Image Above: Piggly Wiggly "I'm Big on the Pig" T-Shirt
When I was in high school and college, my mother was the pharmacy director for Piggly Wiggly, a bygone chain of grocery stores with a location in every small town corner of South Carolina. Piggly Wiggly had a cult following. Particularly passionate followers expressed their devotion by wearing a t-shirt or hat adorned with the company slogan - "I'm big on the pig." I think the garments even enjoyed a brief stint as a status symbol. It was a cultural phenomenon. Many a Summer day, when school related excuses couldn't protect me, my mother would wake me at the crack of dawn, make me put on some outfit that assured onlookers I was big on the pig, and drag me all over the state to visit stores. Sometimes I was a cashier. Sometimes I was a pharmacy tech. Sometimes I stocked shelves. Payment was usually in the form of lunch from the deli - glamorous, I know. Unfortunately, marketing genius and my sweat equity weren't enough to sustain that once vibrant grocery store chain. Only a few scattered franchise stores remain in our state today. Those terrible, magical Piggly Wiggly Summers weren't without merit. They left me with a legacy of intimacy with my home state, a familiarity with every forgotten corner and breathtaking landscape.
Image Above: South Carolina Coast
I've visited some beautiful places - the trails of Olympic National Forest, the bluffs of Nantucket, the rolling hills of Tuscany, the vineyards of Sonoma. South Carolina has my heart. Every nook offers something new - glistening cobblestone streets; heavy salt air; barn swallows dancing over vast farmlands; cool mountain lakes; glimpses of the Blue Ridge; black coastal swamps; the very edge of a temperate rainforest; hawks from around the world kettling above a mountain valley. In these nooks, you also can find some of my favorite makers in the world, curating products that are uniquely South Carolina and unquestionably wonderful.
Image Above: Bulls Bay Saltworks, Carolina Flake and Bourbon Barrel Smoked Flake
If you head North out of Charleston on Highway 17, you pass some fantastic coastal towns - Awendaw, McClellanville, Georgetown, Pawley's Island. This was our route when we had to check on the Coastal Piggly Wiggly Stores. On a good day I could finagle lunch at See Wee Restaurant or Jack's Cosmic Dogs. For several miles, 17 runs well inland but parallel to Bull's Bay, a beautiful expanse of saltwater flanked by Cape Romain Refuge Lands. Established in 2012, Bulls Bay Saltworks is the first operational salt company in South Carolina since 1865. They source all of their product from protected Cape Romain Waters and grow it in nonreactive containers. This product is a pantry must for anyone fancying themselves a home chef. We keep a jar of Carolina Flake in the pantry at all times. We also keep one at the office. And - sometimes - you can find one in my purse, in case of emergencies.
Image Above: High Wire Distilling, Hat Trick Botanical Gin
Store #1 was my favorite place to get stuck. That was the Downtown Charleston Piggly Wiggly on Meeting Street. It wasn't far from home and it was impossible not to be enchanted by that highfalutin Charleston air. A lot of awesome South Carolina makers hail from Charleston. High Wire Distilling is a favorite in our house. Their Hat Trick Gin is a botanical blast. I love it in Negronis.
Image Above: High Wire Distilling Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey
However, the incomparable crown jewel of High Wire Distilling's creations is their Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Jimmy Red corn is an endangered heritage crop, a moonshiner's corn, rescued from the brink of extinction by a few passionate South Carolina farmers and foodies. High Wire Distilling turned it into a fantastic whiskey. In our house, this particular spirit is always sipped straight. It's history and heritage in a glass. We joined our favorite liquor store's text message list just so we would know when a new shipment arrives. As soon as the text comes through, we go zooming through the city streets to pluck it from the shelves - always following the one per customer rule, of course. If you receive this as a gift from us, it is a sign of great affection and respect. We don't take it lightly.
Image Above: Cannonborough Honey Basil Craft Soda
If you're hunting something a little more fun and a little less reverent from the Holy City, look no further than the concoctions from the team at Cannonborough Craft Soda. The soda jerk trade is close to my heart. My first paid job was behind the soda counter at the state's oldest operating drugstore but I definitely wasn't mixing up libations like these in high school. Cannonborough sodas are naturally flavored and sweetened with seasonal ingredients. They are a staple at all of our cocktail parties to ensure there is something on the menu for everyone. They also make great mixers. Try the honey basil flavor mixed with the Hat Trick Gin from Highwire Distilling for a memorable, low effort cocktail.
Image Above: The Ann Throw by Covered in Cotton
When we made our way to the Florence Piggly Wiggly, it was inevitably an all day affair, bookended by long drives through South Carolina's farmlands. It always seemed to be storming when we made this trek and I loved the sight of rain trickling down the leaves of flourishing crops before soaking into the good earth that makes up the Northeastern corner of South Carolina. Garden & Gun's 2019 Made in the South Awards Overall Winner can be found in that corner of the state. Covered in Cotton makes exquisite heirloom quality throws, baby blankets, and hand towels from cotton harvested on the family's Darlington County farm. Spoiler alert - if you're on my Christmas List, you're getting a Covered in Cotton throw this year. I can't bear the thought of a loved one languishing through a whole South Carolina winter without curling up under one of these luxurious, cozy blankets. If you're similarly concerned, fear not - our friends at Covered in Cotton have offered a limited time 10% online discount for our readers with coupon code: CWDISCOUNT10.
Image Above: Calvin's collection of bow ties from A Dapper Sandlapper
We didn't visit the Upstate much during my mom's tenure at Piggly Wiggly. There were a few scattered stores but a competing chain had the stronghold in the region. Perhaps that's why I landed permanently in the Upstate - a sense of safety from being suddenly and unwittingly dragged into a day of unpaid manual labor. We are fortunate to have lots of wonderful makers in our own upcountry stomping grounds. Nick Kulmala, from A Dapper Sandlapper, is one of those makers. For the benefit of the transplanted citizens who might be reading the blog, "Sandlapper" is a very old nickname for a South Carolinian. Carolina boys love their bow ties. Nick, a born and raised Sandlapper, started the company almost five years ago, out of frustration with the boring selection of accessories on the market for a guy striving to look his best. Calvin has an extensive collection and never fails to get compliments when the day's work look includes a bow tie from A Dapper Sandlapper. Blog readers can use coupon code CW15 through 7/26 for 15% off of the latest Dapper look online.
Image Above: H. Goose Sporting Blanket
H. Goose, named for the owner's beloved dog, is another Upstate company making incredible South Carolina goods. We love their work so much, I couldn't pick just one product to feature. H. Goose is South Carolina's answer for the sporting gentleman. Their Sporting Blanket is a canvas and flannel masterpiece - the perfect accessory for an off-the-beaten-path picnic or birding expedition, an homage to the rich textile history of South Carolina's hallowed foothills, spun and woven within driving distance of Greenville, SC. It also happens to be fully Ando approved.
Image Above: Ando, enjoying a day of birding on The Sporting Blanket
The H. Goose item Calvin can't leave home without is his Saluda Field Watch, a uniquely sophisticated Southern time piece for a guy who might need to swing a hammer and shake a few hands in the same eight hour work day. It was a gift from me last Christmas and I continue to get spontaneous, unsolicited expressions of gratitude for this selection.
Image Above: H. Goose Saluda Field Watch
This list only scratches the surface of incredible South Carolina makers. I feel so very fortunate to live in a state with a myriad of beautiful landscapes, with fertile waters and earth, with an abundance of creators and curators. I am eternally grateful for those Piggly Wiggly Summers that showed me at a young age what incredible bounty this state has to offer. I guess you could say I actually am "Big on the Pig."