View Full Version : Mark Campbell on early BBQ

02-28-2008, 04:13 PM
(Mark's aim was a little off; thought I'd help out and put his post where it belongs -dw);)

Now we're getting somewhere.

Mark Campbell
Piney Flats, TN

Barbecue Before the Civil War


The history of barbecue itself, aside from its murky etymological origins, is more clear. For several reasons, the pig became an omnipresent food staple in the South. Pigs were a low-maintenance and convenient food source for Southerners. In the pre-Civil War period, Southerners ate, on average, five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef(Gray 27). Pigs could be put out to root in the forest and caught when food supply became low. These semi-wild pigs were tougher and stringier than modern hogs, but were a convenient and popular food source. Every part of the pig was utilized-- the meat was either eaten immediately or cured for later consumption, and the ears, organs and other parts were transformed into edible delicacies. Pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the largesse. The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings.

William Byrd, in his eighteenth century book writings The Secret History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina has some pretty snippy things to say about some Southerners' predilection for pork. He writes that hog meat was:

the staple commodity of North Carolina . . . and with pitch and tar makes up the whole of their traffic . . . these people live so much upon swine's flesh that it don't only incline them to the yaws, and consequently to the . . . [loss] of their noses, but makes them likewise extremely hoggish in their temper, and many of them seem to grunt rather than speak in their ordinary conversation(Taylor 21-2)

"Yaws," of course, is an infectious tropical disease closely related to syphilis. Perhaps because of natives like Byrd, Virginia is frequently considered beyond the parameters of the "barbecue belt."

At the end of the colonial period, the practice of holding neighborhood barbecues was well-established, but it was in the fifty years before the Civil War that the traditions associated with large barbecues became entrenched. Plantation owners regularly held large and festive barbecues, including "pig pickin's" for slaves (Hilliard 59). In this pre-Civil War period, a groundswell of regional patriotism made pork production more and more important. Relatively little of the pork produced was exported out of the South, and hog production became a way for Southerners to create a self-sufficient food supply-- Southern pork for Southern patriots (Hilliard 99). Hogs became fatter and better cared-for, and farmers began to feed them corn to plump them up before slaughter. The stringy and tough wild pigs of the colonial period became well-fed hogs. Barbecue was still only one facet of pork production, but more hogs meant more barbecues.

In the nineteenth century, barbecue was a feature at church picnics and political rallies as well as at private parties (Egerton 150). A barbecue was a popular and relatively inexpensive way to lobby for votes, and the organizers of political rallies would provide barbecue, lemonade, and usually a bit of whiskey (Bass 307). These gatherings were also an easy way for different classes to mix. Barbecue was not a class- specific food, and large groups of people from every stratum could mix to eat, drink and listen to stump speeches. Journalist Jonathan Daniels, writing in the mid-twentieth century, maintained that "Barbecue is the dish which binds together the taste of both the people of the big house and the poorest occupants of the back end of the broken-down barn" (Bass 314). Political and church barbecues were among the first examples of this phenomenon. Church barbecues, where roasted pig supplemented the covered dishes prepared by the ladies of the congregation, were a manifestation of the traditional church picnic in many Southern communities. Church and political barbecues are still a vital tradition in many parts of the South (Bass 301). Usually, these restaurants grew out of a simple barbecue pit where the owner sold barbecue to take away. Many of the pit men only opened on weekends, working (usually on a farm) during the week and tending the pit on weekends. The typical barbecue shack consisted of a bare concrete floor surrounded by a corrugated tin roof and walls (Johnson 9). Soon, stools and tables were added, and the ubiquitous pig adorned the outside of the building. Few pit men owned more than one restaurant-- the preparation of the pig required almost constant attention, and few expert pit men were willing to share the secret of their sauce preparations. The advent of the automobile gave the barbecue shack a ready-made clientele-- travellers would stop at the roadside stands for a cheap and filling meal (Johnson 6). As the twentieth century progressed, barbecue pits grew and prospered, evolving into three distinct types. According to barbecue scholar Jonathan Bass, the three kinds of barbecue restaurants are black-owned, upscale urban white, and white "joints" (more akin to honky-tonk bars). These racial denotations, however, do not mean that barbecue restaurants catered to a specific racial clientele. Good barbecue drew (and draws) barbecue fans of every color and class.

02-28-2008, 06:47 PM
Ellie Mae Clampett replied thusly when asked if she wure a goin to marry DASH RIPROCK, Hollywood Idol.......

" I ain't a marryin' Dash Riprock. The man I marry's a gonna wure patched overalls, live in a cabin back in the hills and have a cuple of pigs and such "

A good Southern girl there!

02-29-2008, 09:42 AM
BBQ is the thread that holds everything together. Speaking from experience when dealing with salt pork (this includes country ham) you will want to prepare it correctly if you actually intend to eat it. Otherwise you might become rather unpopular with the people you are cooking for at the event.

Mark Campbell
Piney Flats, TN

1 leg of pork, preserved in salt
Pease pudding

Pickled pork takes more time than any other meat. If you buy your pork ready salted, ask how many days it has been in salt; if many, it will require to be soaked in water for six hours before you dress it. When you cook it, wash and scrape it as clean as possible; when delicately dressed, it is a favourite dish with almost every body. Take care it does not boil fast; if it does, the knuckle will break to pieces before the thick part of the meat is warm through; a leg of seven pounds takes three hours and a half very slow simmering. Skim your pot very carefully, and when you take the meat out of the boiler, scrape it clean.
If pork is not done enough, nothing is more disagreeable; if too much, it not only loses its color and flavor, but its substance becomes soft like a jelly. It must never appear at table without a good pease pudding and, if you please, parsnips. They are an excellent vegetable, and deserve to be much more popular. Remember not to forget the mustard pot.

(From The Cook's Oracle by William Kitchiner M. D.; New York, 1832)

Garrison Beall
02-29-2008, 10:16 PM
John Lawson mentions "barbecue" by name (but not necessarily pig) in his well received work;

A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular
Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. 1711

He also mentions White-Cabbage early in the text. I'll not try to interpret it's use.

Heres the link: http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/lawson/lawson.html it's worthwhile to take the time to find the reference.

03-01-2008, 09:53 AM
I think it's time somebody came right out and said it. Enough of this keyboard barbecuing. We all know which ones of you sit at home with your Sekela barbecue bibs that were never stained with a drop of sauce, and your Skillet Licker forks that never touched a hog, pontificating about barbecuing, and which of you are actually out there in the field doing it.

It's time to sign up for Sparks of Secession in Westville, Georgia, Oct. 17-19. http://www.geocities.com/scar_civilwar/WestvilleGuidelones.html where there will be a recreation of an 1861 barbecue.

I have no connection with the event, other than planning to attend and volunteering to help at the barbecue (take that, you keyboard koleslaw-slingers!), but I'm expecting it to be a jim dandy event.

Hank Trent
This has been an "us vs them" parody. No real campaigners or mainstreamers were harmed in the making. Side effects may include high blood pressure in the humor-impaired. Not responsible for accidents.