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Even a scourge is an excuse for Southern hospitality

A festival in Mississippi pays homage to kudzu, the plant that overtakes everything from country hillsides to houses to farm equipment.

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At least Diane Coble isn't afraid of it: kudzu, the crawling green vine that creates mayhem throughout Dixie.

In fact, she has befriended the leafy monster. Every day, as the blazing sun beats down, Mrs. Coble hops on her tractor and plows through miles of the plant. But then she collects some of the mass of twisted vines and makes kudzu furniture - tables, chairs, even beds.

"You just have to get a handle on it," explains Mrs. Coble, wiping sweat from her tanned forehead at the 11th annual Kudzu Festival in Holly Springs, Miss.

In this small town framed by kudzu-covered wooded hillsides, she and other folks in Mississippi are paying homage to a scourge that that has become a fixture in Southern landscape.

"We know we have something unique down here," says Ruth Khola of the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce. "So we started the festival to celebrate kudzu."

Since the town was able to escape the rampages of General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, it has retained some of its historic character. Grant had housed his wife, Julia, in Holly Springs at the castle-like plantation called Walter Place while Union soldiers occupied the area. The Confederates ordered their soldiers not to disturb the house while she was present. Because of this chivalry, Grant spared the city - and its houses - from destruction. It now has more than 60 antebellum homes.

On this sultry Saturday morning, the historic court house square in Holly Springs bustles with activity at the Kudzu Festival. As the controversial Rebel flag blows in the breeze, a booth hawks paintings of Confederate war heroes and T-shirts emblazoned with the word GRITS, short for Girls Raised in the South. A band plays Southern favorites under the white gazebo, and down the road, a barbecue cook-off gets under way.

By noon, however, the kudzu jelly has long vanished.

"You cook the blooms from the plant," explains Helen Mason, who occasionally makes the delicacy. "It's a light purple color and sweet. You can also cook the leaves of the kudzu and use it as a vegetable."

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