Monday, March 30, 2009

Savory Slugburgers

By Taylor Wilson

OK, try to stay in the restaurant business and sell something called a slugburger.

Can you imagine a greater marketing challenge?

Me neither.

But stranger things have happened.

And it does so with regularity at a variety of burger joints in north Mississippi.
In fact, not only are slugburgers sold in high volume, but a festival with the same name has been held in the Corinth, Mississippi since 1988.

(For those wondering, yes, according to records there is a Slugburger Queen. Just think of the possibilities if you have that on your resume? Example? OK, former Lt. Governor of Mississippi, Amy Tuck, was once named Honorary Slugburger Queen.)

But back to a slugburger. What is it? Is it some sort of gastropod sandwich served on an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants? And if you salt your sandwich, does the “meat” sort of melt and get all gooey?

OK, now that I have grossed you out, let me mention that you CAN put salt on slugburgers with no problems and that the name has nothing to do with anything similar to a snail.

Actually, one story I was told is that the slug in slugburger came about because the sandwiches were once sold for a nickel. And in the old days a metal slug, or a counterfeit coin (maybe even a washer) was often used to fool vending machines. Likewise, nickels were sometimes referred to as slugs.

(On this line of thought, I guess slug coulda also been plug (not worth a plug nickel). If that were the case, perhaps the plugburger would sound a tad more appetizing…or maybe not? And obviously, the burgers ARE worth the money or else they would not have been around for so long.)

I got wind of these uniquely-named burgers from my friend Rita Hathcock whose husband Johnny is from the area.

She said stopping for a slugburger had been something of a family tradition of theirs for many years.

“People either like them or they don’t,” Rita told me, and admitted she did not partake when she and Johnny recently stopped in Corinth.

But she did take a few photos (thanks Rita!).

My buddy, Craig Robinson, a north Mississippi native, was not that impressed with slugburgers. “I think they just came about as a way to stretch the basics you have and make it a meal, such as adding the other ingredients with the burger. They still serve them in several places in north Mississippi.”

According to historians the Weeks family began making “Weeks Burgers” in 1917. The hamburgers were made with a mixture of beef and potato flour (used as an extender). Today soybean grits are the extender.

The slugburger moniker only came about through time with the nickel/slug apiece deal.

Today’s method of preparation calls for frying the patties in canola oil and topping them with mustard, pickles and onions — all served on a small bun.

The burgers cost closer to the $1 price range these days. And in some restaurants where they are sold, like the White Trolley in Corinth, customers are given the more traditional option of a “beef” burger, as well.

As for the Trolley name, well, the Weeks family once peddled patties out of moveable stands until the late 1940s, when an old trolley car was purchased and converted into a café. As time went on several other trolley cars were likewise converted.

Two places that sell these historical hamburgers with the unique name are the aforementioned White Trolley, 1215 Highway 72 East, Corinth, Miss. 38834 and Weeks’ Hamburgers, 100 Mill St., Boonville, Miss. 38829.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rankin’s Grocery: Home of Green Sno Balls & Ham

By Taylor Wilson

“I am a fan of Dr. Seuss and all, but are those supposed to be green…?”

It seemed a sensible question to ask as I stood at the counter waiting to pay Mr. And Mrs. Rankin proprietors of Rankin’s
Grocery and daily purveyors of fine lunchmeats in Brownsville, Tennessee.

I mean it is not like there is a lot of green stuff sold at Rankin’s (amongst the ham, turkey, roast beef, hoop cheese, crackers, bread, chicken salad, chips, pork rinds, pickled baloney, etc.). So, when you see something green, well, it kind of stands out.

And what were the items in question. They were Hostess Sno Balls®, which are supposed to be pink — a long way from green.

Unless a food is Jell-O, a sherbet, a fruit or a veggie, shades of green aren’t often a good thing.

But no worries, Mrs. Rankin assured me all was well.

“Ah, they do that every year for St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, they are supposed to be green.”

“Thank goodness. I was a bit worried the snack cakes might have gone out of date, even though I don’t particularly care for Sno Balls, green other otherwise,” I said.

And what the heck? I bought ’em, anyway. I also told Mr. Rankin I was going to put ’em on eBay and sell ’em as a collector’s item.
He wished me good luck with the venture and then came back with a pretty good one-liner, before I exited, stage left.

As a side note, the elder sandwich seller once told me back in his high school days, he witnessed my grandfather break up a crap game.

My grandfather (Lloyd Wilson) was principal and Mr. Rankin, a student, swears he was not a participant, but rather a bystander of an entertaining game of chance.

“We were down on the floor and suddenly, these black leather shoes appeared in the game,” said Rankin who admits to saying something colorful, and it wasn’t green, either, by the way.
“I was just watching, understand? But Mr. Wilson took up the money and made us buy a new book for the library with it,” Rankin remembered.

But back to Sno-Balls. At the time of the crap game, which again, Rankin claims not to have participated in, if they had wanted to the gamblers (and bystanders) could have enjoyed a Sno Ball.

