half-century ago the sight of a snuff dipping granny was as common as a white tail buck in the hills of the mountains.
The history of snuff can be traced to Brazil of all places, where the country’s indigenous people were the first to grind tobacco into a fine powder and then mix the powder with various plant fragrances to create powerful aromas.
Eventually merely wafting these smells were not enough and the people soon began snorting the scented tobacco through their noses.
In the years ahead, this practice took off in Europe and by the 1700s, England’s Royal Family had become addicted to the practice.
In early-America, the practice of snorting powdered tobacco fell out of practice and was replaced by settlers who began taking snuff orally by chewing the end of a twig until it resembled a brush, and then “dipping” the twig in the snuff and placing it in their mouths until the snuff dissolved.
In a time period when it was socially unacceptable for women to smoke cigars or a pipe, many of the mountain women took up the practice of dipping snuff — and in most circles the sight was no less acceptable than seeing modern women chewing gum.
Never called “tobacco”, a request from Granny for more “backer” was a commonly overheard plea from Appalachian women at the turn of the previous century.
Though the sight of granny’s dipping snuff may be falling by the wayside in recent decades, the practice still takes place in many forgotten corners of America; while snuff has been banned by the European Union and in many other nations around the globe.
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