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State Symbols and Icons: Food and Drink

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Every state is unique, and that uniqueness has found expression through the designation of official symbols and icons. From flags to wildlife to flora to pastimes to food, South Carolina is represented by a host of things that have special meaning to our way of life and history.

Establishing state symbols first enjoyed widespread popularity in the late 1900s with the adoption of state agricultural and wildlife symbols. Before that, it was customary to choose a symbol and flag upon achieving statehood. In 1911, South Carolina was one of the first states to establish the tradition of legislative designations, and other states soon followed. Today, South Carolina has 44 official state symbols and icons established via legislative acts. Here, we take a look at edible goods and why each has special significance to the state.


State fruit: Peach

From pies and cobblers to shakes and cakes to jams and wines—South Carolinians adore peaches and use them every delicious way imaginable.

South Carolina peaches were made the official fruit of the state in 1984. Second only to California in fresh peach production, South Carolina farmers have been producing peaches commercially since the 1860s. Today, they grow about 40 varieties. From pies and cobblers to shakes and bread pudding to jams and wines—South Carolinians adore peaches and use them every delicious way imaginable. And standing testament to our love affair with peaches: the famous “Peachoid,” a 135-foot water tank that resembles the state fruit, rising up for all to see in the Upstate town of Gaffney.

Peach season runs through the summer months. Buy baskets of ripe, juicy fruit at roadside markets or local farms like McLeod Farms in McBee, The Peach Tree in York and Fishers Orchard in Greer.


State beverage: Milk

black and white cow
Dairy farms and the milk they produce are an important part of both South Carolina's heritage and economy.

While it might not be the sexiest drink out there, milk was named the state beverage in 1984. Dairy farms are found in many South Carolina counties; current USDA estimates indicate there are roughly 14,000 milk cows in the state. While South Carolinians love to pour a glass of milk to eat with pie and other sweets, we use a whole lot of milk to support our butter habit, with a good amount also going into cheese and ice cream production. You gotta keep a Southern belly happy, you know.

Get an inside look at South Carolina milk operations by arranging a tour of Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer or Hickory Hill Milk in Edgefield.


State hospitality beverage: Sweet tea

pitcher and mason jar of sweet tea
The official state hospitality beverage, sweet tea, is a Southern welcome in a glass.

Sweet tea was designated the official state hospitality beverage of South Carolina in 1995 and it’s a fitting choice. After all, Summerville, S.C., is the birthplace of sweet tea—or at least, history seems to indicate such. To celebrate our standing as Sweet Tea Ground Zero, you can drink sweet tea to your heart’s delight by following the Sweet Tea Trail throughout the town and see the giant Mason jar that was filled with more than 2,400 gallons of South Carolina's favorite elixir to win the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest glass of sweet tea.

To further strengthen our claim as the nation’s No. 1 tea hub, consider this bit of history. In the 1700s, the first Camellia Sinensis plants found their way from China to Summerville courtesy of a French botanist named Andre Michaux. A few failures, significant successes and centuries later, South Carolina can claim notoriety as the first place in the U.S. to grow tea and the modern-day home of two commercial tea farms: Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island and Table Rock Tea Company in Pickens. You can visit both for a fascinating look at tea cultivation and to stock up on your supply of South Carolina-grown tea.


State vegetable: Collards

One of the most popular complements to any South Carolina meal, collard greens are a staple of the Palmetto State's cuisine.

The South Carolina diet is anchored by a variety of leafy greens, the most popular being the abundantly grown collard, named the official state vegetable in 2011. The state ranks second in the nation in collard green production, with Lexington County holding the top spot among the South Carolina counties. Nutritionally, greens pack a punch as they are high in vitamins and calcium, and help lower cholesterol and cancer risks. While Southerners love those health benefits, of utmost importance is the good luck greens impart when eaten on New Year's Day, alongside a helping of Hoppin' John for good measure. Get a bunch at farmer's markets or order them up as a side dish when dining out at just about any meat-and-three or barbecue restaurant in South Carolina.


State snack: Boiled peanuts

For many South Carolinians, boiling peanuts is a family tradition.

South Carolina designated the boiled peanut as the official state snack in 2006, but we’ve been devouring them for much longer than that. Taking green peanuts and boiling them in a briny broth is a state tradition rooted in West African culture. Since the early 1800s, the technique has been passed down through generations. Boiled peanuts are now firmly ingrained in South Carolina culinary history. For the best in boiled peanut noshing, find them at roadside stands in August and September (green peanut season) where you can get them fresh from the boiling pot.


State picnic cuisine: Barbecue

South Carolina is known as the Birthplace of Barbecue, and pitmasters are carrying on the time-honored tradition of cooking barbecue “slow and low.”

South Carolina is said to be the “birthplace of barbecue,” reason enough for making it the official state picnic cuisine in 2014. Aside from that claim, all you need to know is that we turn out some of the greatest barbecue in the nation (which, by S.C. definition, is pork—nothing else). But historically speaking, South Carolina’s reputation as a barbecue giant goes far back into our agricultural past to a time when farms were abundant and people gathered as a community to partake of meals. A hog would be slaughtered and the entire carcass smoked for hours on a wood pit. When the meat was tender and cooked through, everyone was invited to gather around the pit and dig in.

Sauces to season the meat ran the gamut from mustard-based to tomato-based to vinegar-based, depending on the region. Pitmasters across the state continue to base their craft on traditions that have been passed down for generations. Whether you’re picnicking or feeding family around the dinner table, pick up a pound or two (or three) and feast on a time-honored South Carolina delicacy.

While South Carolina is home to countless barbecue joints, you can take your pick by downloading a map of the SC Barbecue Trail here.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.