Tag Archives: peanuts

Pecan Peccadillo

I-65, exit 289; Alabama

In this overly contentious and troubling time, it’s refreshing to see people take to LinkedIn to quibble over the pronunciation of a simple word.

Stuckey’s, the iconic roadside chain of highway stops (www.stuckeys.com), was a constant in my family travels growing up, especially on trips to the Gulf coast. It was a true roadside attraction, offering pecan-based treats, fast food and sodas, souvenirs, gasoline, and convenient (and usually clean) restrooms.

While the chain is best known for its exceptional pecan products, I was always partial to the sweet “fruit slice” candies that could usually be found. The last time I was in a Stuckey’s store, I was amused that the souvenirs seemed to be from every state – not just the state I was in.

W.S. and Ethel Stuckey of Eastman, Georgia, founded the brand in the 1930s. Their first location was a way to sell the Stuckey pecan crop. Soon, Mrs. Stuckey began to add to the offerings with things like divinity and pralines and, most notably, her special creation – the pecan log roll.

W.S. and Ethel’s granddaughter, Stephanie Stuckey, is the new CEO of Stuckey’s. Ms. Stuckey has launched an effort to locate and reclaim old Stuckey locations and rejuvenate the brand. As part of that effort, she has posted memories and details of her project. She has captured many imaginations along the way.

Among my favorite posts is the one in which she tells how her grandfather would fuel up with coffee and start driving the highways. When he had to stop for a restroom break, he would decide that was a good spot for another Stuckey’s store.

Recently, Ms. Stuckey posted what appears to be a vintage Stuckey’s ad with beautiful shiny pecans and the caption “It’s ‘PEE-CAN’.”

Cue the floodgates. People began to post reactions and support their side of the pecan pronunciation debate – a conflict that will never go away in the South. A commentary from a North Carolina man declared fervently that “PEE-CAN is the correct pronunciation!” and went on to say that any Southerner ought to know that and that those of us who say it any other way sound like Thurston Howell III on “Gilligan’s Island.”

I try not to jump into any fray these days, but I had to respond: “My Alabama family says ‘puh-KAHN’ and none of us sound like Thurston Howell. Also, Georgian Jimmy Carter, the epitome of a native Southerner, says ‘puh-KAHN.’ I bet you put peanuts in Pepsi — a sacrilege! Peanuts must go in Coca-Cola.”

I was enjoying the entertaining thread and had to stoke the fire by making reference to the old tradition – presumably Southern – of emptying part of a sleeve of salty peanuts into a bottle of soda, specifically Coca-Cola. Theories abound that the tradition was a convenient fast snack for blue collar workers or workers in the field in the early 20th Century. I had never known, until I saw it on a cooking show, that some people – North Carolinians, in particular – traditionally used Pepsi Cola instead of Coke for that down-home snack which I used to enjoy as a child. I guess it might work with Pepsi instead of Coke, but I will stick to Coca-Cola.

Still, the crux of the responses to the Stuckey ad was the acceptable pronunciation of “pecan.” Southern Living magazine has listed six variations on the pronunciation:

pah-KAHN; puh-CAN; PEE-can; PEE-kahn; pee-KAHN; and pee-CAN

I will be gracious and say that none of those are wrong, although I grew up hearing that a “pee-can” was something one kept in the car for emergencies on long trips. Or alongside the slop jar under the bed.

Most Georgians I know say “pee-CAN.” The aforementioned President Carter is a notable exception. I can’t think of any Alabamians I know who say anything other than “puh-KAHN,” and that includes some farmers who harvest and sell the nut. Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit, my favorite Alabama purveyor of pecan products (www.priesters.com), endorses the “puh-KAHN” pronunciation.

Pre-Pandemic, when I taught Voice and Diction classes, I would use “pecan” as an example of one of those words that has a variety of acceptable pronunciations. It isn’t necessarily even a detail of geography; I think it just has to do with who raised you. Like individual tastes in barbecue and cornbread, it has more to do with what one is familiar with and what one grew up with, and questions of relative quality become superficial.

For the record, though: I don’t accept the notion of sugar in cornbread; my barbecue tastes lean toward pork with vinegar-based sauces; I am still opposed to white barbecue sauce; and the old “peanut and soda” routine only works with a Coca-Cola.

