Oddly enough that was a reality for some of our 19th century characters. Below are some excerpts from "My Ride to the Barbecue"©1860 that I thought some of you might enjoy. There's also another excerpt about Southern Barbecues.
"Grand Civic and Military
At Morgan's Springs,
Near Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, Virginia,
On Thursday the 2d of September, 1858.
&o., &o., &c., &c."
"Well," said he to me, after he had perused the formidable-looking proclamation, "here's a chance for you to see a first-rate barbecue. I know the good people of 1 the unterrified precinct;' they are famous for their manner of getting up these out-door entertainments, and you'll find this worth attending, if you're fond of such affairs."'
"I can not say whether I am or not," was my reply, "as I have never been to one in my life—"
"What! never been to a barbecue?" burst from half a dozen voices at once; "never been to a barbecue? wonderful!"
As for my friend, he stood staring at me for a few moment in mute surprise, and then letting the hand-bill fall upon the floor with an emphasis similar to that with which Corporal Trim so eloquently signified the defunction of his young master, he solemnly shook his head, and slowly ejaculated: "Well — upon my word, it is wonderful, indeed! Who would have believed it, that you, a traveler, a cosmopolite; you who have been so far and seen so much; a man of taste and acquainted with gastronomy; you who have experimented so extensively in the cookery of many climes, and are so profoundly skilled in all the sublime mysteries of the cuisine of other countries, and yet to be practically ignorant of the grandest culinary triumph of your own; that you, who have attended clam bakes on tho eaten chowder at Marshfield and olla-podrida at Madrid; who have lunched on mutton chops in London, and on maccaroni in Naples; who have cooked your own mule-steaks in New Mexico, and had your pates de foi gras hot from the ovens of Strashnrg; you who have supped on canvasbacks at the Baltimore Club—luxuriated in a breakfast at Tortoni's, and been lapped in the elysium of a dinner at Vfiry's — that you, I say, of all men living, should never have enjoyed one of these al fresco feasts of which our people are so fond, is to me a matter of the most profound amazement. For, let me tell you, the Barbecue is one of the ancient and honorable institutions of Virginia—one of the few that have survived the innovation of parties and the wreck of constitutions! It belongs to the people—theoretically, practically, and emphatically—and its social influences upon the body politic are altogether beneficial and conservative when they are not perverted from their legitimate objects by brawling drunkards and blarneying demagogues I Its appellation, sir, is derived from the French harbd-quew, and thereby hangs a tale, the cue of which, is pig's tail! The term is as figurative as it is French; and its head and front (or rather head and termination) means nothing more nor less than an entertainment where hogs are roasted whole—a totum porcum process, sir I Hence to 'go the whole hog' is pre-eminently a characteristic of the people in our good old Commonwealth —God bless her!—from the point of the 'Pan Handle' down to the depths of the Dismal Swamp! So," continued my friend, subsiding somewhat from the oratorical tone and attitude which, during the delivery of the foregoing unpremeditated remarks he had unconsciously assumed, and which, by the way, I found to be a habit they have in that part of the country, growing out of the inveterate and unprofitable custom of stump speaking that, I am told, ever since the adoption of the last Constitution, has prevailed to an alarming extent throughout the entire State, "so! it will never do to let you rest any longer under the reproach of such stupendous ignorance, and I pray you, therefore, to consider yourself booked for a buggy drive with me to 'Morgan's Spring,' on Thursday next."
