BARBEQUE'N with BOBBY SEALE |
THERE IS A DISTINCT CONNECTION BETWEEN the spelling or the
pronunciation of a word and its cultural etymological root-that is, the
meaning of what people do culturally and how they refer to it. When I first
began to write this barbeque cookbook, I felt the strongest urge to look
barbeque in the dictionary. To my surprise my spelling didn't appear before
me. I found my treasured word but with the spelling barbecue-meaning
to roast or broil on a rack over hot coals or over a revolving spit before
or over a source of cooking heat. Historically, the word was pronounced
ba coa" by the Taino people of the Bahamas.
Oddly enough, throughout all my years from Texas to California,
very seldom seen a pit or restaurant sign that used the dictionary spelling
barbecue (especially in the Black community). When I had seen such
near or outside my community, I didn't feel that familiar mouth-watering
effect which my favorite food could provoke instantly. I later began to
perhaps I had an inborn prejudice to such signs because in the Black
community the word was always spelled "Bar Be Que" or
"Bar B Que" or initialed
"B B Q," and accompanied with that special hickory aroma. I began
to feel that the "cue" spelling represented something drab, or
even "square," as we
used to say in the 1950s. My realization was that most restaurants whose
signs lacked the suffix -que seemed to be void of that ever-pervasive down
home hickory-smoked aroma which would literally carry for blocks.
If the hickory-smoked aroma carried for blocks, surely the word
of mouth praises carried for miles. My Uncle Tom Turner's Bar B Que Pit restaurant in Liberty, Texas, had just such a reputation. It was said that people would
from as far as one hundred miles just to feast on his barbeque delights.
I can remember clearly in 1950 the first two weeks of my Texas
in the late summer through early fall. My parents had moved from Texas
to California following wartime job opportunities in the mid-forties, but
summers were reserved for going back to our roots. My parents missed Texas
and would faithfully return to visit our kinfolk and loved ones throughout
southeastern Texas-Jasper County, Beaumont, and Liberty.
Soon after arriving in Texas, our summer-fall vacations were often
by attending huge church association fanfares. Under enormous tents which
sheltered us from the blazing Texas sun, we'd feast on dishes prepared
by the sisters of the church. Sweet potato pie, fried chicken and fish,
and barbeques of smoked beef and spareribs were prepared by the men and
women at the pits. In the midst of happy greetings, praises to the Lord,
and harmless gossip, I'd hear statements like: "This bobbyque
sho' is good! But Lawd, it takes Tom Turner to really bobbyque some meat!"
Bobbyque? Yes! To my young ears it always sounded like that, an idiomatic expression I certainly didn't question. For most of my life, when black
folks pronounced barbeque, the first two syllables literally sounded
like my name.
One year my favorite first cousin Alvin was leaving for the remainder
of the vacation to spend time with his father, Tom Turner. I remember tearfully
convincing my mama to let me go, too. I wanted to be near the soulful restaurant
activity and luscious presence of the hickory-smoked food I couldn't get
enough of. When we arrived, Uncle Tom greeted Alvin and me in his southern
Texas hospitable style. He said we could eat to our fill plus earn two
dollars a day if we would help him around his barbeque restaurant. Through
the first week, I watched Uncle Tom with wide-eyed innocence as he went
about the daily chores of preparing barbeque from early morning pit fire
to afternoon scrumptious delights.
Because of my daily interest, Uncle Tom guided me through his secret
process, teaching me how to place the hickory wood, burn it down, and spread
the coals. He explained the importance of having a pit fire without any
flames. He would pull out slab after slab of sizzling ribs, whole chickens,
and browning hunks of roast beef and dip them into a large metal washtub
of what he called "base." I could hear the watery drippings of
the "base" sting as the droplets hit the hot hickory wood coals.
The smoke conjured up a potion that would make me heady, almost paralyzed
by its appetizing aroma.
"Bobbyque smells good, huh, Bobby?" said Uncle Tom smiling
"Uncle Tom, it's the best in the world!" I exclaimed.
"How you know?" laughed Uncle Tom.
"I done ate some of everybody's BOBBYQUE .... Out in California
and all over Texas .... And yo's is da best!"
Uncle Tom laughed as he hustled a hunk of browning beef out of
the pit and dunked it once again into the washtub of baste. He would dip
or mop-baste thirty or forty slabs of spareribs in the pit, turn them,
and baste them again, and again.
"When you make BOBBYQUE, you don't put no sauce on it till
it's done. Da base makes it tenda. Taste good right down to da bone,"
Uncle Tom would say matter-of-factly. The "base" marinade was
the key. It was Uncle Tom's secret method: onions, peppers, garlic, lemon
juice, vinegar, celery, and seasonings placed in two large boiling pots
of water. "We gotta let dease ribs soak in da base ova night,"
Uncle Tom would say as he poured "base" over the meats placed
in the washtubs.
The meats were marinated before the pit-smoking, then constantly dipped
in or mopbasted with the marinade throughout the pit-smoking process. That
delicious taste was further accentuated by the steaming smoke of the hickory
wood in a large enclosed brick pit. This process was the secret behind
that fascinating aroma and taste.
Throughout my month-long vacation I absorbed Uncle Tom's culinary
art while I dreamed of owning such a restaurant some day. I happily served
customers, many times watching them savor the moment and hearing their
praises and compliments. My vacation was ending too soon. However, since
I'd been such a good worker and pupil, Uncle Tom let me prepare a small
batch of barbeque before I left for California. After I finished, I chose
the juiciest slab of ribs and hunk of beef, and presented them to Uncle
Tom for his opinion. "Bobby, boy, dis' heah is some really good BOBBYQUE!" Elated by the compliment, I hopped around the restaurant with a feeling
of youthful accomplishment and my twelve-year-old chest poked out. It was
a time I've never forgotten. I had been given the chance and the secret
recipe method to prepare the food I loved the most. I decided that from
that day on I would prepare barbeque like Uncle Tom "qued" it
for the rest of my life. However, when I returned home to California, little
did I realize that it would be years before I focused on the idiomatic
expression, "BOBBYQUE" and its etymology, and why it was pronounced like my name.
After a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, and a couple of
years as a comedian and jazz drummer, I enrolled at Merritt College in
Oakland, California. The third semester I chose cultural anthropology as
an extracurricular course. With the advent of the 1960s there grew a burning
desire among my college peers and myself to know about Black American and
African history. Reading Jomo Kenyatta's Facing Mount Kenya I had the fantastic
realization that Tarzan did not run Africa, and I wanted to know about
my African ancestors who did. Following up afootnote, I encountered an
article alluding to the roots of surviving Africanisms in Afro-American
English. Black English?Through out my early school years I had often been
criticized for pronouncing words incorrectly. My black and white teachers
alike would vehemently criticize and say I spoke "pigeon language"
or broken English. For example I would say "dese " instead of
"these"; "flo" instead of "floor"; "do,"
pronounced doe, instead of "door," etc.
Preparing a term paper for my cultural anthropology class, I chose
the subject of West African agricultural sites-that is, what particular
vegetables, fruits, and other plants were first cultivated by African Homo
Sapiens. It was an unconscious choice even though the topic was connected
with food. Reading through a book entitled Myth of the Negro Past, by Melville
J. Herskovits, I followed up another footnote that made reference to a
Black professor of English, Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner. Dr. Turner had published
Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949), a work on his twelve years of
field expeditions researching surviving Africanisms in Black American language
via West African ethnic groups and South American and Caribbean descendants
of West Africans. It was yet another fantastic realization to find out
that certain idiomatic expressions had survived among Black folks in the
United States. There was a distinct reason why Blacks in the US and elsewhere
in the Americas pronounced many English words as they did.
Dr. Turner also pinpointed a number of surviving words from Africa
in the US, some of which related to food and plants first developed and
cultivated in West Africa. From an anthropological standpoint, the stringy
yam arguably comes from the Senegalese area, the location of Alex Haley's
Roots. Yam originally meant "to eat." Kola nuts, a main ingredient
in Coca Cola and other cola beverages, were first cultivated in West Africa.
While "kola" sounds African, the English word cola is not an
African word. Goober as in Granny Goose's Goobers (packaged peanuts) or
the candy bar Goobers, is a direct surviving African word from the Congo
and Angola areas. Goober derives from nguba and gooba (without the "er"
or rolling "r" pronunciation), a word that means "nuts"
that one eats. My research also revealed that watermelon, cotton, and okra
were first cultivated in West Africa. The African Bantu word for okra is
gumbo. This word has survived because of African American and Louisiana
Creole usage. Gumbo is a very popular fish and shellfish southern stew
which contains okra.
