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Chick Ludwig

REAL SOUTHERN SWEET TEA

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        REAL SOUTHERN SWEET TEA  (Chick Stories: the truth, the half truth, and nothing like the truth.)

 

   I’m sure that y’all have heard about that great southern tradition of making moonshine, also known as mountain dew, white lightnin’, and here in Carolina, Carolina Gold. But I’ll bet that you didn’t know about a mountain favorite that has been around for much longer, SWEET tea. Well, I believe that it’s about time that the truth were known, so here is the complete, at least as far as I’ve been able to discover, story.

   We learned as little children about how the colonies imported tea from Europe, who in turn got it from China. We were taught that the East India Company was responsible for this trade. We were also told about the Boston Tea Party where the colonists protested the tea tax they had to pay for their favorite drink. I’ve read where sports players often took a knee while God Save the Queen was played at colonial punkin-chunkin events. Well, I hate to tell you this, but history as taught in the books is not quite how it was.

   Way before this country was settled by Europeans and taken away from the indigenous people, the Indians, there was a plant grown back in the hollers (coves, valleys, guts). By-the-way, just to show how we have gotten history wrong, all we need to do is realize that the Indians could never have gotten here from India in their itty-bitty canoes.

   Anyhow, back to the history lesson. The Indians had two main cash crops. Tobacco and Indian tea. The tobacco was raised and given to the white man in an effort to wipe them all out with cancer, emphysema, and other nasty diseases before they could over run the paradise that was America before the illegal aliens from across the seas came in and messed it all up. Actually, the Indians discussed building a wall, but decided against the idea on the grounds that it would use up all of the trees. They might as well have done it as the first thing the Europeans did was to cut the trees down to build ships, houses, burn in their fire places, and send back home to replace all the trees that they had cut down back there.

   I almost forgot what we were talking about. The tea, as mentioned a while ago, was grown back yonder in the coves of the Appalachians. Yes, I know, they were not actually called the Appalachians back then. By-the-way. We need to stop right here and straighten out some of you northerners about how to pronounce Appalachians. Think of it this way. When you’re out in the yard whoopin’ it up with your rowdy friends and passing around a jug of moonshine, and Mr. Fuddyduddy has a hissy fit because he and the missis are trying to get some shuteye, he’ll holler at ya saying, “Hesh up y’all, or I’ll go an’ fling an apple atcha.”

   Ok, so now back to the histerical account. The native Indian tea was actually more like a cross between what we think of as tea, and sugar cane. It was naturally very sweet. Also much stronger. The Indians used it as a sleep aid, pain reliever, and even as a hallucinogenic during their ceremonies. This was, of course, along with drinking it with every meal. It was known to kill any harmful organisms that might be in the drinking water. I’m sure you know that the outhouses were often up stream from the villages. That, and the hog ponds that were always near where the sausage plants were grown. But that’s another story.

   Seems like we keep drifting away from this enlightening narrative. Right after the Europeans cut down all of the trees, they began searching for other ways to make the Indians angry. Sure-nuff, they discovered the wonderful Indian tea plant and proceeded to try and kill every one of them so they couldn’t compete with the imported tea that the colonists were selling in the local chain markets at a much higher price than the Indians got for theirs.  About the time of that the Trail of Tears occurred that you learned about in school, some enterprising Cherokee braves broke away from the main bunch and carried the few remaining plants with them as the retreated back into the mountain coves. But they found that they had a problem. The plants were so badly damaged that they couldn’t reproduce. Not to be deprived of their favorite beverage, they snuck down into the low country and stole some of the China tea from the colonists. They returned to the coves and commenced to interbreeding the China and Indian teas. What they came up with was the basis of our modern sweet tea. Unfortunately, the inbreeding totally removed the natural sugar content. Well, no real Indian, Cherokee or not, would ever drink his tea bitter. As luck would have it, it was about this time that the mountain Cherokee had re-established trade with their cousins that had to escaped to the Florida Glades. They were able to trade for  sugar cane plants to supply the sugar that they needed.

   They soon learned how to turn the new strain of tea into a drink closely resembling what they had lost. Now, the mountain coves that they had settled in when they escaped the Trail of Tears just happened to be near what was to become Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee. Eventually the Indian and white man became friends and the secret blend was passed on. I consider myself blessed that one of the families that learned the secret was the ancestors of my gramma, Ahya Barnes. Well actually, her name was Miss Bessie, but I only knew her as Ahya. As time passed, the secret spread throughout the south, mainly by the fast food industry. Unfortunately, the original Indian/China tea strain died out and regular imported tea had to be substituted. Along with it, the hallucinogenic quality was lost too. But, it wasn’t long before another native weed became available that the Indians and others could substitute it in their ceremonies.

