My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018: Part 8, Southern Gifts

For our friends who live in other parts of the country, or even other parts of the world, it’s fun to send regional gifts. For me, that means sending something that represents the flavor and culture of THE SOUTH. I’ve written about some of these before, but they’re worth mentioning again. You might even want to “gift” some to yourself!  Here are my selections:

Hi Y’all. Holy moly…this is one of my new favorite sites. Based in Starkville, Mississippi, this fun company started in 2012, according to their website. A friend whose daughter is a student at nearby Mississippi State University told me about this company, and I can’t stop perusing the website. They produce handprinted pillows, apparel, prints, and custom paintings…and I love them all! Of course, they have a southern theme, and anything they have would make a great gift for a fellow southerner or someone who has never visited the south. See the website here.

 

Pepperoni Rolls. Country Club Bakery, Fairmont, West Virginia. I’ve just placed an order. I saw a story about these on CBS Sunday Morning (you can see it here), and I can hardly wait to receive them. This was one I hesitated to share, because I want them to be my secret. Alas, I couldn’t resist telling y’all about them too. Y’all are going to wish you lived in West Virginia. Pepperoni rolls were introduced in WV when Italian immigrants went there to work in the mines, and pepperoni rolls were the perfect hand-held snack that wouldn’t spoil in their lunches. You can order yours here.

Olde Colony Bakery Benne Wafers. Based the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Olde Colony offers Benne Wafers, which are basically Sesame seed cookies. They’ve been a part of the culture of Charleston for hundreds of years, and Olde Colony has been making them since 1940. Representing a taste of the history of the Charleston area, send these to some friends in other parts of the country, or get some for yourself. Shop here.

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GooGoo Cluster. I don’t know if GooGoo Clusters are sold everywhere, but even if they are, they are fun to send! Made in Nashville, Tennessee, these treats containing marshmallow nougat, caramel, peanuts, and covered in chocolate have been around since 1912, and they’ve survived for a good reason: they’re yummy! Standard Candy, the makers of the clusters, was an early sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry, selling the candy at shows there in the 1920s. They are definitely a taste of the south! Send a box to someone in another part of the country as a Christmas treat! See their website here.

Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Straight out of New Orleans, these sweet treats are definitely a taste of the deep, Deep South. They are described on the website as “creamy and sugary, with hints of vanilla and delicate, melt in your mouth texture.” Pralines are definitely sweet and creamy with just the right number of pecans. They know what they’re doing at Aunt Sally’s. There are lots of great pralines throughout the south, but I went with one from New Orleans, since that’s where they originated in the US. With prices starting at $14.95 for a box of the treats, this is a great gift to send. See the website here.

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King Cakes. Since we’re talking about New Orleans, I should mention King Cakes. Traditionally a Mardi Gras treat, Haydel’s Bakery makes a Christmas version and a candy cane version. If you’ve never experienced a King Cake, the holidays might be the perfect time. And anyone anywhere would love to receive one, because they are fun and delicious. They’re not cheap, though. Priced at $53, they include some beads and a pack of French Market Coffee. You can get their Cajun Kringle starting at $43.95, or as a package with French Market Coffee and a Christmas towel for $55. See Haydel’s here. .

 

Videri Chocolate. This company in Raleigh, North Carolina, makes an assortment of delicious chocolate products…hot chocolate, bonbons, chocolate bars, and even teabags. And they’re not only delicious, they’re beautiful too! And the packaging! I’m sending some friends some of their Jingle Bell Caramels ($21) this Christmas. I’ll be sending myself some too! You know…one for you, one for me. Prices start at $6 for bars. See Videri Chocolate Factory here.

South Georgia Pecan Company. I was introduced to this company, located in Valdosta, Georgia, by a friend who used to live there. She gave me a bag of their Chocolate Amaretto Pecans, and it was love at first bite. She also told me a secret to making them even better…store them in the freezer! Since then, I’ve ordered them for friends and myself too! Check out their website here. 

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The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. A friend recently told me about this company that’s based in Montgomery, Alabama. She loves their full-flavored tea, which you can purchase by the box, and she loves their other products too! Fun fact: their tea is served at Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas…maybe you’ve heard of it on HGTV? You can purchase their tea on their website, but their gear is fun too! Their t-shirts, tumblers, and hats are pure southern. I think my friends at Front Porch Football (see them here) will like these shirts! See the website here. 

Loveless Cafe, Nashville. Opened in 1951, this “down home” establishment is known around the world for its southern-style biscuits and pies. Back in the day, there was an adjacent 14-room motel, but it closed in 1985, and the rooms were converted into shops and office space. The cafe is going strong in 2018, and you can order jams, bacon, hams, a cookbook, mixes, and all sorts of Loveless paraphernalia. It definitely represents the south. I may send the cookbook to a friend who writes her own cookbooks of healthy recipes…she might enjoy trying to decrease the calories and fat in some of the down home recipes. Shop Loveless Cafe here.

Holy Spirit Monastery Gifts. Located in Conyers, GA, the Holy Spirit Monastery has a gift shop that helps support the monks. They sell honey, biscotti, and more, but the most southern gift they make is their fudge. The monks make the fudge by hand on premises, and a friend tells me it’s delicious. Plus, they have one flavor called Southern Touch that contains peach morsels, pecans, and a touch of brandy. Wow! Boxes containing 12 ounces of fudge are $12.95. Shop it here.

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30a Gear. Nothing says “Florida panhandle” like 30a Gear. If you’re thinking “Florida doesn’t have the flavor of the south,” you’ve never visited the very southern panhandle. 30a is a beach lifestyle brand that was created by a man from Birmingham, Alabama, when he moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. With the panhandle being in disrepair after Hurricane Michael, I needed to include a business from there. You’ve likely seen 30a gear, and some of you likely had no idea what it meant. Well, Hwy 30A is a beach road through the panhandle of Florida. I could get more specific, but that’s the gist. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and it’s very popular. Shop here.

 

Edgar’s Bakery Cheese Straws. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love anything Edgar’s Bakery makes. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, but with several locations, this bakery makes my very favorite strawberry cake. Alas, it cannot be shipped. But they can ship their gift tins. With prices starting at $16.50, you can ship a tin of their housemade cheese straws (also my favorite) or wedding cookies. The cheese straws will make you want a tall glass of sweet tea! Shop here.

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Sweet Potato Sweets. Straight from the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, Vardaman, Mississippi, Sweet Potato Sweets offers lots of goodies made from…you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Bread and pies and cakes, oh my! Personally, I never met a sweet potato I didn’t like, especially when a little sugar is added. Representing the true south, anything you send from Sweet Potato Sweets will be welcomed with open arms. I’ll be ordering some of their breads. Shop here.

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There you have it! Wanna share a little bit of the south with someone who doesn’t live here? Send them any one of these items, and they will feel the southern love! Or order some for yourself. I’m placing some orders right now.

 

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Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.