Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taken for granted--Texas Need to Come to Jesus

In the south sweetened ice tea is taken for granted, like the idea that stock car racing is our national pastime and that the Southern Baptist church is a legitimate arm of the Republican Party.

Fred Chappell, "Include Me Out: A Reflection on "Ice Tea"

Perhaps, I was just having a bad day, maybe I was a bit homesick. I would like to say I was taking a stand against injustice. It has been 63 days since I have had a glass of Southern ambrosia--sweet tea. Thursday was a normal day in the office and I had just finished my routine of reading all the football blogs when one of my coworkers walks in. "Hey, Bama!" he was grinning ear to ear, "I found a place that has Southern meet and three." It is no secret around the office that I'm an aficionado of tea, meat, and three varietal, and I had begun to take the hint that I needed to prove it to the office when I said our food is better in the Land of Cotton. My rant usually occurs after we eat lunch at an office favorite that boasts the "Best Cornbread in Town!" Now this usually is met with comments like "This ain't like granmomma made it," or "momma always said these were magic shoes." So all the way to lunch I try to explain the concept of chicken fried steak to my co-workers from New England. The whole walk turns into a sociology class-I talk about D.R. Hundley's Social Relations in Our Southern States, W.J. Cash's Mind of the South, and the War of Northern Agression. Now, I'm not one of these Rebel flag carrying apologists, but I am an Old South Romanticist and I love reconstruction era sociological writings. After the history lesson we get to the restaurant and go through the food line--the food looked okay, but not like my grandmother's (the ultimate of standards). At the end of the line I saw the light. The tea dispenser had a nozzle for "unsweet" and "sweet!" I was in heaven! After months of drinking this nasty tea with hints of fruit and flowers, there was finally some tea with lots of sugar. As I've learned the hard way, I always try a bit of the tea before I get a full glass. The tea did not taste right, there was something off. It was tea, it was sweet, but it wasn't sweet tea. There was not a divine intermingling of tea and sugar. I don't know what lead me to do this, but I opened the lid. When I opened the lid I saw that there was a pouch of a sugary syrup that mixed with the tea when the dispensing lever was pulled. I went off.

As I like to do when someone messes up a sacred recipe, I asked to speak to the owner/manager to talk to them about their sins. Back home we call this a "Come to Jesus" meeting. I informed the manager that the perfect infusion of tea and sugar that makes sweet tea occurs when sugar is added as part of the brewing process. Sugar, by no means, is not a post hoc ingredient. The owner then told me that she lived in North Carolina and that what I was drinking was, in fact, sweet tea. Let's get something straight, there are three measurers of Southerness that I use: (1) you go into a restaurant for breakfast and they bring you sweet tea and grits without asking; (2)if you go to a restaurant and want tea without sugar, you have to expressly order "unsweet tea;" (3) they know what a grit is. It's just one of those things, like if you want a "soda" there is one universal name for it: Coke. Doesn't matter if it's pepsi-it's a coke. Having sweet tea with a sugar syrup is like eating yams without marshmallow.

My rant did not get me anywhere. The owner had a novel product that for some reason sold in the restaurant. I was surprised to see the owner somewhat offended, after all she claimed to be from North Carolina, and way down south in Dixie it is only polite to inform someone when a batch of sweet tea has been improperly prepared. In fact, it is my duty. Much like my recent trip to Philadelphia where I walked into a really nice restaurant/bar in a seersucker suit and the bartender said "I've got just the drink for you." Then I get some grassy, sugary, green mush drink that was supposed to be a mint julep. I then had to show the bartender how to muddle mint in a drink and that you do not take up volume with syrup, the ice melts (or it should, but I don't think they have the humid heat to do it in Philly). You should not destroy the mint like it's been in a blender, you should caress it.

I don't know why I went into this. Maybe I'll do a part 2 where I go and find all of the links to reconstruction era writings on food-it's pretty fun to read.

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