Belly Washer: A Classic Southern Drink

Before I explain what a Belly Washer is, I hope that by resurrecting the term in this blog post, it will stay where it has remained for years and not end up on a southern menu somewhere(unless you grew up using the word). While the National Association of Black Journalist conference was occurring in New Orleans, Kirk Wardy, Founder of the LaRue Group said, “what would I give for a cold belly washer.” A soon as I heard that infamous word, pleasant memories of growing up in rural South Carolina started coming to my head. For those who don’t know, a belly washer is a term for soda. Honestly, I don’t know the origin of the term belly washer, nor will I speculate, but I heard and used the term growing up. In addition, it maybe one word instead of two. However, now that you are aware of the term belly washer, I am going to share a few short memories that will give a deeper perspective into memories of the past with soda.

Let’s start with salted peanuts and a cold belly washer. Do you think these items have

anything in common? Yes, they do. It was quite common for salted peanuts to be poured in a cold soda, particularly in a glass bottle. You may say this is gross but actually it is surprisingly good. It is something about the combination of the salt, sweetness, and carbonation. One of my favorite memories of this combination was when my uncle frequently created his belly washer. We would go to Esso or Jack’s, local gas stations, to get a pack of salted peanuts, a bottle of soda, and a pack of Nabs. If you don’t know what Nabs, ask me later.

The other pleasant memory of a cold belly washer is when we used to go to the fish market. The two fish markets I particularly remember going to frequently ,are McDowell’s and one on the Southside of Sumter that escapes my memory. The fish market was a place that one would see whole saltwater fish laid on ice and a counter to order fried fish plates, meaning the whole fish with bones, not filets. I don’t know if I ever ate a filet growing up, honestly. The smell of this place, reeked of fish & grease, but the fish was always delicious. A great fish plate was simple: a couple pieces of fried fish (spots, perch, croaker) and some white bread. It was not a fancy place and I am biased because Mr. McDowell cooked one of the best fish sa ndwiches I ever had. The accompanying drink of choice was often a cold belly washer to help cut the grease.

The final memory, regarding a belly washer is how oral histories are shared unknowingly. My father would constantly say that when he would go with his father, my grandfather, to sell cotton at the gin. One of the stops on the way back home was to buy a fish sandwich and soda, a treat. They did not eat out like we do today, so this was even more of a special treat.

The belly washer is a term from the past that I thought was very interesting to describe soda. I also thought putting salted peanuts directly in the soda, rather than eating/drinking them separately, interesting In different parts of the country, soda have many different names like Pop or Cold Drink. Each are regional colloquiums that may continue on or not.

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