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Ice tea: South's 'table wine'

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POSTED: May 1, 2013 10:00 p.m.
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Whether it’s served with lemon or spearmint, sweet tea is a uniquely Southern addition to a meal. The challenge with it is finding good sweet tea while travelling in the Northern United States.

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What you use to wash down your meal is as important as the barbecue, seafood or pork fried rice.
In my house, that means sweet tea. It’s just another one of those Southern things.
I didn’t realize how much I love sweet tea until the Army sent me to Alaska. I was reduced to drinking soft drinks, water or unsweetened tea. You were expected to sweeten it after it was already cold. Sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold tea, and artificial sweeteners leave an aftertaste that messes with the flavor of the foods you’re supposed to be enjoying.
Don’t get me wrong. I like soft drinks. It would be irreverent of me to forget that Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 in Atlanta by that divinely inspired Georgia boy, John Pemberton, and my favorite soft drink, Royal Crown Cola, was invented in 1905 in Columbus by another Georgia boy, Claud Hatcher. Even Pepsi was invented in 1898 by a Southerner, Caleb Bradham of New Bern, N.C.
With so many Southern pharmacists producing carbonated sodas, it would seem the popularity of sweet tea would diminish. Not so. As WTOC anchor and Southern philosopher Sonny Dixon once told me, sweet tea has the distinction of being Georgia’s official “table wine.” You can’t replace it.
I can’t imagine fried chicken without a tall glass of sweet tea. Ditto for roasted chicken or turkey, seafood, barbecue, pork chops, steak, roast beef and Chinese dishes.
I’ll admit, though, I prefer an RC, Coke or Pepsi with Italian, German or Mexican foods. The combination of sweet syrup and burning phosphoric acid blend perfectly with the spice of a pepperoni pizza, Wiener schnitzel or chorizo taco.
I’ve noticed, though, that when I leave Sal’s Pizzeria on St. Simon’s Island, Zum Rosenhof in Hinesville or Jalapeño’s in Richmond Hill, I don’t ask for a Coke to go. On the other hand, when I leave B&J’s Seafood in Darien, Sybil’s Family Restaurant in Jesup or any Cracker Barrel, I ask for sweet tea to go. It’s like dessert in a glass.
By the way, if for some odd reason you find yourself adrift in a Northern state, and you’re thirsty and homesick for some sweet tea, it’s good to know Cracker Barrel is found almost everywhere. I can’t say I’ve checked to ensure the Cracker Barrels in Connecticut or California have the same menu as those here, but it would be blasphemous for them to leave sweet tea off the menu and still offer buttermilk fried chicken.
Years ago, I asked for sweet tea at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. The waitress looked at me kinda funny, but I’m used to that look.
“Sw’ate t’ae,” I repeated in my best Southern English.
She looked at me again then at my wife, who interpreted that I was asking for “sweetened iced tea.” Minutes later, the waitress returned with a tall glass of ice tea and a long tea spoon. Her message was clear. The Yankee pot roast could have been better if I’d had something sweet to wash it down.
By the way, not all sweet teas are equal. Some aren’t sweet enough and some are too sweet, which is why Hinesville’s annual Blues & Barbecue includes a sweet-tea contest.
I keep spearmint planted around my backdoor so when my wife mixes a fresh pitcher of sweet tea, I can add several minty leaves to a glass while the tea’s still hot. I then add ice and sometimes a slice of lemon.
When supper is over, I’ll pour a second or third glass of sweet tea for dessert.

 

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