As I navigate the food world via books, podcasts, symposia and the like, a common thread of discussion is the pairing of particular foods and drinks. A familiar association of this sort is the old rule that red wine is to be served with red meat, while white wine works better with chicken or fish. That link has been around a while, but the more recent chat seems to be turning toward which craft beers are best with dishes far beyond the usual bar food. Since this seems to be such a popular topic in the culinary media, I began to wonder about food and drink combinations for those like me whose cup of tea is more likely just that – a big glass of iced tea. What should we know, and what are the rules for perfect pairings in our world?
Before laying down the law, let me just go ahead and contradict myself and get it over with. A few of my personal guidelines will follow. But I will also go ahead and say there are no rules. The white wine police will not come and take you away for sipping a glassful with a big medium rare steak any more than the fashion police will fine you for wearing white shoes the day before Memorial Day. Who says you have to put milk on your cereal? Have you tried Cran-Apple juice? I figured somebody had to be the first to try milk – I wanted to be the first to try Cran-Apple juice on my Cheerios. At the end of the day, I say drink what you want with the food that you like. Then I will say in the next breath, follow these guidelines and you may find a happy palate.
Besides milk and cereal, there are several other common associations that we all make, I will wager, though we may not look at them in the same way as the more well known rules. Fruit juice, especially of the orange variety, complements nearly all things breakfast, and is served at every restaurant that offers the morning meal, I daresay. Milk and cookies? Duh-huh, we all know they are not just dating. Southern folk swear by the R.C. Cola and Moon Pie combo. Those same folks are likely to pour a pack of peanuts into a bottle of Pepsi. (Note, there is some debate about which cola is best with peanuts floating in it. I can testify, however, that peanuts in Sprite/7Up are just plain nasty.)
One of the more tightly linked pairs for me is sweet iced tea with barbecue. I have rarely been to an authentic barbecue place that didn’t serve sweet tea -usually very, very sweet tea. With barbecue I like it as comedian Mark Lowry describes it: tea so sweet you can pour it on your pancakes. There’s something about the sweetness of the tea playing against the smokiness of the meat that just works.
Remember the Pepsi Challenge? I’m sure I would have chosen Coke had I been so challenged, but there is one meal that really needs a Pepsi to make it right and that is pizza. Especially Pizza Hut pizza. The fact that they only serve Pepsi products there is probably what cemented these two together for me. For years, when I lived in North Carolina, I met friends at Pizza Hut every Wednesday night after choir practice. Since then my mouth has been hardwired to expect a Pepsi when pizza is on the plate. Other carbonated drinks can be substituted in a pinch, but I like Pepsi’s extra touch of sweetness to chase the savory flavors pizza brings to the taste buds.
Much like the pizza-Pepsi pair, one particular dessert has a special place in my heart and was similarly lodged there through repetition and ready availability. We called it a Purple Cow. That name was never explained to me, but I can describe it in two words: Nugrape Float. Coke floats are great, and I would never turn down a root beer float, either. I’ve even been known to pour Sprite over strawberry ice cream (and unlike the peanuts, this combination worked). But none of these quite hold a candle to Nugrape soda poured over vanilla ice cream. This was the dessert of choice at Pappy and Granny’s house, my grandparents on Mama’s side. It takes about two minutes to put together and makes purple foam. What more could you want from a dessert?
Ironically, these guidelines just end up raising more questions. Should I drink sweet tea or Pepsi with a barbecue pizza? Will the “got milk?” people come after me for advocating Cran-Apple on Cheerios? Is R.C. still appropriate if the Moon Pie is battered and fried? Is the Purple Cow one of the bazillion drink combinations Sonic offers? These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .