Cornbread Nation 2: The United States of Barbecueby Lolis Eric Elie
Southern barbecue and barbecue traditions are the primary focus of Cornbread Nation 2, our second collection of the best of Southern food writing. "Barbecue is the closest thing we have in the United States to Europe's wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes," writes John Shelton Reed. Indeed, no other dish is served a dozen/i>
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Southern barbecue and barbecue traditions are the primary focus of Cornbread Nation 2, our second collection of the best of Southern food writing. "Barbecue is the closest thing we have in the United States to Europe's wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes," writes John Shelton Reed. Indeed, no other dish is served a dozen different ways just between Memphis and Birmingham.
In tribute to what Vince Staten calls "the slowest of the slow foods," contributors discuss the politics, sociology, and virtual religion of barbecue in the South, where communities are defined by what wood they burn, what sauce they make, and what they serve with barbecue. Jim Auchmutey links barbecue to the success of certain Southern politicians; Marcie Cohen Ferris looks at kosher brisket; and Robb Walsh investigates why black cooks have been omitted from the accepted histories of Texas barbecue, despite their seminal role in its development.
Beyond the barbecue pit, John Martin Taylor sings the virtues of boiled peanuts, Calvin Trillin savors Cajun boudin, and Eddie Dean revisits his days driving an ice cream truck deep in the Appalachian Mountains. From barbecue to scuppernongs to popsicles, the forty-three newspaper columns, magazine pieces, poems, and essays collected here confirm that a bounty of good writing exists when it comes to good eating, Southern style.
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Cornbread Nation 2The United States of Barbecue
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2004 Southern Foodways Alliance, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Land of Barbacoa
Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
Daddy dreamin' 'bout it all the time.
When he isn't talkin' 'bout the War and all those dirtyjaps he killed in the jungle. "Three years ... you know how long that is?"
No, vieja, no quiero arroz! Slanty-eyed.
Daddy won't touch my mother's cilantro rice. "Jap-food." Strictly a meat and potatoes man. Vegetables were a dirty word to him, "are you kidding?" Slab of lettuce, a thick slice of fresh tomato, hand-picked from the rancho he worked as a sharecropper in the Texas Panhandle. A cool chunk of one of his fat cucumbers, maybe, but "don't forget the thousand- island, vieja!" HotDam! Now that was a salad, "told you we know how to eat in Texas!"
My father's family's always been here. "How long?" Ask Daddy, not telling him about the white kids in first grade who are chasing me, yelling at me to go back to Mexico. And the crying later. "Forever, I reckon." Daddy's proud that our people settled Texas in the 1700s, and "then those thieving King Ranch people stole our land!" After the U.S.-Mexican War, he means. Never talks about the lynching and the way his grandfather was killed, but my mother says it's why Daddy's so mean sometimes.
That's how my father became a sharecropper working in the Panhandle, on this side of Oklahoma. No land left, you see.
People say he looks like one of those spaghetti-thin cowboys from the movies, a rougher Clark Gable type with a sleepy voice like Nat King Cole's. "Verad que parece negro, comadre?" Only Daddy speaks Spanish and English so well that he doesn't need translation-all one song to him.
Daddy's grandfather had been a real cowboy. "Had to, no place to go-remember the Alamo?" "How can we forget, por amor de Dios, we lost!" dice Mami. Without land, the men went to work on the cattle drives-from their homes on the Texas border all the way to the Canadian. Six months to get to Chicago with God's help, before the snowstorms hit.
When Daddy's talking like this, the Tejano in him plucks a guitar from somewhere out of the summer's blue sky, his baritone voice exploding with a song in the cotton fields surrounding us, making us see the cowboys beside him, right here on this land, singing their corridos with dust in their throats. Burning despite the snow.
Cuando salimos de Kiansas
con la fuerte novillada
ay que trabajo pasamos
"Damned hard work ... not like the movies! What they don't tell you is that Mexicanos were real cowboys, not like the gringos."
My mother's really tired of his stories. Her family lost their land too, but in the Mexican Revolution. "Wasn't ours to begin with.... The land belongs to everyone! That's what Zapata said, and what does your father think happens to those who steal it anyway? Cabrones!" Mami's in the kitchen, and she calls Daddy names under her breath cause he lets the gringos make him say jes-ser! and no-ser! and she wants him to be like Zapata and stand up.