Dr. Turner's intent was also to prove that Black American idiomatic
expressions had little to do with our White American southern drawls or
dialects. After twelve years of field research (six in West Africa, six
in South America and the Caribbean), Dr. Turner found that certain idiomatic
inflections reflected surviving Africanisms in Black American language
which contribute to how blacks pronounce many words.
Many Black Americans pronounce such words as these "dese,
those "dose," floor "flo" and barbeque "bobbyque."
Here the lack of the "ar" sound produced "bobby" instead
of "barbe." The "th," "er," and "ar"
sounds are in fact absent in West African language, and Black Americans
are largely descendants of West African peoples. The etymological path
has been "ba ba coa," barbacoa, barbecue, barbeque, and "BOBBYQUE."
No one knows exactly what the "ba ba coa ," meant historically
and culturally to the Taino and West Indian peoples. However, whether you
are a New World African-American, Euro-American, Asian-American, or Native
American, the present-day American barbeque is an exciting and culturally
appetizing event. Everything about the word barbeque (or BOBBYQUE!) evokes
pleasure. To que the meat to that special flavor-to que the meat to a luscious
hickory-smoked tenderness-to que it with my traditional down home recipe
method, will "que" a person's heart, mind, and soul to expect
a delectable experience, thanks to barbeque secrets handed down to me by
my Uncle Tom Turner and passed on to you in this book.
Righteous down-home barbeque has been developed all over America
with considerable improvisation. Perfection can only come from trial and
error over many years. Thousands of culinary experts, particularly in the
South, guard and hoard their secret recipes and methods. l happen not to
be one of those people.
Having traveled extensively across the United States (over 40 states
several times over), I have tasted some of the best and the worst barbeque
prepared around the country. At the 1987 fifth annual "twenty-five
thousand dollar first prize" National Rib Cook-Off, in Cleveland,
Ohio, I was selected to be one of the judges of the contest for the "Best
Ribs in America." For two whole days I had the opportunity to eat
and evaluate barbeque ribs from Hawaii and all corners of the U.S., and
from countries around the world: Mexico, Canada, Australia, England, Hong
Kong, and Ireland. Barbequing in all its contemporary activity, recipes,
and methods has truly become an international festive occasion, a culinary
example of human creativity.
From years of testing and tasting, with my Uncle Tom's recipe-methods
as my starting point, I've developed my own contemporary southern-style,
hickory-smoked barbeque recipes that have delighted the taste buds and
appetites of politicians, writers, community activists, movie stars, family
and friends, and thousands more at numerous barbeque fund-raisers. For
over thirty-five years I have perfected my pit-fire techniques, my sauces
bastes, so that they will be distinguished from the commercial and many
times bland recipes found on "bottle-backs"
With its wide variety of hickory-smoked meats, fish, and poultry
entrees and its baste-marinades and barbeque sauces, you can't miss with
this book. Also included are many delicious southern-style side dishes
such as Hickory Honey-Seasoned Collard Greens, Hickory-Hocked Black-Eyed
Peas, Marshmallow-Orange Pit-Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Bacon-Cheddar Southern
Corn Bread. At the end are recipes for salt free, low sodium and sugarless
barbeque entrees and accompaniments. I'm sure this book will answer many
questions you may have had about preparing and getting the best results
from backyard pit-grill, smoke barbequing. With this work I've outlined
my creative recipe-methods on how to "do it" like Bobby Seale
and my Uncle Tom would "que" it.
Barbequing doesn't have to be an isolated festive occasion set
aside only for holidays and summer days. With this book, the American tradition
of barbequing can become your own savory, mouth-watering regular dining
event. On the other hand, barbequing can also be the attraction or fund-raising
occasion for your social or community event.
With more than one hundred recipes, this work becomes part of a
continuing culinary contribution to the American and intercommunal worldwide
culture. If you "bobby-que" with me and creatively improvise
with me, or just follow my recipes to a T, I guarantee that you will spice
up your lifestyle and add the very best contemporary down-home barbeque
cuisine to your culinary endeavors. So with these mouth-watering recipes
I invite you to participate in barbequing, or, if you will, "bobby-que'n"-a
truly American act of soulful hospitality.
United States of America, EARTH.
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