As American as BBQ

“Forget baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.  For a Southerner, it is barbeque.”

Let’s clarify immediately and with great fervor, barbeque is not an event; it is a dish. I don’t care what our Northern neighbors say.  It is not a backyard gathering.  You don’t go to a backyard “barbeque.”  You go to the backyard to eat barbeque. Barbeque is a dish created by the soft whispers of the angels who trod before us and is as close to heaven as I wish to get until death.  Good barbeque is a gift from heaven…it is not a place. Be reverent my children.

It is the morning of July 5th and as I write this, I’m in a barbeque coma courtesy of Carolus’ ribs and Jamie’s pulled pork…and potato salad courtesy of Carol Ann.  Other significant coma contributors included blueberry cobbler and brown liquor.  There were many other contributors and only contributions I would have added would have been mayonnaise and vinegar slaw and hash over white rice but that is a personal choice and not a coma breaker.  It is a tip of the hat to my roots where barbeque came with mustard sauce and helpings of hash over rice.

It was the first Bennett family Fourth of July backyard cookout in two years.  The Bennetts are our adopted family and I’m not sure who adopted whom.  It was good to see folk we hadn’t seen in two years even though there was a bit of “post-Covid” trepidation.   Sitting outside under shade trees and swapping stories soon reduced my anxieties…or maybe it was the brown liquor.

Backyard cookout.  See how I said that?  A backyard cookout.  You go to a cookout…not to a barbeque.  You don’t even have to serve barbeque at a cookout, you can grill things like pork, chicken, beef, roadkill, or tofu.  But grillin’ ain’t barbequin’.  Barbeque is slowly cooked animal parts, pork in my part of the world, over wood coals.  Slow-cooked until the meat just gives up and shreds easily with two forks or falls off of the bone without any help from anything other than gravity.  Sometimes eating high on the hog involves parts found low on the hog.

There is a certain barbeque etiquette.  None etched in stone, and it varies from place to place but it would behoove you to learn the area’s rules before attending a cookout serving barbeque.  See how I said that? 

Generally, the rules involve sauces, rubs, or sides.  It can involve the meat, Texas is mainly beef, for instance, other areas might be a goat or lamb, yuck, but here in South Carolina, it is pork.  I reckon we all eat chicken and you can slow cook yard bird.

There are sauces and then there are sauces.  Nothing to argue over.  Pick one or experiment. Sauce varies here in South Carolina.  Vinegar base, pepper base, both together.  Mustard base, light tomato base, heavy tomato base, depending on the area.   In the home of my mother, the general rule was a mustard sauce with pork, tomato sauce with chicken.

The mustard base is considered by many to be truly South Carolina’s sauce…may be.  German immigrants brought it from the Fatherland to the midlands.  Our new visitors told the older inhabitants they were from Deutschland, which was mistaken as Dutchland, and the reason the fork between the Broad and Saluda Rivers became known as the Dutch Fork. Dutch Fork…Deutsch Fork…”You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe.”

The mustard sauce changes to vinegar and pepper sauces on the coast, light tomato, which is vinegar and pepper with tomato added, in the Pee Dee area, heavy tomato in the West and Northwest portions of the state…with a bit of brown sugar, root beer, or brown liquor added…sometimes.  People are mostly steadfast in their allegiance to one sauce although I admit to experimentation on occasion.  If a person serves you an exotic barbeque sauce like that Alabama White Sauce, thank them even if you don’t like it.  It is the Southern way and good etiquette.

Steadfast allegiance but I’m not willin’ to fight a Civil War over it.  No one should argue over sauces.  It is almost like arguing about politics except with politics no one wins.  With barbeque, everybody wins.  Just don’t drown the meat in the sauce.    It is meant to enhance the flavor, not cover it up…unless it is bad barbeque.  One rule etched in stone: Never pre-sauce a sandwich.  The amount of sauce is a personal choice.

