Sip of the South
August 18, 2008
I am back in Chicago after four days in the South, touring a small slice of Dixie (two nights in Nashville and one in Greenwood, Mississippi). As I said last week, I was with my friend Maggie, who grew up in Nashville and whose childhood best friend lives in Greenwood. Today’s recipe—peach sweet tea—is in honor of the trip, because I’m not quite ready to quit savoring my taste of the South just yet.
Like this tea, my hopes for the trip conjured visions of hot thick air; sprawling verandas, spilling over with greenery and dotted with porch swings; and out-of-the-ordinary (for me) tastes. Happily, neither the trip nor the tea disappointed. Our two days in Nashville were jam-packed with tour guides (led, expertly, by Maggie) and with as many glimpses of the Olympics coverage as possible. We saw downtown Nashville, along with its rows of bars [above, top row, left] that boast both stories of legends discovered on their stages as well as nightly line-dancing. We spent an hour or so roaming the Country Music Hall of Fame [above, middle row, left and right], reading about and listening to Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., Johnny Cash, Pasty Cline, Dolly Parton and others. We also saw the Parthenon (um, yes, Nashville is home to an impressive recreation of the Parthenon, because Nashville, as I learned, is the “Athens of the South,” and also because, well, why not) [above, bottom row, left] and the Cumberland River (a river, incidentally, that is meaningful to me because on its banks is where Kevin and I first made eyes at each other during a camping trip in Kentucky) [above, bottom row, right].
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
We also found time for several trips down Maggie’s memory lane, a great lunch near Vanderbilt, two delicious dinners—one in East Nashville and the other homecooked by Maggie’s mom, a scavenge through an eclectic cooking store, and a stop in a used book store that had a wide selection of used cookbooks, including one that was sprinkled with handwritten notes and recipes of the book’s onetime owner. Before we knew it, though, it was time to head further below the Mason-Dixon line: into the Mississippi Delta.
Our drive from Nashville to Greenwood was like any other interstate trek: some wooded sections, broken up by oases of fastfood joints and Wal-marts. But pulling off the highway into Greenwood felt a little bit like a boarding a time travel machine. We even passed a gas station that had been closed down for quite some time, its posted price per gallon frozen in time at a shockingly low $1.90. There were lots of sights like that in and around Greenwood—vacant buildings and shut-down businesses—but there were also signs of a resurgence downtown, thanks to the town’s status as Viking‘s headquarters [below, bottom row, left]. Maggie’s friend works at the hotel connected to the Viking Cooking School, so we were able to wander around the school’s gleaming facilities. I felt like a fiending junkie: so many beautiful appliances, but nothing to cook!
Maggie’s friend’s husband, and generations before him, grew up in Greenwood, so he gave us a quick history of the town and the Delta. He also took us to dinner at Lusco’s—a one-of-a-kind dining experience. The restaurant’s tables are nestled in booths cordoned off by curtains and its wait staff is summoned by buzzers located on the walls of the booths. The story is that the seating arrangements are a holdover from Prohibition , but they are also a lot of fun. The food (broiled shrimp in a hot sauce, for me) was delicious too.
Many aspects about the South are certainly charming: the drawl, the niceties, the weather. And there’s also the food, which is irresistible, provided your arteries are strong and your blood sugar level accustomed to spikes—flaky biscuits, creamy grits, and pitcher after pitcher of sweet tea. Apologies to the purists, but this tea is only lightly sweetened. It’s also studded with slices of juicy peaches. I wasn’t in Georgia this trip, but most of my prior trips to the South have been to that state (one of my best friends from college grew up in Atlanta and got married on Sea Island), and the fuzzy peaches were a nod to those memories too.
It was a trip that felt somehow like stolen time. Perhaps it’s because I know my days of loosely-planned road trips are waning and it’s probably the only time Maggie and I will spend 17 hours in the car over the course of four days, miraculously never (not even once!) running out of things to talk about it. In the end, I’m happy to be back home in Chicago, but I’m also quite pleased to have a pitcher of this tea chilling in my fridge and these memories of the trip fondly tucked away.
Photos: As always, click the photos to enlarge. This will redirect you to my Flickr page.
Sweet Peach Tea
6 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
6 Earl Grey teabags
1 peach, pitted and sliced
Bring the water and sugar to a gentle boil in a saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove the pan from heat and immerse the teabags in the hot water, allowing the tea to steep for about five minutes.
Meanwhile, place the peach slices in the bottom of a pitcher, reserving several for garnish if desired. Once the tea has steeped, discard the tea bags and pour the tea into the pitcher. Chill the pitcher and serve the tea cold.