I remember the day I brought home a 30-ounce bottle of JFG Mayonnaise. Marriages can fracture over small things, but for many people mayonnaise is no small thing. Allegiance to the wrong brand can be an unpardonable sin. I was only trying it out, I sheepishly told my wife about the mayo from Knoxville, Tennessee.
My wife was, and always will be, on the Hellman’s bandwagon, despite now living in the South where Duke’s and other regional brands of mayonnaise are like religion.
“There is nothing more personal than mayonnaise,” said Ms. Robin Fisher in the New York Times.
Ms. Fisher would know. She works in accounts payable at Duke’s in Mauldin, South Carolina, where, according to the Times, 70,000 pounds of egg yolks and a million pounds of oil are made into mayonnaise products every day.
“People want their coffee a certain way,” Ms. Fisher added, “and they want their mayonnaise a certain way.”
That’s a perfect dollop of southern wisdom, right there.
Mayonnaise, of course, is a French word, and it’s known the world over as a creamy, white sauce that has been around for two centuries. However, it seems as if mayonnaise is something the South invented, sort of like grits, which have Native American origins but are unabashedly southern.
Southerners are fiercely independent, but they unite around comfort food – and that includes gravies and sauces. That might explain why mayonnaise crowds and flies off grocery shelves, whether a jar of Duke’s in Virginia and the Carolinas, JFG in eastern Tennessee, or Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise down in the Louisiana bayous.
Yes, mayonnaise is a staple of the southern diet and economy. Sandwiches as we know them – and an entire society that hinges on what you put between two slices of bread – would crumble without mayo’s creamy goodness.
Take pimento cheese and BLT sandwiches. Would they have achieved greatness without mayonnaise? (This is a rhetorical question.)
The Great Depression produced hard times. They would have been even harder without mayonnaise, which folks spread on their raw onion sandwiches, or with peanut butter. That’s right, southerners gobbled down peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches.
“Merita white bread, Duke’s, chunky Jiff, bananas & a little drizzle of honey,” commented one southern lady in a popular magazine. “Heaven!” she exclaimed.
And yet one person’s heaven is another person’s crusade. Sadly, there are movements against mayonnaise, including a website called holdthatmayo.com. They are misguided. They should find a new cause, something actually worthwhile. But you don’t have to be adopted southern daughter Taylor Swift to know that “haters gonna hate.”
It’s another reminder that mayonnaise is a controversial and divisive topic. You can almost hear a proud drawl in the words of Mr. Robin P. Little:
“Down here there are certain topics northern transplants learn to avoid bringing up if they want a conversation to stay civil,” Mr. Little commented in the Times, “and Hellman’s versus Duke’s mayonnaise is one of them. Below the Mason-Dixon line, Duke’s rules.”
By the way, I loved the tangy flavor of JFG, but I mostly keep that to myself around the house. I also make sure there’s a jar of Hellman’s in the fridge.