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Black Magic: Coca Cola and the New South


Suzanne F
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  • 3 weeks later...
Got my copy of Gastronomica three days ago! Loved the article by Timothy Davis, as usual .. verrry impressed that this publication has accepted and presented his article!

There's always a bit of a delay (I think they send media mail), though they're good about sending contributor copies the few times I've had something in there. I think I have a version of that article I can post if anyone is bored enough to want to see it. (thanks Suzanne and GG...)

Swear i wasn't Googling my name,

TCD

Timothy C. Davis

Charlotte, NC

timothycdavis@earthlink.net

www.themoodyfoodie.com

www.cln.com

www.southernfoodways.com

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I think I have a version of that article I can post if anyone is bored enough to want to see it. (thanks Suzanne and GG...)

Yes, please.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Yes, please.

Black Magic: Old Coke and the New South

Larry Brown likes it poured over ice. Rick Bragg has been known to enjoy a frosty can with breakfast, even while reporting from the far reaches of the globe. William Faulkner preferred mixing his with a little—ok, a lot—of Jack Daniels whiskey.

We are talking, of course, about Coca-Cola. Indeed, Southerners – both writerly types and otherwise—have enjoyed The Real Thing for ages. A Dixie favorite since its initial concoction by Confederate Civil War veteran and Atlanta native John S. Pemberton, “Coke” has added to Southern life for over a century now. Dr. Pemberton was a pharmacist, the famous legend goes, who came up with the original formula for Coca-Cola syrup while attempting to create one of the cure-all tonics so popular at the time. Rumored to be a morphine addict, the good doctor originally, and rather famously, included coca leaves in his elixir, though that ingredient was later removed. (Interestingly, many soft drinks were developed first as medicines – 7UP, for instance, originally contained lithium.)

In a steal of a transaction perhaps rivaled only by the sale of Manhattan for twenty-four dollars worth of trinkets, Dr. Pemberton sold Coke’s secret formula for $1,750.00 As time passed, Coca-Cola became better known as a comestible, and its popularity spread like wildfire, first to the North, then out West, and finally overseas, where it remains the most popular American soda export.

In the South, however – a place once derisively described by H.L. Mencken as the “Coca-Cola Belt” -- the drink still manages a sort of double life. A tasty refreshment, sure, but still retaining – at least in some folks’ minds – a curative quality which soothes away minor ills, makes cakes moister, and works wonders on peanuts and bug-dotted car bumpers (pour on a can and work with a stiff brush).

Take note, Coke, and any aspiring young professionals in the marketing department. To use a refrain sometimes heard in these parts, “We remember you when you was jus’ a baby.”

Wander down into the less-populated and transplanted sections of the South, and ask folks (nicely, after introducing yourself) what they take for a minor sickness. Trailing perhaps only headache powders, Coca-Cola on ice, sometimes paired with saltine crackers, will be your recommendation. Other colas, while popular, don’t seem to have the same curative effect.

Indeed, even the word “cola” seems flat without a big cursive “Coca-” in front of it. The can, with its bold red-and-white design, seems to announce itself as a healer as surely as the same colors do for an ambulance. Suffering from a case of the trots? Take a two-liter Coke, let it go flat, and then drink a glass every hour or so (the above cure is also said to work for nausea, but I’d try it over ice first, just out of gastronomic principle). Some folks even swear by a glass of hot Coca-Cola as a sure-fire way to relieve congestion.

Other uses include relieving jellyfish stings (just pour it over the offending area) and bee stings (mix it in a poultice with a bit of tobacco). A few brave souls have even attested to Coke’s ability as an aid to summertime tanning – just slather a can’s worth all over your body. (This one seems a little fruitless, as nothing attracts bees like an open can of Coke. If you decide to try it, you might bring a few extra cans for the ensuing stings.)

Coke’s bubbly black magic isn’t used solely on physical ills, however. Some Southern fathers—perhaps out of the same ingrained need to turn the tables and gross out their children that gave us that glorious repast “cornbread in buttermilk” – have handed down the habit of pouring a package of peanuts into a bottle, and eating the softened nuts after quaffing down the Coke. Coke has been used for years by cost-conscious Southerners to moisten cakes and countless other desserts (indeed, the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants even offers Coca-Cola cookbooks). Folks with leftover barbecued meat have been known to retain moisture and grilled flavor by reheating their food in a shallow pan, along with a can or so of the beverage. Pot roasts basted in the elixir stay moist and extra-tender, folks say. Mixed with ham drippings, some Southerners even make a gravy with the drink. Truly adventurous souls substitute the beverage for coffee in making that Southern specialty, red-eye gravy. These folks, it’s been established, “ain’t from around here.”

One of the main misconceptions about the South is that we drink Coke for breakfast. This isn’t entirely true. We drink Coke most anytime we need refreshment. It’s the original Iced Latte: cold and caffeinated, and suitably carbonated to boot. In this way, we were way ahead of our time.

