Wednesday, June 18, 2014

South Carolina has an Official Picnic Cuisine

It somehow managed to fly under the radar of most of the press, but on June 2nd, Governor Nikki Haley signed into law Senate Bill 1136, which declared barbecue to be South Carolina's "official picnic cuisine."

Apparently Haley wasn't persuaded by my arguments against the historical improbabilities of the claim, encoded in the bill, that South Carolina is the "birthplace of barbecue" (Surely she reads the Free Times, right?) In addition to the shakiness of the "birthplace" claim, the other “whereas” clauses in the bill are pretty murky, too.

The second whereas is this: “Whereas, South Carolina is unique in that it is the only state where one can find all four barbecue finishing sauces: vinegar and pepper, mustard, light tomato, and heavy tomato.”

The implication is that there are only four “finishing” sauces in barbecue, but that’s far from the case: there’s the dark brown tomato- and molasses-based stuff you find in Memphis, the Worcestershire-spiked vinegar “dip” they dress mutton with in Western Kentucky, and the odd but delicious white mayonnaise-based sauce in which they dunk barbecue chicken down in North Alabama.

Mabye our lawmakers are trying to say that South Carolina is the only state where one can find all four barbecue finishing sauces that are found in South Carolina, but that doesn’t seem like particularly effective whereasing to me. And, it leaves out altogether the 5th style of South Carolina barbecue sauce: the bright orange ketchup- and mustard-based blend you find at a lot of the Dukes Barbecue restaurants in and around Orangeburg County.

And, finally, I’m not exactly sure what a “picnic cuisine” is, really. I went on an awful lot of picnics when I was a kid growing up in Greenville, and cold fried chicken, ham sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, and deviled eggs were what we always had in our basket. While you could certainly eat barbecue at a picnic, I think most South Carolinians eat it sitting down in a restaurant

But, barbecue now joins an illustrious parade of official state comestibles. The peach is the state fruit, milk is the official beverage, tea is the official “hospitality beverage” (in my house, that would be a good bourbon or rye, but good luck getting one of those officially designated by the Legislature), boiled peanuts are the official snack food, and collard greens the official vegetable.

In 2000, Representative John Altman introduced a bill to officially designate grits as “the official state food,” but it languished in committee. Too bad they didn't use the same designation for barbecue. I would have gotten behind that notion 100%.

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