I have always loved sweet iced tea! In the South, it has meaning beyond just merely being a refreshing beverage. Here, where time slows down, it is a type of Southern communion, shared with friends and family dating back to its early days when first planted in my hometown of Summerville, South Carolina. In fact, Summerville has an entire festival proclaiming that little piece of history—The Sweet Tea Festival!
Sweet Tea is an offering, of sorts, to friends, family, and even strangers when they visit. It denotes hospitality and signals that the visitor is welcome. It says, “We have something in common.” It says, “I know your kind of people.” For some Southern ladies, it is a bit of an insult to turn down their kind offering of tea. I’ve seen my own mother become offended because someone watered down her sweet tea. In the South, we drink each other’s sweet tea as is…without complaint. It’s just good manners—like our mommas taught us.
My latest novel, available now on Amazon, SWEET TEA AND TIME, is a book from my Summerbrook Series that explores the ties among hospitality, comfort food, sweet tea and an accidental romance in a small, Southern town. The book follows the disappointments of a young woman who wants to protect her aging grandmother, who gives away her sweet tea to all she meets. In many instances in the story, the motif of sweet tea can be exchanged with the motif of time. If one has time for sweet tea, one has time for people.
I used the idea of sweet tea because it is so important to Southerners. They even note in which local restaurants they can find a suitable version of grandma’s homemade sweet tea, and they’ll sometimes make their dining choices accordingly. It’s that serious, people!
Though not officially condoned, sometimes, condiments are added to our favorite amber-colored drink to change up the monotony of the ubiquitous drink. People have added lemon and mint for ages, but a new favorite is emerging, as well—peach iced tea. I’ve seen a number of other versions, as well, like ginger sweet tea, strawberry sweet tea and black currant sweet tea. But those are anomalies and would get you a very strange look from most Southerners who prefer the beverage in its purest form—nothing but brewed tea and sugar!
The cooling beverage can be found in restaurants all across the South, but don’t look for the sweet nectar in Yankee territory. They’ll look at you quizzically and offer their “unsweetened” version. But don’t order it because if you don’t add the sugar to the warm brew, it’s just not the same.
Sweet tea is best sipped slowly a front porch with family and friends, so brew yourself up a big gallon of Southern hospitality, find a person you want to share some time with, sit on that front porch rocker and let a lazy afternoon slip away!