I was out to lunch with a friend from work recently. My friend order iced tea, and was promptly asked if he wanted sweetened or unsweetened. In the Maryland ‘burbs (or anywhere in Maryland) sweet tea is not something you find outside of Chick Fil-A, which is nowhere near by. Both of us stopped, me rethinking my request for a Coke. The waitress quickly explained if he’d like sweet tea she could bring sugar packets. Hearts sinking, I decided to stick with my Coke order, and my friend chose something else.
The Mason Dixon line has never fallen anywhere near the sweet tea line – the marker that truly tells you you have arrived in the South. Below the sweet tea line, it’s what is ordered for members of your dining party if you don’t know what they’ll want, comes with each lunch, especially when eating outside, and is the best break from the heat you can find in Atlanta and Charleston in August. But it is a distinct option for a certain parts of the South, those areas that are truly Southern.
The is always a debate about where the South really begins. The Eastern Shore of Maryland, while technically below the Mason Dixon line, hardly seems Southern and the confusion of wait staff in restaurants when asked about the ice tea says you are still too far North. Northern Virginia is about as far from Southern as Chicago. No question, no Southern food is near by. Somewhere along I- 95 is the invisible line. Richmond, captial of the Confederacy, and base marker that lets you know the rest of Virginia is Southern, can be hit or miss on this. But you have a better shot than 90 miles north of finding more Southern delicacies than just sweet tea.
What happens when you’ve spent three years in North Carolina, almost two years in Atlanta, and two years in Richmond, and then find yourself North of that sweet tea line? You crave it! You plan your road trips around where the chick-fil-a is. You plan out meals for a vacation to the South around who has biscuits, who has hush puppies, and who has the sweetest sweet tea. You can’t get the chorus from Chicken Fried out of your head! No number of sugar packets will make your unsweetened tea taste right!
The more I miss the South the more I crave those things that are truly Southern and so hard to find this far North. And here I sit, eight weeks away from a week in South Carolina, and all I want to do is rent a Zipcar and head for Chick-Fil-A or Biscuitville (are those only in North Carolina), or any place that will give me something Southern. If I didn’t dread the thought of getting on I-95 in the spring and summer I’d head to Richmond for a day trip. Instead, I will sit and wait, and wait and sit, until I’m finally headed out of town, bound for the Low Country.
Note: if none of this made sense to you, please plan a trip South immediately! I recommend Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Asheville, New Orleans or Richmond.