   So here, dear reader, is how you can make your own real, authentic Southern Sweet Tea. First, put a pot of water on the stove. Then add the tea leaves. But don’t use a tea bag. You must find an old fashioned “tea egg” which is a metal, egg shaped container about the size and shape of a chicken egg, that’s perforated with many holes. You then turn the stove on and bring the water just to the point where it’s ready to boil. Turn the stove off and pour and stir in your sugar until no more will dissolve. Lastly let it “steep” until it’s cool, remove the tea egg,  and stick the tea in the ‘frigerator. When cold, pour it into a tall glass. Before you add ice cubes, there is a test you need to make to be sure that you have enough sugar. You stand a spoon in the glass. If the spoon stays standing up, you have done it correctly. Now go ahead and add your ice. Enjoy. Oh, NEVER, EVER add lemon, cream, or drink the tea hot. Unless you’re a northerner. But then, you won’t want sugar either and certainly won’t appreciate this history lesson about Real Southern Sweet Tea!

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I remember my first job working as a bus boy in a southern style restaurant in Okeechobee, FL (Okeechobee is in the real southern part of FL, not in the snowbird towns along the coast).  One of my jobs was to make sweet tea and fill the tea dispenser.  The amount of sugar I was instructed to add blew my mind and caused about 300 cavities in the small town.  The local dentists were pretty happy.

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Tall tales and true well told by genuine Southern Gents! Here in Aus we tend to use such great yarns as fertilizer and move them from place to place using a very wide shovel, but then, we are all descended from Irish convicts don't ya know!

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Huh! And here I thought sweet tea was a byproduct of making barbecue sauce.  Now that I think about that theory makes no sense because it doesn't explain the coexistence of fried chicken and sweet tea.

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   Ken, didya know that the same Indians that originated Real Southern Sweet Tea also discovered what was to become Real Southern Fried Chicken? In the conflicts between villages back before they were all sent off on the Trail of Tears, the Indians would often set fire to the woods around the other tribes village. The free ranging turkey vultures that the Indians kept for pets would sometimes get caught by the flames. In the clean up operations afterward, It was the job of the young braves to fling the burned birds out into the woods. Of course they would get the juices on their fingers. They'd then lick the savory juice off and find it good! (By -the-way, this is the first time that "finger lickin' good" was used to describe the taste of fried bird.) Now, the little Indian boys and girls would cry every time someone would suggest actually eating their cuddly feathered pets for lunch.

   An answer had to be found! Some enterprising brave had the inspiration to try out other types of birds. He was kinda like the Edison of his day. You know. Invention is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration. He tried sparrows---too small. Mocking birds---too noisy. The cardinal---his wife said they were too pretty to eat.The Carolina parrot---but they ere already on the endangered list. He tried every kind of bird he could think of. All were rejected for one reason or another. Too this or that, some because they just didn't taste very good. Then he thought of eagles. They were big enough. But he had a vision of the white man that was already moving into Indian neighborhoods up in the northeastern parts of the land and already beginning to put images of the majestic eagle on their money. he knew it would make the sensitive white man angry and thought better of it. No point in bringing trouble upon himself and his people.

   One day, as he was sitting on a stump mulling the problem over in his mind, he saw a flock of turkeys. Then, he heard their song. Gobble, gobble. Voila'! (Of course, he didn't actually say "voila'". That was a word used by the white Frenchmen up in the far north.) I dunno what he actually said, but you get the idea that he got the idea that Hmmm, big enough. Plump enough to make a good dinner after the Sunday afternoon punkin chunkin' games. He tossed one into the campfire, but it just burned on the outside and was still raw on the inside. Then inspiration struck again! He spied  the village garbage cans. A lid would be perfect to use as a cooking emplement! Then another inspiration. Melt some bear grease in the lid to help spread the heat. And there ya go, y'all. Southern Indian fried turkey.

   Later, when the white invaders moved in, they thought that the turkey was much too ugly to eat, but one of them remembered the chickens that had accompanied the first Europeans that had come across the big pond on the Mayflower. At that time, the chickens were always boiled in a pot. but just maybe they would be even better fried. He tried it out, and just like that Indian brave of long ago, found it very good. 

   Betcha ya don't know the name of this particular white man, do ya. It was Harley Sanders, the ancestor of  none other Harlan Sanders, that Kentucky colonel that made Kentucky famous for its southern fried chicken! And that's the true story of how it all started, y'all.

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8 hours ago, Ken_Potts said:

And where does Mr Bojangles fit in to this history?

He danced around the sensitive subject of which one was the best,  sweet or unsweetened tea.

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   Actually, his real name was Mr. Bo Jangles. While researching about fried chicken, I came across his name in a footnote. I didn't mention him because he's a late comer to the chicken industry. As far as I know, he spontaneously appeared on the scene just after the War of Northern Aggression. It seems like almost overnight he popped up in various abandoned shacks down around the New Orli'ns area. Rumor has it that he was a Union spy during the war, but fell in love with Real Southern Sweet Tea during his time in the Old Southland. For a time after the war, anyone caught with sweet tea up in the northern states was subject to fines at the minimum, and sometimes even jail time, so Bo decided to remain in the south. (This part about him being a spy is an unsubstantiated rumor, so please refrain from going around telling everyone like it is a fact!)

   That's all that I know about him at this point. Maybe late I'll spend some time researching Mr. Jangles. Right now I'm in the beginning stages of a study about why some southerners seem to prefer their tea unsweetened. This fact comes as a real shock to me, and I just hafta get to the bottom of it. I'll report back to y'all later.

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