Sides?  I’m guessing we could argue all day. In the South, potato salad is a must.  Corn on the cob, fried okra, baked beans, and dill pickles are quite acceptable.  I fancy the pickled medley that includes pickled cauliflower and pearl onions.  Just don’t call it giardiniera.  Sounds too fancy for barbeque and you can leave the pickled carrots out of mine.

To slaw or not to slaw, that might be the question?  I think slaw is a genetic thing.  You are born to put slaw on your pulled pork sandwich, or you are not.  Kind of like sugar or vinegar or mayonnaise in your slaw.  Me…vinegar and mayonnaise and yes, I want it on my sandwich.

Hash or Brunswick stew?  It is pretty much Brunswick stew everywhere other than the Carolinas. Once again, everywhere else is wrong.  It’s hash always.  Unrecognizable pig products cooked with potatoes and onions until they meld together with certain spices passed down by the ghostly hands of our past. Served over rice…white rice of course.

What is not up for debate, fellowship.  You shouldn’t eat barbeque with someone you don’t like which brings me back to the Bennett clan.  I like the Bennett clan.  I taught with the patriarch, Carol Ann, and coached and taught her two sons Jamie and Carolus.  Through them, my bride and I have become members of their extended family.  I’m honored to have been invited to their July 4th celebration. Barbeque reminds me of home and the Bennett clan reminds me of family.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

I need to take a nap.  My barbeque coma is about to win out.

Barbecue or Barbeque.  I spelled it barbeque because it is a bit archaic, like me, and because it was spelled that way where I grew up.

For books by Don Miller https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3xEUv3gUa4wrDNp0oXEa2Rbv1hcunRf64Zlr3wl2hNbsCYZwGlgIDwNqw

Etiquette Lost

 

“Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, Thank you, ma’am, Please!”  The little ditty echos inside of my head like basketballs rebounding off of walls.  We’re tryin’ to help our daughter and son in law teach our grandbabies to consistently say “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir….”  My bride, Grandmommy Linda, is big on this little saying which is why it is repeating over and over again like a never-ending loop.

In the world we presently live in, the learning process is somewhat tougher than it used to be.

Etiquette is not a Southern exclusive but there was a time when Southerners of any class, race, or religious affiliation displayed good manners.  It was a priority.  Our good manners were a badge of pride.  Remember “Southern Hospitality?”  We seem to be less hospitable these days, displaying poor manners.

I don’t mean knowing which spoon or fork to use, outside in folks, but the polite, “good” manners which seem to be eroding as I write this.  Some folks would ask, “Who died and made you Lord of the Manners?”  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

When I coached, I periodically admonished my charges to “Remember where you come from (your parents), who you are representing (your parents, your school, me), and what you stand for. (Truth, Justice, and the American Way?)”  In other words, “Don’t disappoint your mommas and daddies.”  Disappointing momma was a big deal.  Good behavior was an expectation and most of the time it was realized.  That included baseball caps taken off inside the building and worn with the bill pointing forward.  I am old school.

It seems we have misplaced our manners and please don’t think I’m denigrating today’s generation; I’m not.  They are not the guilty ones.  Erosion takes place over time and today’s generation reflects what they are being taught and those who taught them…or didn’t.  Some of us are failing our charges, failing the next generation, and this has been going on for multiple generations.

Please don’t point a finger, blow out your chest, and pontificate, “Not me!”  We can all do better and there is no one cause.  That being said….

I happened upon an article in Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.”  Should have said, “used to follow” but to their defense, it was an old article.

Using today’s world view some of these seemed Draconian.  If you read the article one might think most Southern manners revolve around eating and they do.  I learned most of mine while eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and washing it down with sweet tea so sugary it set my teeth on edge.

I’ll come back to the article in a bit, but I just had a thought.  The undermining of Southern manners may have coincided with the rise of fast-food eateries specializing in fried chicken.  KFC, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes, Spinx…wait…Spinx?

