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Eatymology: Coke and Peanuts

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Eatymology: Coke and Peanuts
Written by Keia Mastrianni | Photos by Faith Allen

Coke and Peanuts

[kōk ən(d) pea·nuts]

n: A sweet and salty refreshment born of work breaks and rural traditions

Tallulah Belle

Ask folks what they remember about peanuts and Coca-Cola and their stories could fill pages. The classic combination with storied origins is simple—a glass bottle of Coke, with a few sips missing from its neck, is filled with a sleeve of salty roasted peanuts and enjoyed together. Sound familiar? Or odd? Depends on where you come from. In the South, peanuts and soda, sometimes called a “farmers’ coke,” was a workingman’s beverage. Its fizzy refreshment bore sweet and salty satisfactions that could be savored during a work break. Some trace it back to the early decades of the twentieth century when “dope wagons” roamed the grounds of textile mills before the advent of the vending machine. These food and beverage carts sold bottles of “dope,” a nickname for Coca-Cola that was perhaps a reference to the days when the popular soda contained trace amounts of cocaine.

Workers gathered around these wagons to catch a break, often with a glass bottle of soda and a snack. The custom eventually found its way to the fields, gas stations, country stores, front porches, and pick-up trucks around the South. Most people who drink it learned by watching a family member. In the countless stories, types of cola and brand of peanuts vary. Some swear by RC Cola. For peanuts, it’s a toss-up between Lance, Planter’s, and Tom’s.

Lori Gilpatrick, bartender and co-owner of 7th Street Provisions in Columbus, Georgia, revives the combination in a signature cocktail called the Tallulah Belle, made with Belle Meade bourbon, housemade peanut orgeat, and bacon-fat roasted peanuts. The cocktail is delivered to the customer, and the Coke topper is poured tableside. Gilpatrick was inspired by a cocktail called the Tallulah from Ollie Irene in Birmingham, Alabama, and decided to formulate her own riff when she opened her restaurant in 2016. The final garnish? The memorable stories the cocktail unearths from her customers

Tallulah Belle