Friday, September 27, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 157: John M. Duncan, A Virginia Barbecue (#26)

John M. Duncan, "A Virginia Barbecue" (1823) from American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes:

When did it become trendy (or trope-y) to throw in a recipe or two among some other literature? I've seen it in mysteries and romance and now here's a whole LoA anthology on food writing--with recipes. (And I mean "recipes" that you could follow. For all the description of the feasts in a George R. R. Martin book, they don't quite rise to the level of recipe.)

Today's selection doesn't include any recipe, possibly because of the tendentious nature of such a recipe. As the LoA notes rightly observe, barbecue is a many splendored thing--which is one way of saying that no two regions or people do it alike. What barbecue recipe should get the LoA stamp of approval?

But this piece from 1823 records a traveller's interest in this (to him) strange new event, a sort of "rural fĂȘte," without getting into the nitty-gritty of what's being eaten. Is the sauce tomato- or vinegar-based? How messy is it? No, to Duncan, what's really remarkable is that there's a lot of alcohol--but no one got drunk; and that the whole thing was nicely prepared by "a whole colony of black servants" (which must be a Scottish dialect term for "slaves"); and that he foolishly sat down with the first group, which included women, which meant he didn't get enough to eat because the men had to serve the women and then get up to dance with them when they were ready.

All of which makes this "Virginia Barbecue" very much an example of its time and place, very much unlike the barbecues that we know today; in that way, it's a very interesting historical moment of sociality.

And they probably used a vinegar-y sauce.

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