10 Things About Southern Cocktails

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Drinking in the South is almost an art form. We take our alcohol seriously. Bourbon is a way of life. Moonshine is a point of pride. And not being able to hold your liquor is a mark of poor breeding.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the doctrine of the Southern Baptist Church, drinking is more than frowned upon. It’s prohibited. However, the old joke runs “What’s the difference between Baptists and Methodists? Methodists will say hello to each other in the liquor store.” Because no matter what the church says, most of the congregation imbibes. How do I know? I’m a Baptist. My father also grew up Baptist and was, for a time, part-owner of the local liquor store. Just to paint you a picture.

There are, however, teetotalers within the South. Most of the ones I know are older ladies. Like my great-grandmother, God Rest her soul. When the doctor told her she needed to drink a beer a day for her circulation, she made my grandfather drive to the next county to buy it for her because she was terrified someone in her Sunday School class would see! Never you mind that my grandfather kept a beer fridge on the porch at his home. And if you don’t think I’ve ever written a character based on that gem of a woman, you’re wrong.

For the most part, though, alcohol is deeply ingrained in the Southern culture. It can wash away the pain of a harsh loss of your beloved alma mater’s athletic team. It can blur the jagged edges of a broken heart. It can ease the tension at dysfunctional family gatherings, unless of course part of the dysfunction is an uncle or two with an addiction issue. Also a common Southern tale.

So get out your shakers, your stirrers, and the key to your liquor cabinet. It’s time to booze it up, Southern Style.

  1. The Mint Julep, a drink long associated with bougie white women in big hats who watch horse races and their significant others in seersucker suits, actually started off as a medicinal tonic over a thousand years ago. The mint wasn’t added until the late 1700s, and it has been made with different bases over the years, but it was in the Southeastern United States that the concoction gained real popularity as a recreational drink.
  2. The Sazerac was created in New Orleans. Its specific origin within the city is controversial, but the recipe first called for cognac. Due to crop failures cognac was hard to come by for a while and rye whiskey was the replacement. I’m a tried and true Southerner and I’ll be honest, I’ve actually never had one of these.
  3. There is an official tailgate cocktail for every university in the Southeastern Conference, as published in the Southern Living Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook. My own beloved Mississippi State’s is the Bulldog Bloody Mary (it’s garnished with pickled okra).
  4. The Old-Fashioned. America’s first cocktail was created down south, but as other drinks created in the same style grew in popularity, people continued to order this one–in the “old-fashioned style”. The drink eventually made its way to the Waldorf-Astoria and its place in history was firmly cemented. But it all started south of the Mason-Dixon.
  5. Mississippi Punch, so named because it originated “somewhere along the Mississippi” calls for light brandy, rum, and bourbon along with some bitters, lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Basically, pour a little of all the best stuff in your liquor cabinet and then add a bit of something without alcohol to make it look like you aren’t just trying to get hammered.
  6. Three words: Sweet Tea Vodka. You’re welcome. Also, pace yourself. It’ll get you faster than you think.
  7. The Hurricane, named because it was originally served in glass from a hurricane lamp, was invented by the Pat O’Brien in New Orleans. Several of my friends and acquaintances have lived to regret Pat O’s signature creation.
  8. It’s hotter than the Devil’s backside down here in the summer, so leave it to Southerners to mix ice cream with booze. Mississippi Mudslides are made with chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, milk, and–what else–bourbon. You can even top it with marshmallows.
  9. Folks at the University of Alabama have a drink named after the line of one of their most common cheers. The Alabama Yellow Hammer Slammer is made with three different kinds of alcohol, but you’ll only taste the fruit juices in the recipe. Have you ever wondered how Southern women can possibly wear heels to football games where they will stand and cheer for hours? Drinks like this. Your feet won’t hurt if you can’t feel them.
  10. Everybody has their own special tricks to avoid or cure hangovers because showing up to church on Sunday morning in a pair of sunglasses that covers half your face and slumping down in the pew is a dead giveaway that you’re an amateur. But perhaps the most popular is the “hair of the dog that bit you”, followed closely by Gatorade (also created in the South) and painkillers.

The South has an ugly past, but a wonderful history of creativity. Music, theater, literature. So it should be no surprise that the same creative spirit spilled over into our, well, spirits.

So if you’re writing a character with a bit of a Southern flair and you don’t picture them as the kind of person who drinks beer that’s on tap or whiskey neat, then maybe this will inspire you. Though, if you feel the need to “get into character” I would advise you to pace yourself.

Book Review: Leaving Oxford by Janet W. Ferguson

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A year ago, Sarah Beth LeClair was a rising star in her advertising firm in LA, living in Malibu, and living with her doctor boyfriend. But then the accident happened. After that, the freeways, the memories, and the ghosts of LA were too much and Sarah Beth moved back home to Oxford, MS.