Spinx is a glorified gas station founded in South Carolina offering gas, oil and about anything else you might need to outfit a wilderness trek through the Australian Outback.  Offerings also include slow service but pretty good Southern fried chicken.  You know the kind, crisp and greasy at the same time.

The problem is not Spinx but what I call “stand up food”.  The food rests on waxed paper and you stand around eating out of cute little pasteboard “boats” in red and white checkerboard.  Greasy fingers wiped on dirty jeans; baseball caps still perched backward on heads kind of food.  There’s the problem.  There isn’t a table to learn your manners around and the people you are eating with have no better manners than you do.

Once upon a time, Grandmamma went out and chopped the chicken’s head off, gutted it, dipped it in boiling water and plucked it clean.  All before she got around to cutting it up, dipping each individual piece in the batter of her choice and frying it to a golden brown.  You damn well were going to sit at a table, “minding your manners”, while you ate it.

If you didn’t mind your manners, you might find yourself going to bed without your supper instead of waiting for the adults to be served so you could get your chicken wing.  I was twenty-five before I evah got a pully bone.  Manners have eroded with the death of the sit-down, family meal.

Matching the world we live in, we have become grab and go consumers.  I am just as guilty of grabbing a piece of pepperoni pizza after gassing up my truck…having never left the gas station.

Let’s look at the article, shall we?  I won’t hit all the points because I am assuming you can read as well if not better than I can write.  These are just some “manners” that were hammered into my head…or beaten into my backside.

“Never eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full”  Son, you are sprayin’ food everywhere!  At least cover your mouth.  Alternative reminder, “Children should be seen and nevah, evah heard.”

“Get your elbows off the table!  If you are that tired you can go on to bed.”  As I stood in line at the local Chick-fil-a, I saw a bunch of folks who needed a nap.

“Never wear a hat to the table…or inside a building.”  This one…!  For some reason this is the pinnacle of rudeness for no other reason than my father, who worked in a greasy, lint filled cotton mill weave room, always removed his hat when he entered the cafeteria.  It was the polite thing to do and if I didn’t remove mine it might be nailed to my head ala Vlad the Impaler.

Addendum, “Always take your hat off in the presence of a lady…and all women are ladies until proven otherwise.”  If the sun was particularly bright and hot, one might get away with a simple tug on the bill or brim and a nod.  Sunstroke and sunburn trumps manners.

“Never sing or whistle at the table or talk about unpleasantries.”  This one was tough if asked, “Did you behave at school today?”  Sometimes the answer might prove to be unpleasant in regard to the response.  I didn’t understand the singin’ or whistlin’ but never did I….

Addendum for the next eight months, “Nevah, evah talk politics at the supper table.”  Definite unpleasantries.

It seems like there are many Southern manners related to gender, doors, and entries…”Ladies and girls first”, “Always open the door for a woman, a girl or your elders”, “Adult ladies first in the food line”, “Always stand when a woman enters the room (and when she sits, stands or leaves the room} and pull out the chair and help her seat herself.”  Not that she needs help, it is just the gentlemanly thing to do.  I think assisted seatings dates from the days of corsets and layer upon layer of petticoats and crinolines.

I ran afoul of the “opening the door” thing back in the late Sixties when I opened the library door for a cute, little coed.  There was an ulterior motive.  This was during the “burn your bra” period of history.  She burned me a new one and it wasn’t a bra.  Turns out she needed no help from a man.  I knew such but old habits are hard to break.  I still open the door for my wife, and she seems to appreciate it.

“Never go to a gathering empty-handed.”  The South is the casserole and banana puddin’ capital of the world for this very reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is a house warmin’ or a funeral, bring something other than yourself.

Politeness, civility, and graciousness seem to be the casualties of today’s war on political correctness.  Bullying, apathy, and indifference have replaced our good manners.  I don’t know we will ever get them back.  In lieu of manners, just be kind.

Please feel free to add any you are enamored with, in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.  Y’all hurry back now.

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The article may be accessed at https://www.southernliving.com/culture/unspoken-etiquette-rules

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM