Southern Tradition: Peanuts In Coke

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Photo: Appalachian Magazine
Photo: Appalachian Magazine

From its very beginning, the American Southland has been home to a countless number of unique and fascinating traditions, customs and practices.

Many of the things that were developed in the heart of Dixie have gone on to be embraced by the rest of the world and come to define generations of southerners.  The world will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the “land of cotton” for providing everything from anesthesia to air flight — not to mention two of my personal favorites, Coca-Cola and peanuts.

Interestingly, by the time the Great Depression struck, Coca-Cola was a far better known commodity throughout Dixie than was the peanut; however, it did not take very long for the children of the South to merge these two new southern delicacies together to form a concoction that still baffles the mind of anyone born north of Maryland — dumping shelled peanuts into a glass Coca-Cola bottle for the sweetest and zangiest treat one’s taste buds will ever experience.

At the time of the stock market crash in 1929, Coca-Cola had been around for nearly half a century, on the other hand, peanuts were still considered by most to be nothing more than a inedible weed whose only use served as a feed crop for livestock — eating a peanut was almost unheard of for many.

Thanks, however, to the work of George Washington Carver, who concentrated on researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts from 1915 to 1923, by the time of the Great Depression the nation was ready to embrace the legume.

Though Carver is credited with inventing hundreds of uses for peanuts, one that seems to have escaped him is placing the hulled nuts into Coke bottles. In fact, the origins of this practice are uncertain, but what is known is that for nearly three generations, southern children enjoyed this treat — though the practice never caught on anywhere else in the nation.

According to official Coca-Cola historians, “any road trip was fueled by a sleeve of roasted and salted peanuts and a glass bottle of Coke.”

The company states that the combo “was likely born of country store commerce. Think of Coke and peanuts as a prototype fast-food for the 20th century South.”

My grandmother, who grew up in rural North Carolina often recalled memories of visits to the local country store — none of which were complete on a hot summer day without a purchase of peanuts and Coke.

Sadly, this tradition seems to have lost its way and today, it is nearly just as unheard of throughout many portions of the South – among younger generations – as it is on the streets of Boston.  So here’s to you, the few holdouts who still sneak a few peanuts in their Cokes when no one is looking!

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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