Still an advertising prodigy, she’s gainfully employed, but Sarah Beth has a secret. Her anxiety about driving on a highway is so debilitating that she can’t leave Oxford. When she gets outside the city limits, she has a panic attack. So she doesn’t leave.

Oxford is also home to the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, and the cutest offensive coordinator of any football team in history. Jess McCoy’s career is on the rise, too. Ever since he decimated his shoulder playing college ball and realized he couldn’t play pro, he’s wanted to coach in the NFL. And the opportunity is right around the corner.

The only problem for Jess is that he meets the beautiful and captivating Sarah Beth and begins to have feelings for her that he’s never experienced before. Suddenly, the thought of leaving Oxford isn’t quite as appealing as it was before…

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Real talk: a year ago I would have loved and adored most of this book (I would have still had a bone to pick, but more on that later). I wanted to love it now. I’m from Mississippi. Ole Miss is the rival to my own alma mater, but I could let that go for the sake of a cute, clean, Christian romance set in my home state. But it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Sigh.

There are several things it had going for it. It had a fun meet cute. It was clean. It was Christian based fiction, which I know is not a pull for a lot of people, but I’m a Christian and I like it. Football. Mississippi. A ridiculous and adorable dog.

A year ago the only thing that would have gotten on my nerves was some of what she wrote about coaching. My family is heavily involved in college sports. In the acknowledgments, Ferguson thanks former members of the Ole Miss coaching staff, so I know she at least asked a few questions. However, there were some inaccuracies that the average reader might not have noticed. Because college athletics were a part of the livelihood of my home for many years, I noticed.

Still, I could have gotten over that. Most people, even hardcore college football fans in Mississippi would have skimmed over it without much thought. I could swallow that. And a year ago, I might have. But after studying crafting and editing blogs and learning to look beyond my own perspective, there are some other things that don’t quite work for me.

Some of the dialogue feels stilted or in the wrong character voice. It’s a small thing, but it happens in several places and suggests an editing issue. And it’s not the only one.

Oxford, MS has never been this white. Is it possible that Sarah Beth’s social circle and the staff she interacts with at Ole Miss, and her office building in LA are all (except one Latino man) white? Yes, it’s possible. But when she writes about Oxford, she talks about driving through or around different areas of town and never acknowledges any character, and I mean anyone who is Black. That’s hard to swallow. The population of Mississippi is nearly 40% Black. That number gets higher in certain areas of the state. The university staff as a whole is about 30% Black. So to write a book set entirely in Oxford, Mississippi and not have a single Black character is at best incomplete. And neither the author nor anyone in the editing and publishing process seemed to notice.

I don’t have anxiety. Sarah Beth’s reluctance to accept her diagnosis and her struggle regarding using prescribed medications could be true to form. I don’t know. But the author’s treatment of diversity makes me think that a sensitivity reader should probably have been called in for this too.

I’m not trying to rip Ms. Ferguson apart. I’m saying that this book had potential, but fell short. It still has some cute scenes. I loved her line about how Mississippians feel about North Carolina and the return zinger. But I feel like this reads more like a manuscript draft than a polished and published novel.

Book Review: Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant

I had a few DNFs this week, but was reminded of this gem when I recommended it to someone and don’t regret revisiting it.

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Richard Grant is an English ex-pat who has been living in the United States for a number of years. While living in a small New York apartment, Richard took a trip with a friend of his to Mississippi. On a whim, he buys an old plantation house and moves into it with his girlfriend. And thus is the start of hilarity and truth.

Neither Richard nor his girlfriend are familiar with Mississippi, much less the Delta–not named for a geographical delta, but actually an alluvial plain. He is now a resident of Pluto, a town named for the mythological lord of the Underworld. And after stories for critters in the walls, battling bugs, and his initial feelings of complete isolation it doesn’t take much to figure out why.

He meets many interesting people along the way and starts to unravel the mystery of why the Delta is so different not just from the rest of the Mississippi, but the rest of the country. It is its own beast, something that fascinates Grant enough that he becomes enamored of his new home. A self-proclaimed nomad, he puts down roots.

But his transition is not without difficulty, and he relays stories as only an outsider can. Making friends with a Blues legend, an eccentric millionaire, a Hollywood celebrity, a local hunter, a cookbook queen, and many more, Grant doesn’t shy away from his observations about the racial tensions of the area or the major structural problems of the small towns throughout the region.

Despite its lingering problems, Grant declares that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America.

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I was born in the Mississippi Delta. The pictures across the top of my blog all come from places and events near my hometown. My entire family, including my step-family, originates from the same area. And this book brilliantly captures what makes the Delta so utterly unique.

