Eastbound and down, looking for S.C. soup

Published 2:55 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

There are a few perks to this job, and I’m always on the lookout for more.

Overall, the best thing about being a small town newspaper man is the food. Editors get invited to all the best retirement parties, business expansions, and other social events where the food is always terrific.

For special occasions people tend to bring their specialty dishes, or make the tastiest of hors d’oeuvres, usually served with a good punch. My modus operandi is to decline the first offer of “help yourself” explaining that I’m only here to take a photo or cover an event, and wouldn’t want to be an imposition.

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When the second offer is invariably made, I don’t decline. Cucumber sandwiches, fresh fruit, petit fours, nuts and mints, and other delectables have been my dinner many times – and all for simply snapping a photo of whomever is being feted.

I think Robbie Haley at the Panola Partnership has caught on to my game, though, because I’ve noticed when she calls with an invitation to an event she mentions who will be catering and what she has heard will be served.

Just recently we had the grand opening for Dodge’s Southern Style and Back Yard Burgers. Both places hosted what they called VIP soft openings where those with an invitation were served samples of the food.

If you want to speak to your alderman or supervisor, and most any other local official, just watch closely for these grand openings of restaurants. They all show up. But you better be fast because I’ve noticed they generally fill up a plate or a bag, work their way into the ribbon cutting photo, and bolt for the door.

The best perk, however, comes this time of year when the Mississippi Press Association swaps with another state for the judging of the best editorial content from the previous year. This year Mississippi newspapers are swapping with South Carolina. We judged them last week and they will judge our work in the spring.

This is near-heaven for me. The finest newspaper work from a whole state for a whole year is there for my perusal.

I take the duty very seriously, and spend many hours reading all the entries in the categories they assign. The stories, photos, and columns are great and give an editor lots of new ideas. It’s easier to separate the wheat from the chaff,  and then it’s long hours of grueling reading and judging.

Here are a couple of things I learned from judging the South Carolina newspapers that Panolian readers might also enjoy:

Do you know what goofy foot is? Me neither until I read a marvelous story written by a sports editor in east S.C. about an 11-year-old girl that has won many trophies in surfing and has aspirations to make a career on professional tour of big-wave riders.

The article talked about her technique that is called goofy foot. Apparently it is a semi-arcane way of riding a surfboard and is a big deal that a girl using goofy foot has found such success. Goofy foot. Who would have guessed.

Another good story was a long feature about the history of the mascots and traditions at each of South Carolina’s colleges. Very interesting was the story of the mascot at South Carolina who looked like a Southern gentleman, carried a Confederate Flag, and had other characteristics and props taken from the Old South era.

The article gave details about the school’s attempt to move away from the Confederate imagery and find a more inclusive mascot. The more I read the more I was reminded about the similar process at Ole Miss, but was stunned to read the end article that said all this self-inspection and change happened in 1972, some 20 years earlier than Ole Miss.

One more fun story to share, and this one got a first place ribbon. It was written in January of last year as part of a “Best Soup” contest the newspaper sponsored. One of their entries was about a woman who makes the same vegetable soup as her mother did, and apparently the whole county is hooked.

The story said the woman makes batches in January and February only and sells it from her house and convenience stores. Photos with the story showed long lines of people waiting to get her soup.

She sells small containers for $5, larger ones for $10, or you can purchase a five-pound bucket (I guess that’s the size of the chitterling buckets I see at Piggly Wiggly) for $25. The big bucket comes frozen and the story said she routinely sells 100 of the big buckets a week to people who like to have enough to last all year.

She is also very coy with the soup and won’t announce when another batch will be for sale. She keeps customers waiting and guessing. When she stocks the stores the word travels fast and offices all around the county close up so the employees can rush to get their soup while the getting is good.

Reading hundreds of newspaper articles from several states away wouldn’t be of interest to most folks, but it’s a perk I look forward to every year.

And if you can’t find me for a week or so next January, you might want to check South Carolina. I’m thinking about making a trip to score that legendary soup. It will be sort of like Smokey and the Bandit, eastbound and down, headed to the east coast and looking for five-pound buckets.