Whether helping a stranger or giving advice, a Southern grocery store supplies more than just groceries.
We love to protest when we think Hollywood is making fun of the South, but we don’t mind poking a little fun at ourselves, because it is always done with a smidgen of truth and a whole lot of love. So here is a fun look at another aspect of our great Southern culture: the Southern supermarket. Feel free to share a few of your favorite quotes with us too.
"I put up my frying pan once I tasted Publix fried chicken."
You can smell it in the parking lot as soon as you get out of your car. When you walk in the store, that delicious, invisible aroma pulls you, with all the force of a physical leash around your neck, to the deli counter. And without blinking an eye you immediately change your dinner plans from baked fish and steamed vegetables to fried chicken and mashed potatoes. And, oh goodness, they put the Hawaiian King Dinner Rolls right next to the deli counter. Accident? I think not.
"Excuse me, but can you help me find lemon curd?"
No, you don’t work at the store. But it is simply not unusual at all for a befuddled shopper at a grocery store in the South to ask a fellow shopper, albeit a total stranger, for help. More than likely you are in a hurry yourself, but when a total stranger makes eye contact and asks you for assistance, that innate Southern desire to help comes out. You walk all over the store to find almond paste for that sweet elderly man. You show that young mom with the crying baby that the Pedialyte she needs is waaay up on the top shelf, not at eye level like it should be.
"Are you already out of white bread?"
White bread really gets a bad rap, nutritionally speaking, and it probably deserves it. But nothing sops up BBQ sauce like white bread. You will never see a 15-grain stiff-as-a-board-but-it’s-really-best-for-you brown bread next to a plate of finger-licking-good ribs. And when outside temps soar and tomatoes ripen on the vine, grocers know to stock their bread aisles with pillow-soft white sandwich bread: it is Tomato Sandwich season. Purists know that you only need four things for a true tomato sandwich: a juicy tomato, white bread, salt, and mayonnaise. And speaking of mayo…
"If I can’t find Blue Plate I just won’t make potato salad."
Everyone across the country is partial to regional products, and thanks to the world wide web, if a favorite item is not available in your local store you can probably have it shipped to you. So if you recently moved down South from Detroit and are feeling a bit homesick, you can go online and order a can of Sanders Caramel Sauce. It should not be hard for anyone to empathize, then, when a Southerner has a come-apart when she can’t find Duke’s mayonnaise or Conecuh sausage. These are some of the many food items we grew up with and trust to help us bake delicious cakes or savory soups and stews. We will scour the aisles and ask strangers for help in order to find our favorite products, from Wickles Pickles to White Lily flour. And if your Southern grocery store doesn’t have it, the employees are kind enough to tell you who does. Boiled peanuts? Try the Western down the road. Peaches? Yes, this selection isn’t too good, but stop at the curb-stand on the corner – they have some pretty ones.
"You will love her! She taught my sister’s neighbor’s granddaughter."
A good Southern grocery store is like a small-town diner. It’s where friends and neighbors bump into each other, catch up on news, exchange stories of what the coach said to their son and how their daughter just isn’t into cheering this year and really wants to try out for softball. Bump into a friend and ask for a recommendation on a church or a hairdresser, and soon four or five other people will stop their buggies and add to the conversation. Next time you are shopping, just open your ears to the conversations going on around you – and feel free to jump in.
"What time’s kickoff?? We gonna have a QB this year?"
While we acknowledge that the entire country is obsessed with sports (did you see the Chicago River running blue after the 2016 World Series?) we believe the South is home to some of the most passionate sports fans in the country. We are, of course, talking collegiate football. On any given Saturday in the fall down South, the grocery stores are crowded with patrons decked out in their favorite team colors, grabbing last minute additions for their game-day festivities. If you aren’t waving at a friend and shouting a quick “Roll Tide” or “Go ‘Dawgs” across the parking lot, you may have time to discuss team strategy with a total stranger at the deli counter. It’s a shame the football coaches aren’t around, because grocery store-quarterbacks sure know what needs to happen for the team to get to the championship.
Grocery stores in the South are full of interesting, friendly people. We all have a story to tell, and most of us are just waiting for an audience.