The book barely scratches the surface on a lot of issues, both because it would take thousands of pages to delve deeply and the friendships with locals that help make the book what it is were still developing while he wrote it. But as I read it, I laughed until I cried. And on a couple of occasions, I just cried.

I moved out of the Delta when I was still in elementary school, but returned to visit family frequently throughout my childhood and young adult life. I can say with honesty, that it’s hard to recognize how weird of a place it is until you step outside of it. And seeing it through an outsider’s eyes is always both hilarious and humbling.

That’s the essence of this book. It’s a true account of this man’s experience as he tries to figure out how we, the people of the Delta, came to be the way we are. He talks about how his revelations affect his view of Mississippi in general and the Delta in particular. And let me assure you, the Delta is indeed a space all its own. I noticed in college at Mississippi State that most kids say things like “I’m from the coast,” or “I’m from Jackson,” with the same voice inflection that most people would say “I brushed my teeth this morning.” It’s just a fact. But when people say “I’m from the Delta,” it’s different. It’s a story. And Richard Grant wrote his book based on his attempts to figure out that story.

I didn’t read this book alone. My sisters and my stepmother read it and we would text each other back and forth about things we read. Mostly we were laughing at what the author thought was so utterly strange that was completely familiar to us. So if you want a pretty spot-on account of what makes the Delta tick, this is a great resource.

 

Slicker Than Owl Shit and Other Colorful Southern Sayings

I grew up in the South. I was born in rural Mississippi, lived for a brief few years in Florida during elementary and middle school, moved to Alabama as a teenager, came back to Mississippi for college, moved to Tennessee afterward, and now I’ve circled back to Mississippi again. Don’t get me wrong, I have lived other places here and there. I have traveled to other parts of the world and I have loved and appreciated beauty beyond my own backyard, but there is something about the South that always calls me back home. My roots are here, my family is here, and down here I don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Most of the time.

In the South, we learn there is always more than one way to do things. The cotillion and debutante ball crowd have a way of doing things, and the bumpkins from the backwater have another. Thanks to the strange and wonderful characters who dominated my childhood, I’m schooled in both. My mom was a debutante, but we were all from the backwater. I can bless your heart or butter your butt and call you a biscuit. I’m multi-talented like that.

In the South, we “bumpkins” tend to be particularly descriptive. We have to be. Satellite and GPS can’t find us, and there aren’t an abundance of street signs, so giving someone directions can take some very specific landmarks. Beyond that, there isn’t a lot to do in the middle of nowhere sometimes, so storytelling is in our blood. We sit around sharing anecdotes to pass the time. We could sit around telling stories that start off by saying it was hot, or we can talk about how it was hotter than blue blazes, hotter than a two dollar pistol, or hotter than the seventh circle of Hell. With all those options, hot doesn’t really seem to cover it anymore. Hot is boring. Hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch is illustrative.

It works with cold, too. It might be freezing, but there is no need to use such mundane language. Not when you can say, “It’s as cold as a well digger’s ass in the Klondike out there!” Or, even, “It’s as cold as a witches tit in a brass bra in Wichita in the winter time!”

 

Of course, we have equally articulate sayings about topics other than the weather. For instance, if something is quite slippery, be it object or person, it is “slicker than owl shit.” Just how slick is that? Well, in the words of my own father, “Pretty damn slick.”

And if something is extremely rich and thick, it can be described as “three feet up a bull’s ass.” I’ve heard this used to describe decadent desserts. Ponder that for a moment.

We also have important words of wisdom to pass along to all who may need guidance in this world. And by guidance, I, of course, mean a huge old-fashioned reality check. Precious, timeless gems like “if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough,” and “the only place you will find sympathy around here is in the dictionary.” The latter of those two has an extended version, but I think I’ve already used enough curse words for one post. I do avoid them when I can.

And while you all know that someone who is caught off guard, and looks a little nervous looks like “a deer in the headlights”, they can also be “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.”

And we could tell someone to grow up and act like an adult. Or, and hear me out on this, you can tell them to put their big girl panties on and deal with it.

I have no earthly idea where these things originated, but when using a few of these quips in front of people who are not at all accustomed to my way of life, I have been met with more than few quizzical looks followed by “Excuse me?”

You should try it sometime. It’s fun.

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Of course, don’t be fooled by the prim and proper way of saying things in these parts either. That little old lady from who you got directions back to the highway? When she said, “Bless your heart, I know you must be road weary,” what she really meant was, “You look like hell. Please get off my property before people start to think we know each other.”

I am sure there are other sayings from around the country, or even the world, which are equally hysterical and I assure you, I would love to know them. Please pass them on.