Breakfast goes well with Coca-Cola for a number of reasons. First, it’s convenient: no waiting around for a can of Coke to brew. Second, you can take it with you, without suffering the imperialistic shame of carting around an insulated cup from one of the big national coffee chains. Most importantly, it tastes good – sweet but slightly bitter, with enough carbonation to fire those lazy synapses even before the caffeine boost kicks in.

Helen Ellis, Alabama novelist and author of Eating the Cheshire Cat, was once asked in an interview what the essential social difference was between Southern women and other American women. “First thing that comes to mind: Coca-Cola for breakfast,” she replied. “I can’t imagine hauling myself out of bed at 6:30 a.m. without knowing that little red can is waiting in the fridge. People always tell me I’m a morning person, chipper, a bundle of energy, awake. How do I do it? The answer is easy: Coke for breakfast – it fuels Southern women. Coke makes us perky on the outside, while we’re bubbling on the inside.”

Actress and Atlanta native Sela Ward, hired fresh out of college to promote Coke’s biggest rival, the Carolinas-based Pepsi, even fingers Coke as a key to her dramatic development: “I drank Coca-Cola for breakfast,” she once revealed in an interview. “Pretending to like Pepsi was probably my first acting job.”

As of late, even non-Southerners are getting into act: Lucian Truscott of the New York Times wrote a whole column about the joys of the drink, in which he quotes his friend David Vaught. “The whole coffee thing is a lot more negative,” Vaught told Truscott. “It’s like the difference between a mountain stream running over rocks and a stagnant pond.”

The closest the South ever came to (up)rising again? The introduction of “New Coke.” Why, you’d have thought someone came out with pimento-free cheese spread. Terror and anger of a General Sherman variety spread throughout the land.

How were we to clean our grout? To polish our bumpers? To clean our toilets? To tenderize our meat? Worse yet, what the hell were we going to drink for breakfast?

Thankfully, the company came to its senses, and New Coke soon faded away, much like all the other colas that have dared to challenge “Classic” Coke’s 100+ year Southern supremacy.

Perhaps more importantly, Atlanta was spared a second burning.

Timothy C. Davis

Charlotte, NC

timothycdavis@earthlink.net

www.themoodyfoodie.com

www.cln.com

www.southernfoodways.com

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I feel a thirst coming on.

Nice writes.

And it is coming to mind to wonder, too, since so many things Southern obviously are fueled by Coke, whether the musical drawl of the lingo is caused by consuming the beverage, also.

We'll never know, though, will we. Who would stop drinking it long enough to bother conducting such a silly study.... :wink:

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I feel a thirst coming on.

Nice writes.

And it is coming to mind to wonder, too, since so many things Southern obviously are fueled by Coke, whether the musical drawl of the lingo is caused by consuming the beverage, also.

We'll never know, though, will we. Who would stop drinking it long enough to bother conducting such a silly study.... :wink:

Would you believe we speak even slower and more unintelligible without it?

caveat -- I only allow myself about one a week these days. I love the stuff, but it can put the pounds on like nobody's business. :biggrin:

Timothy C. Davis

Charlotte, NC

timothycdavis@earthlink.net

www.themoodyfoodie.com

www.cln.com

www.southernfoodways.com

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I am married to a woman who, for years, made sure that there was either a REAl bottle of coke or a can (she has a theory about correct levels of carbonation only being acheived in these two packages) in the fridge before she went to bed. She would drink it straight from the vessel (ice dilutes Coke-a good thing for tea, a bad thing for Coke-in her opinion) along side of her coffee while relaxing with the Picayune.

This is the same woman who once accosted a long time waiter very late one night at Camellia Grill when, after the straw ceremony, she tasted her drink and spit it out on the counter and unfortunately for the waiter and me, on to the two of us. She then started screaming at everyone within earshot (Camellia Grill is a small lunch room-earshot meant everybody in the place) that, "the PLOT to change the formula of Coke would not last because people like ME will, in the end, cause enough of a groundswell and drop in Coke sales that the company would be FORCED, FORCED I TELL YOU! to change back to the original formula which we ALL KNOW is better!" This went on for a while until I was forced to take her by the arm (after leaving a tip to the stunned waiter of about 100%) and guide her gently onto Carrollton Ave. and into the night, still muttering to herself about the evildoers who thought up New Coke.

She now tells a slightly different version of this story with pride, since she came out on top as she and her cadre of Coke Lovers seemed to know that they would all along.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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  • 1 month later...

I've actually had occasion to try the Coca-Cola Cake recipe from the last issue of Gastronomica magazine twice now.

The first time I was (dis)ably assisted by a 13 month old baby, giving me the opportunity to try my hand at baking with only one. This worked passably well until it came time to remove the cake from the pan for frosting.

The resulting odd sized chunks of cake were perfectly suited to a toddler's eating style just as they were, so I didn't bother with the frosting.

Last weekend, having all my faculties avialable, I tried again.

