When I visited my friend Patricia in North Carolina, her assignment was for me to “find the True Meaning of North Carolina”. So I guess this is turning in my homework assignment!
Clue #1: Having Lots of Trees Everywhere
Suburban North Carolina is forested and rural-feeling. It’s strange, after spending so much time in Texas, to see rolling hills covered in trees, rather than parking lots. Cary, NC has 150,000 people, but it feels like it has maybe 30,000. And North Carolina is serious about preserving the greenery in state parks, even right smack in the middle of town.
Clue #2: Tricking You into Drinking Cherry Soda by Pretending It’s Wine, and Then It’s Awesome Anyways
That’s what Cheerwine is for! “Cheerwine,” you say. “That sounds like a terrible $5 wine.” Nope, it’s cherry soda, and it’s way too delicious.
But not to fear: North Carolina’s temperance-movement heritage (Cary was named after a prohibitionist [boo, hiss]) has recently been compromised by its craft beer movement. Full Steam Brewery, based in Durham, is a pioneer of an unlikely and very expensive drink: persimmon ale. A surprisingly strong beer with a fascinating taste (I’ve never had persimmons before), the persimmon ale is unlike anything else, and utterly delicious.
Persimmon ale absolutely makes up for the fact that you couldn’t even have a good rant about Cheerwine, once you discovered Cheerwine was good.
Clue #3: Respect for History as Proven by Chocolate
After a scavenger hunt at the state history museum in Raleigh, Patricia, Steven, and I adjourned to another kind of historical adventure: hot chocolate from Escazu. Steven tried cocoa from pre-Columbian Central America, a fiery concoction as jolting as Starbucks coffee. Patricia and I opted for the Spanish blend, a spicy, sweet, savory, creamy blend of delicious perfection. And then Steven one-upped us by getting a dessert hot chocolate after his main course hot chocolate: the French mix, the sweetest and most immediately charming of all.
It is really hard for me to accept that I can’t drink stuff like this in Texas. Really, really hard. I might spend a month obsessively experimenting, because those hot cocoas can ruin the whole rest of the genre for you.
Another historical thing North Carolina likes is Abraham Lincoln. When we visited the Art-O-Matic vending machine, a vending machine which dispenses art, Patricia got two pencil drawings of Abraham Lincoln. And neither of them was even hunting vampires!
Clue #4: Not Laughing When They Say They’re Buying Groceries at a Store Named Harris Teeter
“Oh, you live next to a Harris Teeter!” I said.
“Yeah,” Patricia said.
“Tee hee,” I said.
“It’s pretty nice,” Patricia said, and then she said some more serious things about her shopping and I realized North Carolinians do not snicker when they say “Harris Teeter”. Harris Teeter, Harris Teeter, Harris Teeter.
Clue #5: Let’s Be Honest, People, Your Average North Carolina Barbecue Is Better Than Your Average Texas Barbecue
Hey, North Carolina BBQ isn’t Lockhart Smokehouse, or Pecan Lodge, or Franklin’s. But your average Texas BBQ joint isn’t either. Chains like Dickie’s or even Rudy’s are minor league baseball players compared to the likes of Pecan Lodge. But they’re also minor leaguers compared to the stuff in east Carolina, for one simple reason: the sauce.
Texas has tang; it’s all about tomatoes, spices, and a hint of sweetness. North Carolina barbecue sauce combines vinegar, bright acids, and hot peppers, which makes the meat just hum with exciting flavors. Light, clean, and slightly harder to stuff yourself silly with (okay, not that much harder), Carolina barbecue’s hot-and-sour kick is pretty terrific.
And we can all agree on one thing: barbecue from Kansas City is garbage!
Conclusion: The True Meaning of North Carolina
The true meaning of North Carolina is best understood shortly after stuffing yourself silly with pork, black-eyed peas, and a fried grit cake. Sit in a copse of trees, pull the tab on a Cheerwine, drink a toast to your ancestors, and then sit back and relax. That satisfaction you’re feeling? That’s the true meaning of North Carolina. Now start planning how you’ll spend the evening: maybe you’ll have some tea and put local honey on a hot biscuit, then whittle a stick into the face of Abraham Lincoln. You need to stop and get the biscuits at Harris Teeter. That last part doesn’t make you giggle.