I spent the last two weeks of February in Africa. In Tanzania we visited Tangire National Park as well the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, and for good measure we went to Nairobi, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and made a brief stop in Johannesburg, South Africa, Africa was the fifth continent for my tour company in less than six years of existence. and we have made it to all 50 states and now 40 countries so far.
Now I told you all that to tell you this. In every place we went — and every place we have gone on our marvelous run of local, state, national and worldwide travel — every place, understand — we have encountered two products that proudly carry the label Made in the USA.
Actually, they don’t have that label, but every drop, every ounce, every particle of these particular elixirs, as it were, are made, not only in this country, but in two places in this country that are so small and so isolated, you would have had to have been really good at reading a map to find these places before everybody carried around a GPS in their phone or had one built into their personal vehicles.
What they had, everywhere we went in Africa, was Tabasco hot pepper sauce and Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Every single table I sat at — bar none — for two weeks — had those little cologne bottles of red-pepper vinegar and salt and every bar at every restaurant offered Old No. 7, Tennessee’s favorite export.
Now you may or may not know that every drop of Tabasco sauce in the world is produced on Avery Island, near New Iberia, La. — population 7,000. Every drop. All the peppers that the wonderful concoction is made from used to be grown on the island. Now they outsource the growing of most of the peppers to South America, but the plants are grown from seeds harvested right there in Louisiana and brought back home for production.
When I was a boy, growing up in Porterdale, we kept a napkin rack on our kitchen table — 24/7 — along with a little jar of toothpicks, salt and pepper shakers, and a bottle of Tabasco. My daddy would put it on just about everything he ate. We don’t keep anything but a bud vase with fresh flowers on our kitchen table now, but the Tabasco is never far away. I don’t use it as much as my daddy did, but I like it a right smart and it was quite comforting to find it in Africa, 8,000 miles from home.
Jack Daniel’s, of course, has been made in Lynchburg, Tenn., for the past 153 years. Lynchburg is smaller than Avery Island and has only around 6,500 inhabitants. You can buy Jack Daniel’s whiskey at the distillery there, but you’d better not drink it inside the county limits. Them folks around there been voting dry and drinking wet for nigh onto 200 years.
Being so far from home and a bit homesick, and also having a lot of chest congestion and a bad cough, I convinced myself to belly up to the bar one night and order a shot of that Jack Daniel’s — mixed with a little Coca-Cola, which originates here in Georgia but is bottled everywhere. This was strictly for medicinal purposes, understand, and before you say a word — I would have ordered it with lemon juice and honey over crushed ice, the way my mama fixed it when I was sick as a boy, but I knew they didn’t have that other stuff. They had Co-Cola, understand. I did have to beg for more than one cube of ice.
I was blown away by the price. Four American dollars. That was all. Four dollars for a Jack-and-Coke at a hotel bar 8,037 miles from Lynchburg, Tenn. I bought one at Honky Tonk Central in Nashville one time and paid 10 bucks. Lynchburg is just 73 miles from Nashville. That don’t make a lick of sense.
But I wasn’t complaining, and it was, of course, purely medicinal in nature.
I couldn’t help but feel a little pride for my region — the American South — knowing that products made in two such small towns were known all around the world. I went in my local grocery store Thursday and couldn’t even buy a box of Cracker Jack to watch the opening day of baseball season. Of course, it originated in Chicago, so there you go.
I can’t wait for my next trip to see what gastronomic pleasures await. Perhaps I’ll go to Chattanooga and get a Moon Pie, or Nashville for a Goo Goo Cluster. Only the shadow and Shane Clayton know, but wherever the trail takes us, I know two items they will have on hand.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.