Coca-Cola Cake

Mise

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Flour

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1 Stick Butter

2 Tbl Cocoa Powder

1/2 Cup Coca-Cola

1/4 Cup Buttermilk

1 Egg, beaten

1 tsp Vanilla

Frosting:

1/2 Stick Butter

1 1/2 Tbl Cocoa Powder

3/4 Cup Coca-Cola

2 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Grease and Flour an 8 x 8 Cake Pan

Mix together Sugar, Flour and Baking Powder in large Bowl

In a med Sauce Pan bring to a boil Butter, Cocoa, and Coca-Cola

Pour Wet ingredients over Dry Ingredients, mixing well

Combine Buttermilk, Egg and Vanilla in a small Bowl, mixing well

Add Buttermilk mixture to Batter and combine well

Spoon into prepared Pan and Bake 25-30 min

Prepare Frosting:

In a med Sauce Pan bring to a boil Butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola

Remove from heat and Stir in Powdered Sugar and Vanilla

Turn the Cake out onto a Platter and Pour Hot Frosting over it, Sprinkle with Chopped Pecans, and cool before serving.

Now, if you're an experienced cake baker you may think this recipe looks a bit odd. That's what I thought too. The cake doesn't rise much, it ends up only about 1" thick, and there's way more than enough frosting to cover several cakes no matter how lavishly you pour it on. I end up saving over half of it, which I might try using on chocolate cookies or something?

Never the less, it makes for an interesting flavored cake. I doubt that anyone would ever guess the "secret ingredient".

SB (wonders if there would be a big market for a "Cooking One-Handed With Babies Cookbook"?)

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I have been informed that similar recipes indicate that 3 Tbls Coca-Cola would be used for the frosting. The Gastro version must be a misprint.

Also, I'm told most versions of Coca-Cola Cake use less sugar but include mini marshmallows!

SB (it must be another Southern thing?)

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Thanks for the article. Brought back fond memories of my dear departed mother. Though a Carolina girl, she loved "Co-Cola" and would never drink Pepsi. She used to put peanuts in the bottle, shocking many of our neighbors as we moved around the country as the result of my Dad's transfers in the Coast Guard.

Mom was born during the final years of prohibition, which may help explain the tidbit of a radio ad she used to recite, remembered from her earliest youth, in a sing-songy, jump-rope-rhyme sort of modulation:

"Go ahead and drink it, Nola -- it ain't nothin' but a Coca-Cola!"

Cheers,

Squeat

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Some folks even swear by a glass of hot Coca-Cola as a sure-fire way to relieve congestion.

What a coincidence. Just last night Blovie and I were discussing whether people drink hot Cokes. We love our frozen cokes on a hot summer day and were musing about a winter alternative.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Enjoyed the article. You zeroed in on the "southern-ness of the beverage of choice.

Um, just one thing - Sela Ward's hometown is Meridian, Mississippi. I know, because they have billboards up for 50 miles around the place, which I have to drive through every so often...

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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OK. I agreed I would only reply to things if I had some expertise to add. How about this, on the glass-bottle-tastes-better theory:

My late dad worked for RC Cola/Nehi for more than 20 years, so I grew up around the soft drink industry. And my neighbor works for Coke now. She and I once had a discussion about why people think Coke tastes better in a glass bottle. As I recall, she said the reason is because glass is thicker than either cans or plastic bottles. Cans or plastic lose more of their carbonation, and hence their flavor, more quickly after opening. The Coke in the glass bottles doesn't really taste better, it's just that it's more likely to taste the same from first sip to last. It may also be because the traditional glass bottle is smaller, so you drink it pretty quickly. That also keeps its flavor from deteriorating.

Kathleen Purvis, The Charlotte Observer

Edited by kpurvis (log)

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Amen, Mr. Davis!! Loved the article on Coke, and agree on many levels. To this day for me, any carbonated drink is a "coke" - ex: stopping at store or gas station:

"d'you want a coke?"

"Yeah, get me a Dr. Pepper (or 7-up, or Diet Coke, etc, etc. - but NEVER Pepsi!)

In fact, when I was about 8 years old, a Yankee friend of the family asked me if I wanted a "pop" and I think I told him I already had a dad.

I also agree on the New Coke debacle, and second all kudos to Mrs. Mayhaw for her well-deserved, colorful Camellia Grill rant.

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Well, it looks like Coke didn't learn from the New Coke debacle. Earlier this week I read, in the Wall Street Journal, that Coke 2 is a bust.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Well, it looks like Coke didn't learn from the New Coke debacle.  Earlier this week I read, in the Wall Street Journal, that Coke 2 is a bust.

But C2 was only a response to Pepsi Edge.

Is now when I should admit that I'm a Pepsi fan? Used to be a Coke drinker, but I only had Pepsi available in the vending machines at work (Bufffalo Rock Bottlers is surprisingly powerful), and I got used to it. Came to prefer it.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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