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Friday, November 9, 2012

19th Century Louisiana Barbecue

The Anderson Intelligencer - March 16, 1898 - A Southern Barbecue

A Northern Travelling Man's Diverting Experience in Louisiana

"I was down south last fall," said the drummer, flicking the ashes from his cigar and tilting his big chair to a comfortable angle. I got caught for a week by quarantine in a little backwoods town in Louisiana, 'in the piny woods' as they call it there, and the things I saw during that week would fill a book. Among other things I saw a barbecue. Ever been to a regular, old fashioned southern barbecue? Well, I have, upon its native heath and in its most primitive state, I guess. Really, I think the people sort of got up the barbecue for my benefit as a kind of public entertainment on my behalf, killing the fatted calf, as it were, for the prodigal who could not go home. I appreciated the courtesy, I can tell you, and never missed a detail of it from start to finish. 
The barbecue was given at what they called the 'picnic grounds,' a little grass grown, underbrush cleared space at the rise of a hill. Preparations for the affair began the day before. Among other things a greased pole was erected. The process seemed a very simple one. All there was to it was just a ditch about 15 or 20 feet long, 3 feet deep, and 4 feet wide. In the bottom of this the men collected some pine splinters, kindled a fire and then fed it with oak and hickory and ash wood till they had the ditch half full of glowing coals. This took them well into the night, you see, and before day they cut a lot of slender oak saplings into lengths and laid them at intervals of eight or ten inches across the ditch over the fire. 
Along about this time the men came with the meat. A whole beef they had and three muttons, and when they spread them out on the green saplings over the glowing coals those great, brawny, bearded men, with the light from the pine torches glaring on their faces, looked like a race of cannibals preparing for an orgy. All night they staid there, the good fellows, with forks and spits to turn the meat, and with great long handled mops which they dipped in melted lard and vinegar to baste it. And maybe you think it wasn't good, that barbecued meat. Just wait until you taste some. There's nothing like it. 
But the people! Before day they began to come, covered wagons and ox carts full of them - men, women and children. And the baskets they brought full of biscuits and corn pones and sweet potatoes and custard pies and cakes! I don't think I ever saw so much to eat all at once in my life. And the watermelons! Wagon loads of them were put in the branch to cool. And tubs of sweet cider big enough to float in! After dinner the fun began. There were foot races, sack races, jumping contests, greased pole climbing and greased pig chasing. 
Now, among my acquaintances was a small boy named Tige, or, at least, so called; a red haired, freckled lad, son of the man I boarded with. Tige and I were good friends, but a lazier lad I never saw, so somehow I was surprised when he appeared as one of the contestants for prizes. However, he did not enter either of the races nor the jumping contest. But when it came to the greased pole, lo, the freckled Tige led all the rest! The way that chap stuck to that slippery sapling was a caution, and when he reached the top none cheered louder than I. The same way with the greased shoat. Tige was simply 'onto' the pig and staid there. 
By right of being a guest and therefore to be honored it fell to my lot to award the prizes. Tige was to receive a six bladed pocket knife and a pair of spurs - "hardware in my line, you know," the drummer interrupted himself quite unconsciously, and when the little scamp came up to get them I caught a wink in his other eye that seemed sort of suggestive. 
"'Tell me how you did it, Tige," I said when I had given him his prizes with appropriate remarks. "I ain't no fool, if I do have fits," he said, still winking. "But we are friends," I urged. "An is hayin keepin?" he asked. "Yes, having is keeping, sure," said I. Coming quite close to me, he winked frantically and said in a hoarse whisper: "Pine rosin." Then, holding out his palms and turning up his heels, he cut and ran. But I understood. The little scamp had taken the precaution to literally cake his feet and hands with fresh, sticky pine gum and so had held his own by right of stratagem.

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