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Bar-be-cue lifts my spirits; I swear that it never fails

May 18, 2016
By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer , Estherville News

"and the sauce Mama makes just stays there forever if you dare to get it under your nails." If your kids were born in the '90s, maybe you were familiar with a little VHS tape called Billy Bunny's Animal Songs. Billy Bunny was/is a newer addition to The Muppets, and one of his friends is Emmet Otter's Jug Band, based on the book of the same name by Russell Hoban. They were a fairly passable jug band, for what it was, and one of their best songs is called A Mess of Mama's Barbecue."

"When you meet someone that don't like soul food, they still got a soul."

I think the first order of business is to determine which barbecue we're talking about. There's the big slab of meat slow cooking over coals, which will be made into something like pulled pork, slathered in a spicy or sweet-tangy sauce and does look, and make the diner look, like a mess of barbecue. In the South, this is everything. If you ever saw the early '90s movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes," two friends who owned the Whistle Stop Caf got rid of an unkind fellow who got killed by slaughtering and slow cooking him over the barbecue. When the Sheriff came to dine, he said, "Best barbecue I ever ate."

"The secret's in the sauce," they told him, slyly.

Some people actually don't like soul food, with everything fried or slathered in sauce. We don't have to understand those people, but we should still be friendly and respect them, and be mindful when we invite them to dinner.

"And it don't mean that you've got no rhythm if you don't like rock n roll. "

Then there's the other kind of barbecue where the goal is to artfully char a bunch of meat. Hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, chicken, fish, shrimp, pork chops, bacon (always with the bacon), salmon, steak, and lamb can all be fired in the form of kabobs or as a big slab, as a ground thing just waiting for a bun, or as a small treat with a big side of grilled veggies. This is the kind I have had more often. I feel a gas grill is cheating, but we've had use of one before. I like camping with foil packs: slicing up meat, potatoes, and vegetables to create a meal in a pack. There's banana boats where you open one side of a banana's peel and stick in chocolate chips and marshmallows, then seal it back up and put it on the campfire.

In fact, on this National Barbecue Month, which should really do better living up to its name with sunny days and cool, clear nights, what I really want to say is that anything that will go on a campfire or other wood fire is what I want. I grew up camping, and the stars, the flame, the smoky smell, and the struggle of sitting close enough to the fire to avoid the mosquitoes, but far away enough to stay cool, are among my best memories. Once we were camping at the local park with friends, when a parent-friend we knew came to see us and said, "I just need to stare at a campfire for a while," to ease the stress she was under.

I know you've all been stymied, trying to think of an excuse to invite us over. When you do, some food, some drink, a fire, and good conversation will go a long way.

"If your tastes are like mine, you like cider not wine and your very favorite thing to do is get a perty girl dancing to jug band music and a mess of Mama's barbecue."

I've had barbecue in the blue grasses of Kentucky, in Colorado, many times in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, and on the Caribbean side of Guatemala, but it's never been as tasty and pure as it tastes over a campfire of Iowa flame.

 
 
 

 

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