For the past oh maybe 30 years or so, we’ve taken our family to the beach. Each summer. To Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. And for the past 10 or so years (it would have been more if we had discovered it!), we’ve stopped at Cooper’s Country Store. In fact, we can’t make a beach trip without buying Cooper’s country ham, sausage, hoop cheese, and thick sliced bacon. Makes for good eatin’ and one heckuva big beach breakfast!
It doesn’t seem like Cooper’s has changed much since it was Burrows’s Service Station — a combination grocery and gas station with family living quarters on the second floor. Theron Burrows built it in 1937 when U. S. Hwy. 521 was finished from Georgetown to Manning, adding this motto: We serve the needs of the neighborhood. I bet they did because they still do. Burrows’s sold farm fresh produce (as we call it today) as well as staple goods, fresh meat, hardware, farm supplies, even automotive parts.
After Burrows died, his son-in-law George Cooper bought the business, and now second- and third-generation employees run the business for second- and third-generation customers! They’re also kind enough (employees and customers) to talk to us pass-through beach folks who ask lots of questions about foods we don’t recognize.
For us, Cooper’s is kind of an educational experience, peeling back time to a way-back-when experience of a wood-floor, packed-to-the-ceiling, sit-a-spell place where service is just as important as the goods you buy out of a case.
We try to listen in on conversations, like this one between a man and his “little ‘un” on what you do with ham chunks. Afterwards, of course, we had to have a bag of ’em to season beans and field peas.
You can also get what my Mom used to call rat trap cheese but most of the grocery stores in Knoxville label it hoop cheese. No matter what you call it, we love it. We’ve even been known to unwrap the white paper wrapping while driving down the highway, pinch off a chunk o’ cheese, and eat it with plain ol’ saltine crackers! Red neck hors d’oeuvres, I suppose!
We always purchase a couple of pounds of thick bacon and some hand-made fresh sausage. Sometimes we cut the sausage into chunks for Low Country Boil, but mostly we just grill the links, cut them into small rounds, and dip ’em into spicy mustard for a pre-dinner treat. (Especially if everyone’s gathered round the kitchen waiting for a big pot of boiled shrimp to come off the stove!)
It just wouldn’t be a beach trip, though, if we didn’t have at least one or two slices of country ham — “lightly salted and peppered just right,” according to the business card of current owner Russell Cooper. We watched as Jay Woodard grabbed hold of a big ham and commenced to put the business end of a saw to it. Made it even more special that it was sliced fresh and wrapped in that white paper just for us.
Now, I must admit, there are some things that I just don’t eat. Haven’t gotten my nerve up, I guess. When I asked one of the guys back behind the counter what this loaf lookin’ thing was, he answered souse. And as proud as he could be, he said it was made with pig parts like shoulder, ears, feet, knuckles . . . Maybe some day, but not yet, I said to myself.
Mr. Cooper said his sons help out in the store, especially on Saturdays when so many of us “foreigners” travel to and fro. Like William here who is weighing and pricing that country ham Mr. Woodard just cut.
At the check-out, Russell Cooper himself bags your purchases and tallies your bill. He even asks you if you want some boiled peanuts or a slice of mighty fine pound cake for the road.
Well, of course we did, knowing we would regret it later if we didn’t succumb to the goodness at hand.
We did, however, pass on the cast iron pots, t-shirts, and other non-pork goods. We’ll be back again next year, and there’s no tellin’ what we’ll need the next time around!
Can’t get to Cooper’s Country Store? Mr. Cooper says he ships all over the country — ham chunks . . . country ham . . . sausage . . . well maybe some souse, too, if you’ve a mind to eat that stuff!
If you’re driving down U. S. Hwy. 521, look for the Cooper’s Country Store signs or just put Salters, South Carolina, in your GPS. It’s somewhere between Andrews and Manning . . . but (as they say!) you can’t miss it!
Cooper’s Country Store
6945 U. S. Hwy. 521
Salters, SC 29590