The History Channel recently had a feature titled “You Don’t Know Dixie.” It was a great production that explored our language, food, music, inventions, humor, vices, etc. I’ve been a lot of places in the South, and I’ve learned that we have broad experiences that may be very similar in some respects but will vary greatly in others.
For instance, I once was at a fancy club in Greenville, S.C., having dinner when I experienced such. Before I go further, I’m not trying to impress you by saying I was at a “fancy” club. It was a company-sponsored thing. Otherwise, I would have been at KFC.
This place was so fancy the waiters wore tuxedos.
There we sat at tables with real table cloths on them, and one of the penguins brought us raw oysters. I love raw oysters, especially steamed open on the half shell. So I looked around for some saltines and there weren’t any, nor was there any Louisiana Hot Sauce.
I asked one of the waiters could he get us some saltines. He looked at me as if I was asking him permission to marry his daughter.
“Sir, we don’t serve saltines with our oysters,” he said with a bit of a tone.
So I asked, “Well, do you have any saltines back there anywhere that you are not using for anything else?” And then he looked at me as if I had just told him his daughter really liked my pickup truck. So I knew what the answer was. No saltines.
The whole time I’m thinking to myself, surely they’ve got crackers to go with salads. What if someone had a craving for Vienna sausages?
Nosiree Jives, they didn’t have crackers or hot sauce. That was a first for me, eating oysters with a fork. No crackers and no hot sauce. They went down so fast I didn’t realize I had eaten any. Allegedly, they were good.
Now, Greenville is not on the coast so maybe word just hadn’t got up there yet. I was pretty sure they got word about the war being over and the South losing, but I wasn’t going to bet on it because you don’t get more fundamental with seafood than raw oysters and saltines.
I would have pouted, but I wasn’t paying for this meal, so I remembered that thing about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
My Florida friend said he was going back to Auburndale, rent a U-Haul, load it with saltines and come back to Greenville and open a raw bar.
Now my guess is, this was just something peculiar to this club. I’m pretty sure there were some folks around town who had been to a few Lowcountry boils. It could be that this club had just not figured out which wine goes with raw oysters and saltine crackers.
Otherwise the food was good. What I mean is you would have to drop a New York strip on a sawdust floor to mess it up. And even then, if no one was looking you could probably brush it off and get on with dinner.
Now in the television special “You Don’t Know Dixie,” I was greatly enlightened to find out that air-conditioning was invented by a doctor in Appalachicola, Fla. Also, up in Memphis, there’s a guy who has a very successful little restaurant selling pig ear sandwiches. And I thought I was “top gun” at hog food, being that I’m a souse meat connoisseur. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing pig ear sandwiches are also an acquired taste.
There was a common theme to that TV show: Despite some differences along the crooks and crannies and valleys and creeks, folks interviewed basically drew the same conclusions. They were “Southerners by the grace of God.”
Walden is editor/publisher of the Moultrie Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.