Adjacent to the spring is a shady grove, in which we found the principal, improvised tables arranged for dinner in the form of a quadrangle, inclosing an area of at least an acre, in the center of which was a large tent or booth, filled with a great variety of provisions. In convenient proximity to the tables the culinary operations were progressing upon a scale of profuse abundance, and after a fashion that was no less primitive than profuse. There appeared to be about half a hundred whole carcasses of full-grown and well-fattened sheep and hogs, each having two long iron rods run through its length—" harhe d queue"—so as to keep it spread open in the position termed by heraldic writers "displayed." These were all laid across a trench (the projecting ends of the rods resting upon each side thereof), which was about a hundred feet in length by four deep, and in the bottom of which was a bed of glowing coals, that was replenished from time to time from large log fires kept constantly burning close by for that purpose. At suitable intervals along the sides of the trench were iron vessels, some filled with salt, and water; others with melted butter, lard, etc., into which the attendants dipped linen cloths affixed to the ends of long, flexible wands, and delicately applied them with a certain air of dainty precision to different portions of the roasting meat. This part of the process was done with such earnest solemnity of manner, as to impress a beholder wtyh the conviction that there was some important mystery meant by the particular mode in which the carcasses were so ceremoniously touched with the saturated cloths. During this operation, other attendants were busily engaged in turning over the huge roasts, one after another, so that all sides of each should be done equally alike.
That I did justice to my dinner on the occasion it will be superfluous to say, when my drive that morning is taken into consideration. But hungry as I was, and continued to be for some considerable time after I had been actively employed at the tables, I had the discretion to stop when I was done, which some mutton-munchers there did not do, and consequently they have never dared to look a sheep in the face since the day of the dinner. Take it altogether it was to me a glorious banquet which did great credit to those who ruled the "roasts."
*** *** ***
Just as the Creole Kitchen represents the living of the Southern coast country, so the Georgia Barbecue gives an insight into a true open-air Southern feast. Whoever first thought of a barbecue, and why it should be strictly Southern, is not on record. It is just as easy to make a pit, fill it with coals, and roast meat over it in New Hampshire as it is in this State, and yet barbecues are associated exclusively with the life of the South. Perhaps it was the art of Southern cooking that established their fame and made it noted as one of the royalest of feasts. The inner Georgia man longs for the barbecue. About the first of June you will hear the male folks around the dry-goods boxes in Southern towns expressing their longing for the barbecued meat, with the longing for gore of the giant in Hop o' My Thumb, and the result is that a feast of this kind is quickly planned to be held on the farm of one of the hungry parties. The barbecue is in the Exposition grounds, on the left side of the entrance, in a shady nook with a spring near by—for no barbecue is complete without this rock-incased living stream of water. Neither is it perfect without the long tables rudely made of boards beneath the trees. The Georgia Colonel who has charge of this feast is a famous cook; he is from Wilkes County, Ga., the place where barbecues first originated, and has inherited his talents from past generations. The process of barbecuing sounds barbarous, and it is one of the relics of barbarity that it will take a long time for Georgians to cultivate a dislike for.
The night before the roast, Col. Calloway had his men make a fire of pine bark in the pit. This fire is kept up all night, and in the morning the earth is red hot, through and through, for several feet. In another pit another fire is kept constantly burning, so as to replenish the roasting pit with hot coals. The carcasses are speared through by hickory limbs, and laid across the fire, to be turned from time to time until done. Some barbecue authorities baste the meat as it cooks, but Col. Calloway's method is to cook the meat without basting, and then lay it, when done and cut, into great dishes of gravy made of butter and highly seasoned with pepper, salt, and vinegar. The genuine barbecue begins at 12 o'clock, and, though you may not be hungry, you begin to be so when you sniff the savory odors from afar. There is something indescribably delicious about meat cooked in this way, and delicious, too, are the other things that go with it. There is a succulent stew made of corn, tomatoes, ochra, onions, carrots, green peppers, and meat boiled to shreds, which forms an important part in the barbecue menu; and another stew is made of the tongues, heads, and feet of pigs whose carcasses have been roasted. This is good, but very rich, and likely to make one see the dreams that little boys see the night after Christmas. The strangers gather in crowds to watch the roasting over the pit, and they seem to enjoy the life about it quite as much as the culinary part, for the genuine little negro of the Topsy type, the country cracker with his weary, forlorn wife, his swarm of children, and their yellow dog, can be found here in their natural state.
Source: Current Opinion Vol. 18 ©1895