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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Carolina's First Female Pitmaster

Tuffy Stone, Mellisa Cookston, & Myron Mixon at the 2013 Barbecue Jamboree
in Fredericksburg, VA. Move Over Boys, the Ladies of Barbecue are Rising Fast!

Today, women are excelling in the barbecue world. No longer can it truly be said that the grill and the barbecue pit are the sole domains of the male gender. Women like Mellisa Cookston, Lee Ann Whippen, and Danielle Dimovski, and so many others have made a respectable mark on the modern and formerly male dominated activity of cooking barbecue. So, in honor of that, here is the earliest known account of a Carolina pitmaster who also happens to be a woman.

In 1709, John Lawson's A New Voyage to Carolina was published in London. In it, Lawson provides accounts of his exploration of the interior of Carolina in 1700 and 1701. The book contains accounts of native Americans, the natural history of the Carolina region, and a long list of words in various Carolina Indian dialects. The first part of the book contains Lawson's journal, followed by separate sections devoted to a description of North Carolina geography, produce, insects, animals, and fish, and of the Indians. Lawson's book has since come to be regarded as a classic of early American literature.

Lawson's account of arriving at the Waxsaw Landlord's cabin is of particular interest to barbecue buffs. At the time of his arrival, preparations were being made for a great feast among the Indians in commemoration of their abundant harvest of corn they had reaped the summer before. He describes the visiting ambassadors from another tribe, the painted faces, and, the result of English influence on the Indians, at least one of them was armed with a cutlass and a flintlock rifle (fusee).

Besides the Indian men, Lawson also described a woman he observed who was busy cooking. Describing her as a "She-cook" he marveled at how often she cleaned her hands while preparing the feast. This very well could be the first account of a female pitmaster cooking what is now considered American style barbecue in existence. In Lawson's account he describes a "cabin" near an outdoor English style kitchen managed by an Indian woman who cooked "barbakue" and "White-Bread." Couple that with the cutlass and flintlock and it's easy to see the strong influence the English had imparted to those Natives. While Lawson's "She-cook" may not be the first Carolina pitmaster, his account is certainly one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of anyone cooking American style barbecue in history.

At our Waxsaw Landlord's Cabin, was a Woman employ'd in no other Business than Cookery; it being a House of great Resort.  The Fire was surrounded with Roast-meat, or Barbakues, and the Pots continually boiling full of Meat, from Morning till Night.  This She-Cook was the cleanliest I ever saw amongst the Heathens of America, washing her Hands before she undertook to do any Cookery; and repeated this unusual Decency very often in a day.  She made us as White-Bread as any English could have done, and was full as neat, and expeditious, in her Affairs.

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