My brother, Bob, was caught in a photograph at the dinner table when he was ten or twelve years old. In his hand was a rib bone and on his face was a tremendous smear of barbeque sauce and an enormous grin. This is my favorite memory of my childhood. That meal. That smile. I have it captured and safeguarded in a photo album.
The other barbeque memory was around my sixteenth birthday. By this time I had decided that eggs and milk were disgusting and I’d dabbled in thoughts of a vegetarian diet. My family and I had been invited to a neighborhood pig roast and I was not thrilled at the prospect. “Pig Roast” sounded simply vulgar. The idea that one would actually dispatch a pig, roast a pig, and then ingest it was a little too… carnivorous sounding to me. When we arrived we found a celebration surrounding a table that held at its center a large pig. The pig’s back was carved out- it overflowed with meat. Yes, the pig had an apple in it’s mouth. I departed immediately, appalled and queasy.
Years later my high-school sweetheart and Iowa farm girl wife, Margaret, and I would have conversations about the farm and my “city boy” naïve understanding of where food comes from. I actually used to think that the milk from a gallon jug was from one cow and the next jug was from another cow and how refused to mix them together. I used to joke that if I went deer hunting I’d shoot a cow and proudly pose for the photo. She used to tell me about “Banty” the crazy chicken that attacked them while doing chores and of Tom the Turkey that received no Thanksgiving pardon.
The “city” in me thought about food as something to get at a restaurant or purchase at the grocery store. The disconnect between the livestock and produce was convenient because I didn’t think about the details. I understand that in the past that tougher cuts of meat were considered disposable- literally thrown to the trash or given away. This inferior “muck” has over time, developed into the best-tasting food in our country by people who where short on resources and long on perseverance. It seems to me that they respected the food- it’s all they had.
The truth is- I could never be a vegetarian- It’s as simple as a meaty slice of brisket or a hot plate of lightly smoked pulled pork. If I were to hunt, I’d kill only what I could eat and if I were a farmer, I’d eat what I raised. I have used a bone saw to cut the ribs from a half-hog given to me by a local farmer- something I could never have done in the past. Now, I can tell you that I waste as little as possible, better understand the source of our nourishment, and have a barbeque as often as possible.
The smell and taste of barbeque is one of those things that spark happy memories of celebration with family and friends and… comfort.