Why My Favorite Family Tradition Will Always Be An Ice Cold Coca-Cola
It's no secret that Southern grandmothers are a wealth of inspiration and influence, handing down their talents, wisdom, and tradition to a generation of grandchildren.
In terms of talent, my grandmother Florence Rose (who often went by the nicknames Flince or Mother Long) was particularly adept in the culinary and gardening department. I was in awe of her ability to make biscuits from scratch at a moment's notice and mesmerized at the intricacies of making divinity (hint: best to prepare on a slab of marble). Her gardening prowess was equally impressive as lavender irises (the Tennessee state flower) and blue hydrangeas comingled with heirloom tomatoes and lima beans, all originating from a packet of seeds. It was incredible to watch as a child, but sadly, these traditions skipped my generation as I never developed a green thumb nor the ability to tell the difference between baste, blanch, or broil.
The one tradition we shared was a love of Coca-Cola. As a Southerner, it might as well be in our baby formula as it competed with ice tea as the drink of choice. If the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line had a national beverage, the "pause that refreshes" (as coined in its first advertising campaign in the 1929 Saturday Evening Post) would win hands down.
I first discovered the world's most popular soft drink (more commonly known as Coke) as a child in the 60s. I recall rocking on my grandparent's front porch swing in the hot summers, drinking a cold bottle, which by today's standards, equals the same pleasure as a glass of vintage Dom. Coke was available in a soon-to-be-collectors-item wooden crate, translating into 24 bottles at a mere quarter a pop. We would play a game of whose Coke came from the farthest location as the bottom of each green contoured bottle featured the city's name where it was produced (and nine times out of ten, it was the closest bottling plant in Huntsville, Alabama).
A purist, my grandmother would never drink the king-size version (too watered down) and vowed no other brands would ever touch her lips as they were "poor imitations of the real thing." My grandfather Wesley was also a fan, and I remember thinking his food combinations were rather unusual such as catsup on green beans, cornbread dunked in buttermilk, and salted peanuts in his Coke. Maybe it's the mixture of sweet and salty or just the nuttiness (no pun intended), but the addition of peanuts was brilliant.
The custom was passed to my mother who, along with my grandmother, would enjoy a cold one while watching their "stories" (that would be the soap As The World Turns). As another exceptional cook in the family, she found Coke a unique dish-changing ingredient in baked beans and chicken wings and a glaze for holiday ham and slow cooker ribs. And no self-respecting Southern cook's repertoire would be complete without recipes for Coca-Cola Cake or Coca-Cola Salad.
As for me, I continue the tradition of keeping the Coca-Cola Company in business, living by the credo of the vintage 60s ad, "Things Go Better With Coke." I am also satisfied that I can't be that big of a failure in the kitchen as I can easily master my favorite dessert, the Coke Float.