I’m grateful to Stephanie Stuckey for giving me a pleasant distraction in difficult times. I am fully behind her ongoing crusade to reclaim and refurbish former Stuckey’s. Since I discovered her posts, I have been on the lookout for abandoned or rebranded Stuckey’s locations. I captured two as I travelled north on I-65 in Alabama this afternoon.

I-65, exit 318; Alabama

Stuckey’s is authentic, real-deal Americana. Its resurgence is a welcome antidote to the manufactured fake nostalgia of places like Cracker Barrel. I want a pecan log roll with a side of sugary “fruit slices,” and I want them now!

Coke and Peanuts

IMG_0749 Back when I subscribed to Oxford American magazine, I would regularly threaten (to myself) to cancel my subscription if I saw one more picture of a snake handler in their pages. Snake handlers and alligators were a little too common as OA’s attempt to capture “Southern-ness” occasionally tilted a little too far toward surreal Southern Gothic.

So it is with some trepidation that I feel a need to address the very Southern taste for salted peanuts in Coca-Cola as a snack. This is something I remember from early childhood. We would take a bottle of Coke and a sleeve of salted peanuts. Take a couple of good swigs of the Coke to make room for the peanuts and then slowly pour the peanuts into the narrow top of the Coke bottle. The combination of the sugary Coca-Cola with the salty peanuts is really good. Trust me on this, but don’t ask me to explain why.

I had relegated peanuts in Coca-Cola to a distant childhood memory until this summer when Coach Jimbo Fisher of Florida State dumped some peanuts in his Coca-Cola during ACC media days. The non-Southern press in attendance was flabbergasted and felt the need to address this odd behavior in multiple columns which then led to a deluge of online responses, contradictions, and opinions. We Southerners who grew up with peanuts in Coke as a normal treat were a little bemused by the brouhaha. While I suspect that this tradition is more familiar to Baby Boomers and their parents than to younger generations, I asked a recent class of college-age students how many of them had heard of or had peanuts in Coca-Cola and was surprised at how many hands went up. A few of them opted for RC Cola instead of Coke. I can accept that.

The resurgence of peanuts in Coca-Cola as a topic of conversation in the 21st century surprised me as much as the emergence of one of my guilty pleasure road treats – fried pork rinds – as a healthier junk food choice (no carbs, high protein, low-fat and a high percentage of the same healthy unsaturated fats as olive oil – go figure).

There is a long tradition of Coke in recipes. “Atlanta Brisket” – brisket glazed with cola – has been around for a while and “America’s Test Kitchen” did a version of it fairly recently. “Coca-Cola Cake” is a mainstay of Southern cookbooks and I have seen a Coca-Cola cake with a peanut glaze inspired by the classic peanuts in Coke tradition.

Bartenders are constantly upgrading the football Saturday stalwart bourbon and Coke into more sophisticated renderings such as the “Reengineered Bourbon and Coke Cocktail” recently featured in Garden and Gun magazine. Even more to the point, I recently heard that a place in Birmingham has a cocktail called the “Tallulah” which is made of Coca-Cola, peanut syrup, and Jack Daniel’s. An investigation is in order.

North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, in an episode of her PBS show “A Chef’s Life,” explored the North Carolina tradition of putting peanuts in Pepsi. I have a lot of respect for Chef Howard and she is a wonderful chef, but this will not do. Howard’s Pepsi and peanuts exploration did, however, lead to what looked like a great recipe of Pepsi-glazed pork belly with country ham braised peanuts. I bet it would be even better with a Coke glaze.

After teaching a Saturday class in Huntsville this past weekend, I hopped in the car to drive to Birmingham for a quick visit. Stopping for gas outside Decatur, I spotted an 8 oz. Coke in a glass bottle in the drinks case. I grabbed it and a sleeve of Golden Flake salted peanuts and headed to the car. I downed a few gulps of the Coke, emptied the peanuts into the bottle, and headed south on I-65 listening to the radio and the pre-game shows leading up to the Alabama-Ole Miss game. It has been at least forty years since I indulged in peanuts in Coca-Cola. I was transported back to football Saturdays growing up and “The Bear Bryant Show” on television each Sunday after game days. Coca-Cola and Golden Flake potato chips sponsored the show (“’Great pair’, says The Bear”).

It was an exhilarating drive.