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Friday, March 16, 2012

All Things Southern: Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola

Now, when many think of the South, images from Gone with the Wind, sweet tea, fried chicken, and Southern drawls, all come to mind. Of course, those living in North Carolina and Georgia know that there is more to Southern beverages than sweet tea. There's Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola. Both of these drinks have their (kola) roots in the South.

I'll start with Pepsi because I live in North Carolina and have been to the Pepsi Museum in New Bern, the home of Pepsi-Cola. The way it was told to me is that Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist in New Bern, came up with a remedy for the upset tummy. His concoction of carbonated water, vanilla, rare oils and kola nuts were the ingredients for a drink he later shared with his pharmacy's soda fountain customers. "Ah," they said, "this is good stuff," and fondly called it "Brad's Drink". Caleb changed the name to Pepsi-Cola (does anyone know why?) and as the drink's popularity grew, he opened a Pepsi-Cola Company in the back of his pharmacy. He got a patent for the beverage's syrup in 1903 and decided he wanted people all over the country to enjoy his product. Allowing for bottling franchises helped his business to grow. The first franchises were in Durham and Charlotte, NC. What were his advertising slogans? "Exhilarating, Invigorating, Aids Digestion". And with those descriptions, Caleb sold 7,968 gallons of his syrup in 1903. The rest, as they say, is history.

Georgia is home to Coke, and like the origins of Pepsi, the story behind Coca-Cola started with a pharmacist in Atlanta. One afternoon in 1886, John Pemberton stirred up a sweet-smelling caramel-colored liquid made of kola and coca leaf extract. He must have thought it was good because he took it over to his local pharmacy, Jacobs' Pharmacy. At the soda fountain, the mixture was combined with carbonated water. Customers were offered a taste, liked it, and the pharmacy put it on sale. Each glass cost five cents.  

Frank Robinson, John's bookkeeper, named the mixture Coca-Cola. The beginnings only reflected meager sales----just nine glasses of Coca-Cola were sold each day.  Well, that was just the early stages. Since then, Coca-cola has morphed into a 1.7 billion drinks sold-a-day industry.

The question that has been debated over the year is: Did Coke once have actual cocaine as one of its ingredients? According to, it once held a small trace. Sources show that back in 1885 it was not uncommon to have cocaine in patented medicines. In 1902, the drink had 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup, but by 1929 it was pretty near cocaine-free.

Of course, since the two products are similiar, it is often asked: Which do you prefer---Coke or Pepsi? You can be a real Southerner and like either, since both beverages were born in the South.

As for me, I have to say I don't drink soda, and for the rare times, I might, I cannot tell the difference between Pepsi or Coke. Some claim Coke is too sweet.

I do have a fondness for Pepsi, however. And it has nothing to do with taste. As a child, I remember my grandfather's old freezer at the hardware and lumber company he and my grandmother owned in Sandston, Virginia. The freezer, which was the size of an ice box, was always filled with bottles of Pepsi-Cola. When you popped off the cap of one, smushy ice that had formed inside, rose to the top, along with the carbonated bubbles. You had to be quick to get your mouth on the bottle top or you'd lose all that goodness down the side of the bottle.

I can still hear my granddaddy say on a sweltering July day, as he trudged up the steps from the lumber yard to the adjoining hardware store in his blue overralls covered in sawdust, "I'm gonna get me a Pepsi." Some days, I suppose when he was in dire need, he'd holler up to my grandma, "Patsie, get me a Pepsi!"

I'd stand by the old Westinghouse, my thirst mounting, hopeful. He'd enter the store through the back entrance, smelling of pine, flecks of wood on the rim of his ball cap. He'd open the freezer, take out a bottle and then always hand me one. I think I liked the frothy ice inside the bottle that turned a caramel color the best.

So if I'm going to really enjoy a Pepsi, it has to come from a bottle, chilled, with slushy ice---inside the bottle. The aroma of sawdust and sound of an electric saw adds to the experience, too.


Ane Mulligan said...

LOL - I say Pepsi is too sweet! It' so funny how tastebuds differ amongst we Southerners. However, I'm a bit of a traitor, because I'm a Pepper-upper. ;o)

Debbie Hearne said...

I can almost taste that icy Pepsi right now! Great blog!

Aritha V. said...

Great! I like your post about cola. But I only like coca cola.

Alice J. Wisler said...

Thanks, all, for reading! Oh, Ane, your loyalties lie with Coke since you are a Georgia Girl! :-)

Debra, I hope we can meet one day and have a good conversation over an icy Pepsi!

CarlybirdK said...

PEPSI!!!! My mom got me hooked on the stuff when I was just a little one. Now, I don't drink soda any more, but sometimes, I do miss the taste and the fond memories I have of sharing a Pepsi with my mom. I also love a bottle of IBC Root Beer on a hot summer day!

Alice J. Wisler said...

I love root beer, too, Carly. Such nice memories you have.

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