It has been three years since I tasted real, homemade, Southern sweet tea.

Before that I praised a woman at a homecoming dinner who did herself proud with her tea. I know my face fell when she brought out a gallon plastic jug.

It wasn’t bad it, just wasn’t real.

Sweet tea has been a Southern staple for as long as anyone can remember.

My grandmothers made it, my mother made it. I never have.

The first day the temperature nudged above 89 degrees I developed a yearn for it but, while I know what goes into it, I may as well be from Newfoundland with the details.

I asked the women I know and finally went to “The True and Faithful Source of All Knowledge:” Facebook.

Responses came from all over the country, some vague, some in tiny detail. They are all good and will probably work.

The Kansas Woman didn’t grow up with sweet tea and could not care less about it. She’s not an experimenter. She can taste something once then go home and duplicate it.

Outside of the South people make iced tea and try to sweeten it. I’m not fond of a layer of undissolved sugar in the bottom of a glass.

My romantic memory includes a porch swing and a sweating pitcher of iced tea to help manage a hot afternoon.

It is something I miss like going barefoot and walking on sandy streets. I don’t go barefoot around here because of the rocky ground. I’m a tenderfoot again.

My mother kept mint beside the back door.

She got a “start” of it from her mother who got it from the Tates.

It was dark green and grew in the ever-present shade beside her well. That was where she tossed the contents of her dish pan, it was always moist. The mint loved it.

She got a start of peppermint from Alice Ware who got it from the Suttles.

Jewell Brown shared a light green, nearly white, mint that didn’t last, but was so sweet my grandfather picked and chewed sprigs of it.

Families in the Naomi community of Walker County passed around starts of their favorite mint.

People are about mint in tea like they are about basil in a tomato sandwich. Some have to, some wouldn’t dare.

I learned there are many different ways of making sweet tea and all are good.

That slop labeled “sweet tea” in the grocery store is probably alright if you don’t know any better but sometimes you have to honor the idea of the thing.

This afternoon I looked at my sassafras patch near the mountain cabin, “Respite.” It is coming along and I’ll soon dig a few roots to make sassafras tea, iced sassafras tea.

I might not know anything about making Southern sweet tea but I’m a sassafras fool.

Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at

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