My mother is pura Mexicana. "Don't forget that! Head to toe!" She's not even five feet tall, and though at twelve I'm already bigger than her, she still uses the belt on me. Hijos de Maria Morales! But Daddy's six feet tall, and he laughs at my mother's smallness, her poetic bullets whizzing by, her politics, for sure.
"You had to cross that border to eat, didn't you?"
Mami says that Mexico is paradise and that Texas is puro hell. Un pinche infierno. She says that over there across the river there are mountains and volcanoes, orchids, chocolate and dancing at the plaza on Sundays. Explains that Mexico's problem is she's like a beautiful woman who everyone wants to possess. Like land. But nobody can have her, she doesn't belong to men.
I don't understand this, but Mami sure doesn't let Daddy boss her around.
She wants him to leave the rancho and get a real job in town. But Daddy's expecting a good harvest this year, making up for all the bad years before. Already know this 'cause I heard them arguing late into the night about all the money they're owing for school clothes, for my brand-new flute and the sewing machine from Sears that Mami wanted so that she could help Daddy pay the bills.
Then the harvest finally, really, came. Daddy's humming Hank Williams, pinching Mami's nalgas when he thinks nobody sees. We're going to the town barbecue! With all the big gringo ranchers and everything! Daddy himself slaughtered a cow so that there's gonna be plenty of good comida. Everybody smackin' their lips, because the barbecue out-smells the cotton gin any day. Better than Christmas with those chili-beans, mashed potatoes and coleslaw, peach cobbler and buckets of iced tea. Daddy's harvest. And of course, miles of barbecue extending like rich, jagged acres of brown-sauced dreams.
Daddy remembers the way his family used to cook their meat in a special pit in the ground lined with stones and mesquite wood. Now that was a party! Bautismos! Birthdays! Easter! Welcome Home! Slow-cooking a whole cow's head until, after several days, "it would melt in your mouth and make you forget all your penas!" Those barbacoa days with his family kept him alive during the worst days of the Big War, he said.
Reminds us that the cowboy's barbecue comes from the vaquero tradition. How it was the sweet and spicy dribbling from the handmade corn tortillas all the way down to the elbows at his grandfather's wedding fiesta. Staining his French great-grandmother's linens with the red chile salsa before that and the fringes of his Indian great-great grandmother's rebozo way before that.
"Who cares if I didn't get a Purple Heart." This barbacoa proved that he was a good man after all. Even if he didn't have land anymore.
But the bossman stole his harvest anyway. Mami and Daddy divorced a few years later, and I never had barbacoa again.
Until I moved to San Antonio. And here, every Sunday morning, there are lines of cars outside places like Adelita's and Big Joe's. The kids are waiting at home and they've placed their order early with Daddy for pura carne, and they've never seen a whole cabeza bundled with maguey leaves in the ground, but they know what they like with their breakfast. Corn tortillas! Flour! Salsa! Gorditas! Refried beans! Papitas! Scrambled eggs! Sunny-side up! Pico de gallo! Avocado! Juice! Coffee!
A cold bottle of Big Red! Please, Daddy! Por favor, papi!
And all over San Anto, families gather round the table as the father brings home a carton of just beef or just cow's head, after getting up extra-early to be in line at six on Sunday morning. That's what a good father does.
And the hot meat is silky and juicy and, ay, how good it tastes, how the kids are laughing, and the grease delicious, like memories slipping from the mouth to the chin to the table. Staining us with the past. Like blood. Like the land.
Just like it did that summer when we were a family.
Excerpted from Cornbread Nation 2 Copyright © 2004 by Southern Foodways Alliance, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are saying about this
Some of the best writing about food, barbecue in particular, that has ever been collected. These 30-some essays are mouth-watering indeed.Baton Rouge Advocate
Cornbread Nation 2 is a worthy successor to the first volume, edited by John Egerton, godfather of southern palates. Even those condemned by cholesterol and age to special diets can get vicarious thrills visiting southern places and dishes of misspent youth.Union City Messenger
Even the most devoted barbecue fans will find many new and surprising insights in this collection of 43 newspaper columns, magazine pieces, poems, and essays.Southern Foodways Alliance
A satisfying celebration of Southern cuisine and culture. . . . This is a nice compilation, and the tones and topics . . . are as varied as the barbecue styles you'd find from Texas to the Carolinas.Publishers Weekly
Meet the Author
Lolis Eric Elie is a longtime columnist and food writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and author of Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country. He is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
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