Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

April 25, 2010

Sweet Tea

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

I have considered myself a “son of the south.”  I truly believe that I am about as southern as they come!  And for those who know me, my accent gives validity to that statement.  But if I am so southern, how did I miss out on sweet iced tea?

I had to drink milk with my meals.  On  the cold winter days, we would have hot tea with our supper.  (See that word?  True Southerner’s always call the evening meal supper, rather than dinner.  Dinner was the meal in the middle of the day.  You used the word lunch only at school.)  We would have iced tea during the summer, but it was not sweet tea unless you added the sugar. You could place large amounts of sugar in the tea with the long handled teaspoons, but sugar doesn’t dissolve well in iced tea.  I really don’t remember sweet tea being served in the culture of my family and friends.

How did I miss that?  I don’t know much about the history of sweet tea or when it became “the house wine of the south” as Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias put it.  Most folks say that drinking sweet tea is one of the oldest and most exceptional southern traditions.  When did that tradition begin?  How could my deep south heritage miss it?  Perhaps, just perhaps, this tradition didn’t get started until the 1950’s!  I was out of the south during that era, and that’s why I was not introduced to sweet iced tea until 1961!

That’s right, 1961 was my initiation into the culture of sweet iced tea.  With the possibility that some reader across this land reading this blog wonders about sweet tea, let me explain.  Sweet tea is when the sugar is added while the tea is brewed.  The amount of sugar will vary.  We southerners love our sweets!  We have a taste for sugar.  We like sweet things like pecan pies, pralines, and Coca-Cola. All those good things have the sugar added during the making, and so why not add the sugar to tea while it is still hot?  Then pour it over a full glass of ice, and it is the best iced tea you can find.

What makes it so special?  Perhaps it is the way it is made.  Or maybe it is the southern water.  Or maybe it is that southern lady who makes it with a lot of love!  Who really knows?  But it is something special.  You get hooked on it real fast, and you have a sour look on your face at a restaurant when you are told they only have unsweetened tea! 

You don’t find sweet tea everywhere.  Travel out of the south, and it is rare to find.  One of the biggest adjustments one of our sons had to make when he moved to Washington, D.C., was not having sweet tea.  It has long been a southern thing, but I have learned that in Canada, sweetened iced tea is a standard drink at most meals.  Canadians have a rude shock when they visit our northern states.

Hold on and I will get to my introduction of sweet iced tea, but let me share this.  In 2003, Georgia State Representative, John Noel, and four co-sponsors introduced a bill in the Georgia House.  It was apparently an April Fools’ joke, but he introduced House Bill 819, proposing to require all Georgia restaurants that served tea to serve sweet tea.  Representative Noel is said to have acknowledged that the bill was an attempt to bring humor to the Legislature, but wouldn’t mind if it became law. He defined in the bill the term sweet tea.  It was tea that had sugar added at the time it was brewed.  It’s good with me if that bill had become the law of the land!  Perhaps I should send it to my Congressman in Washington!

Sweet iced tea is now such a part of my life that I cannot enjoy a good meal without it!  I still don’t know how I was so long in discovering it.  When I first tasted sweet iced tea, I believe my entire being responded.  I know there was an inward response, but I also know that I expressed verbally and facially the  special taste of that first sip. 

When I returned back to the south, it was to Florida.  And who would have believed it would be in Florida that I would discover sweet tea?  Soon after I began to date Judy, her parents invited me over to eat.  On the table was the iced tea.  I did not see a long teaspoon that I grew up with to sweeten the tea.  Nor did I see a sugar bowl.  Being a little nervous, anyway, I told myself that I could drink this unsweetened tea like the rest of the family. 

With a determination to not show my disappointment or distaste for unsweetened tea, I took my first sip.  What a surprise!  It was barroom!  I believe that next to Judy, this lit my wick like nothing else!  Just to think, her mother had a family secret I assumed, and it would be passed along to Judy!  I would have sweetened iced tea for the rest of my life!

And I got Judy . . . and sweet tea forever!



1 Comment »

  1. Loved this-it was delightful. I remember Mama’s and Auntie’s tall tea spoons. The best part of using them was feeling how cold they got when placed in the glass- but, I’ve never tasted as good as Mom’s-she maKes the best sweet tea!

    Comment by jjr — April 27, 2010 @ 11:04 am | Reply

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