Yep, they were around way back then.

In fact, Sno Balls have been around since 1947.

According to the Hostess website, the cakes became and instant hit for Americans looking to indulge in a sweet treat during WWII, when there was a rationing of flour and sugar.
And back then, Sno Balls weren’t the pink crème-filled treats we know today (much less green).

The original Sno Balls were white marshmallow and shredded coconut covered chocolate cakes. In 1950, the crème filling was added, and not long after, in an effort to add a little pizzazz to the humble white Sno Ball, Hostess decided to tint the shredded coconut pink. And for added effect, each Sno Ball package included one white and one pink Sno Ball. Later, for efficiency’s sake, two of the same color were coupled.

Today, over 25 million are sold each year.

Hostess mostly produces the original white-colored Sno Balls around the winter holidays, with other colors appearing for different seasons.

You’ll find “Scary Cakes” and “Glo Balls” (orange and glow-in-the-dark Sno Balls) during Halloween, “Lucky Puffs” (the aforementioned green Sno Balls) for St. Patrick’s Day and Hoppers (lavender colored Sno Balls) in the spring for Easter.

Also, according to the Hostess website, you might be surprised to know that Sno Balls have also made celebrity appearances, with “supporting roles” in episodes of The X-Files and Gilmore Girls as well as in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
All that, of course, enough to make all the other snack cakes green too, but only with envy.

Taylor Wilson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just Say Snow (Cream)

By Taylor Wilson

Some days, I figure Al “Greenhouse” Gore is right. Say in December, when it gets in the 70s, but then, then we have a Snow Cream Snow at the tail end of February. And I have some doubts. I have to think the “inventor” of the Internet and Nobel Prize winner might have been in the greenhouse too long (inhaling plant carbon dioxide emissions or something?).
The day we got a Snow Cream Snow was one of those days where I figure Greenhouse was wrong.
But enough politics, gloom, doom and saving the world via “going green” talk.
What you really want to know is what is a Snow Cream Snow, right?
OK, that’s easy enough. It is a snowfall deep enough to gather a bowl of snow.
Sure, if you get out in the yard and work at it, you can gather a bowl of snow after a “dusting.” But then, what you have to work with when it comes to making snow cream might not be desired — leaves, grass, pebbles, disease agents, etc.
You really need a good drift, a definite rarity in West Tennessee (Greenhouse Effect or not) to make high-quality snow cream.
You need to be able to jab a bowl down in the snow and scoop up all you want before you put the vanilla extract, the sugar and the milk to it.
So there you have it — a Snow Cream Snow is one that leaves actual snowdrifts deep enough to dip snow. (Well, by Taylor’s definition, anyway.)
The other day, we had such a phenomenon, and there I was, bowl in hand, dipping snow.
Prepping to make it, though, I couldn’t help but ponder: “Wonder if there is some kind of law against feeding kids snow cream these days? Is, or would, the Food and Drug Administration be involved? What about the risks of eating something that falls from our skies? We certainly can’t sterilize it in the microwave — kind of defeats the purpose you know?”
Oh, the random thoughts that go through Taylor’s head. With such empty space, I guess there is a lot of room for such?
But I got down to the business of making it anyway and realized I had limited sugar.
So, I made my son a batch. (Oh, the sacrifices we parents make.)
Then I turned to my own serving, but with no sugar left, what to do?
I had no choice but to use artificial sweeteners and that opened up an whole new can of misguided reasoning: Can you make snow cream with artificial sweeteners? If so, is it officially snow cream?
I asked some friends and they all doubted my reasoning, but then most know I’m several flakes shy of a snowball anyway, so they accepted my reasoning or lack thereof.
“What did it taste like?” one asked.
“Oh, I could stand to eat it, enough to get a brain freeze, anyway,” I said. “But if it had been one of those cooking reality shows like “Iron Chef,” the judges would have fried me.”
Truth be known, putting artificial sweetener in snow cream snow (so rarely granted as it is) was sacrilegious and deep down, I knew it.
That night I dreamed I went to heaven (yeah, I know, but again, remember, I was dreaming).
St. Peter was there at the Golden Gate of course.
“Well, hey there, Taylor,” St. Pete greeted me, obviously surprised to see me. “You know you are not getting in, right?”
“Well, I kinda figured I wouldn’t, sins against nature and all,” I replied.
“Yep, you didn’t have a snowball’s chance in… well, you know. That time you put the Sweet and Low in snow cream did you in, all right. We have ninth ring of the inferno, built especially for people like you, and well… the people that claimed to have invented the Internet.”
“Oh SNOOOOOWWWWW!” I said, just before waking up.
So, repent now, I am telling you. NEVER, EVER put artificial sweetener in snow cream.
Snow Cream Snows are gifts not to be granulated for granted with anything other than pure cane sugar.

Taylor Wilson is an editor and freelance writer that contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites for nearly 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at