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Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Virginia Barbecue in 1884

Illustration from The Evening Herald, August 18, 1906

The following is excerpted  from an article that appeared in The Washington Post, November 2, 1884. The newspaper was damaged and some of the text isn't available. The portions enclosed in brackets [ ] are portions I added in an attempt to maintain readability.

The dictionary meaning of the word is, "a large social entertainment, usually in the open air, at which animals are roasted whole, and other provisions of all kinds are consumed."
The place was a Virginia picnic resort in the heart of the woods, not many miles from Washington [D.C.]. It was particularly fitted for a barbecue, being furnished with a pavilion and a bountiful spring, while through the hollow ran a little stream, a tributary of the Potomac. The woods around were clothed in all the gorgeous dress of autumn. Early in the day the farmers began to arrive, bringing their wives and families in commodious farm wagons, and picketing their horses in the grove. To them a barbecue was not a novelty. They had attended these gatherings when they were boys, and now as grown men had come once again to listen to the speeches and eat a barbecue dinner.
The night previous to the barbecue an ox weighing 600 pounds had been slaughtered and dressed. A trench about three feet wide, three feet deep, and six feet long, had been dug in the ground, and an iron grating laid in it a few inches from the bottom. Upon this grating an immense fire of logs had been built and the carcass of the ox had been "spitted" with a long pole, which was supported on tripods at each end of the trench. At one end of the spit was a crank, and this was turned steadily by relays of men during the entire night, the fire being kept as near a uniform height as possible. 
From twelve to fifteen hours are required to roast an ox this [big]. The seasoning of pepper [and salt and vinegar mixed] in a bucket and applied [with mops as] the crank is being [turned until the meat] soon assumes a rich [brown color which] is a most savory one. [missing text] be taken not to cook the barbecue. Generally a man who has [much experience] in barbecues is engaged specially for the occasion, and he must give the cooking his entire attention if he wishes to make his work satisfactory. When the roasting is complete the fire is allowed to die out, but the ox remains upon the spit, the admiration of the large crowd, until it is time to cut up the meat for dinner. In the same way three or four sheep are roasted whole. 
But simply bread and meat will not do for a barbecue dinner. The immense iron pot... is filled to the brim with sweet potatoes. A barrel and a half of these are consumed at the barbecue which is now being described. The coffee, too, is made on a large scale. Ten or fifteen pounds are wrapped up in a cloth and thrown into a pot holding nearly a hundred gallons of boiling water. By this means there are no loose grounds in the pot, and the coffee in the cloth looks like an immense plum pudding. It is a crowd easily satisfied which does not require the pot to be filled up two or three times.
The dinner is served on wooden plates, each person being given a tin cupfull of coffee, a pickle, a sweet potato, a piece of beef and mutton, bread in abundance, and sometimes cheese. The coffee is taken from the pot to the long tables in buckets, and the bread is sliced and carried in barrels. 
There is no indication that the barbecue is dying out. It is a part of the South, and has had considerable to do with making Southern history.

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