Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sweetened Carbonated Beverages

While we loathe them from a nutrition stand point, sugary carbonated beverages have been a part of the American life-style since just after the Civil War. Dr Pepper was invented in Texas in 1885 with Coca-Cola following the year after. We have no memory of a time when you couldn't get a bottle or can of fizzy stuff from some place as you traveled. And what could be more refreshing, indeed, whole ad campaigns were developed around the concept, of an ice cold soda on a hot summer day? Parents would make "soda cubes", pouring Coke into an ice cube tray and freezing it so when you put "ice" into your drink, it was not diluted by water.

I've been on the road a lot in the last two weeks, traveling both east and west on business. The drive, when done over the same roads again and again, can get tedious. Or, if you didn't sleep completely the night before, tiredness can set in even if the road isn't one of monotony. one of the best pick-me-ups for a drowsy driver is to stop at a convenience store for a couple of bottles of water and a couple bottles of soda. It's more probable that, instead of the soda doing the pick-me-up, the simple act of stopping and getting out to walk is what awakened you, but the allure of a beverage is not without merit. Depending upon where you're from that beverage could be a "soda"; a "pop"; a "Coke" or even an "RC", which covered everything carbonated.

I had to stop and get gas yesterday. I got a couple bottles of water, which, really, is the what you should be drinking. Staying hydrated wards off a whole bunch of things, including road-induced drowsiness. I also wanted a Dr Pepper. There is no denying the effect of caffeine on alertness. As I perused the cases for Dr Pepper, my eye fell upon Big Red. Oh my gosh! I could not remember the last time I had a Big Red.

You can be forgiven for not knowing this soda. I didn't know about it until my ex-husband and I moved to Bloomington, Indiana as he was pursuing his MBA. It's one of many regional soft drinks. You won't find this drink but rarely in Chicagoland. Big Red is solely a southern and Texas brand, having been invented in Texas in 1937. It's marketed as the red cream soda. If you've never had one, there is no way to describe the taste. It's not strawberry, nor a mix of strawberry, raspberry or any other berry you can think of. It's got a vanilla tang but it's not cream soda, which is vanilla flavored. It's a flavor unto its own. Ice cold, to me it rivals my beloved Dr Pepper.

In drinking this as I continued home, I thought of all the regional sodas I've had in my life. Who remembers or had a Nehi? Hugely popular around World War II, they are hard to find now. It was the soda of choice for our July 4th family reunions. There was a galvanized steel cow trough filled with ice, melon slices and bottles of Nehi. It was THE drink of Radar O'Reilly on the TV series, M*A*S*H. As I looked through the favors they offered, I know I've had Nehi Chocolate, Wild Red, Blue Creme, Orange and Grape. Nehi was synonymous with Royal Crown Cola and, if a gas station sold Nehi, the Coke and Pepsi merchants just shook their heads and wandered away. They knew RC Cola was the cola beverage of choice in that store. It's really tough to find it now. Fruit sodas around me are generally of the Crush variety. Nehi seems to harken back to a time of sitting on the font porch on a summer's evening watching the fireflies fill up the yard.

The one soda that really brings on the nostalgia is Spring Grove Soda Pop. Bottled in Spring Grove, Minnesota, it's the consummate example of a regional soda. I actually don't have memories of this soda in growing up. Nehi was the brand sold at the Volney gas station and that's where dad preferred to go to get his gas. I knew of it and, perhaps, since we were quite close in distance to Spring Grove, I had a few. It was in my college years that this soda came into my world.

My best friend, Rita, was from Caledonia, Minnesota. In order to visit her hometown, you passed through Spring Grove. I remember pooling our money and buying a case of soda to be consumed that weekend at a picnic around a fire in her boyfriend's backyard. I remember the first taste of their strawberry soda and thinking, "This is better than anything I've ever tasted." We made strawberry floats and, as far as I'm concerned, those are 1,000 times better than root beer floats.

After that, as my ex-husband's parents lived closer to Spring Grove than my parents, whenever we got the chance on a visit back to that part of Iowa and southeastern Minnesota, we'd try to get our hands on at least a 6-pack, if not 2, of Spring Grove pop. Their root beer is heavenly, but it's not like A&W's mass produced for the US market root beer. It's more rooty, if you can imagine that, more bitter, is probably a better description. They make an orange soda now that I have not had.

Poking through their web site really makes me yearn for a 6-pack in my refrigerator right now. It also makes me yearn for a time of less stress and sitting on the porch watching the moon rise and dad picking out the constellations or just standing in the driveway with the remnants of a fire where we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.

There have to be other regional soda pops with which I have no familiarity. If you know of one, post a link. I'd love to see where I should travel to tingle my tastebuds.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea



  1. Hi, Deb - Saw your post on Language Log yesterday and arrived here via that. I grew up in Charles City, and your Spring Grove pop mention (among other things) brought back pleasant, long-buried memories. Thanks.

    - Mark

  2. Why thank you, Mark, if you wander back here to read this. By the way, it's "Go Bulldogs!"