By Jennifer Williams, Constributor, US Daily Review
Thomas Wolfe hailed from Asheville, North Carolina. He was a writer and influenced the Beat generation, including Jack Kerouac, with his book Look Homeward, Angel. One of his contemporaries was fellow Southerner, William Faulkner. Southern literature has its own themes and ideas about life that is as unique as Southern culture. Far from being monolithic, the region stretches from Florida north to Virginia and west to encompass Texas, Arkansas and even Kansas. “The South” covers the largest geographic region in the country and one who travels in the South and listens carefully will hear changes in accent and inflection and meaning in words. Louisiana is not Kentucky. Missouri is not Georgia. I bring up food and Southern authors because of a quintessential Southern cuisine that always brings out those fightin’ words – barbecue. The first group of colonists that landed in what would become the Jamestown colony in Virginia brought pigs. They were let loose to forage in the woods then rounded up and slaughtered for ribs, ham, and bacon. Smithfield, Virginia is THE home for pork – their hams grace many tables at holidays.
Barbecue can bring out the best and worst in people. Divorces have happened between Virginians and North Carolinians over who has the best barbecue. Okay, I don’t have any statistics on that, but I’m sure it was grounds at some point. Who has the best barbecue is undoubtedly the most contentious of debates. Entire television shows have been dedicated to competitions for the best barbecue. And it is not limited to just Virginia and North Carolina. Texas and Kansas and Tennessee have all gotten in on the act – Memphis anyone? There are continual battles for supremacy in this specific culinary category but no matter where you go for barbecue, SOMEONE will pay homage to each variation on a theme. Understand I have a specific issue with most barbecue sauces – I am allergic to tomatoes. So I am limited to homemade dry rubs and whatever sauce I make from hot pepper sauces, honey, and dry mustard. Yes, I have an extraordinary dry rub recipe and no, you may not have it (especially you, CB). Get out there and make your own- pork is forgiving even if your family is not. If you have noticed, these are places that also have good music. Some of you may not appreciate bluegrass or the blues but it goes well with the other white meat.
Now the next dispute is what to serve with barbecue. Pulled pork barbecue belongs piled up on a soft bun with coleslaw. Ribs? Some will say buttermilk biscuits and some will say cornbread. Baked beans cause controversy – tomato or brown sugar, with or without Vidalia onion, with or without bacon? Baked macaroni and cheese will show up at some point. A nice tossed salad or three-bean salad might make an appearance. Oh – throw some sliced pineapple onto the grill, while you’re there. You might see two or three congealed salads as well – they require explanation but that’s for another article. Beverages are your choice. Sweet tea is the most southern of beverage traditions.
But the best part of this level of culinary cookout is that you can’t do it alone. It takes teamwork to pull it together and it’s best to invite friends (since enemies might use that sauce that comes out of a bottle instead and ruin the ambiance). Now I know referring to barbeque as a hallowed tradition of Southern cuisine is fightin’ words in some places (including the global context) since our current culinary world is sometimes an amalgamation of historical and current techniques and that pork is not the only critter to grace your grill. But don’t ruin it for me, please. I live in Ohio now and I’d like to think, at least when it comes to food, we can all find some common ground and get along. Buffalo burger?
Jennifer Williams is adjunct faculty in American History at Ashland (OH) University and the American Public University System. She is also the teaching chef for the New Day Family Resource Center in Sandusky, Ohio. Her interests are photography and curling. She lives with her family in Norwalk, Ohio.