Leaving NC, Where Barbecue’s a Noun and Fish Are Flowers

Road Trip IV, Days 35-37:  Still in Durham, my hometown.

We were supposed to be on the road again today, headed back west. But Ma Nature had other plans (sound familiar?). So we’re hanging out an extra day with my folks. Car-camping in West Virginia is one thing; doing it in frozen rain is another. The Mate and I are outdoorsy, but we’re not IDIOTS.

So this extra time in the Tarheel State gives me the chance to talk about two phenomena we contemplate annually: barbecue and trout lilies.

First, ‘cue. Here’s what you need to know.

In the Upper Midwest and West, barbecue is a verb. “Gonna barbecue that salmon dad caught, wanna come over?” “Ooh, have you tried marinating the ribs in vodka before you barbecue ’em?”  Basically, it’s a synonym for “grilling.”

In Texas and most of the South, barbecue is an adjective: barbecued ribs. Barbecued chicken. Sometimes the “d” is left off, as in “barbecue potato chips,” but everyone understands, you’re pretty much referring to a sticky, spicy, tomato-based sauce, or at least that flavor.

In North Carolina, BARBECUE IS A NOUN.

Take a pig. Kill it. Dress it. Put the whole animal in an iron cooker with hickory chips for a couple-few days. Towards the end, when the meat is falling off the bone, chop it up with a secret mixture of vinegar, red pepper, and heaven. Let that cook awhile longer. Serve it up with sweet tea, fried okra, hush puppies and slaw. That’s  barbecue.

 

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(In the eastern part of the state, and in South Carolina, they put mustard in the sauce, but I refuse to address such a travesty.)

The best barbecue in the state–and yes, I will fight you over this–is Allen and Son’s, which just happens to be four miles from my folks’ house. In the old days, when The Mate used to fly back to NC to watch the ACC Tournament, he’d stop at Allen and Son’s first. When my folks fly out to visit us in Washington, they bring quarts of ‘cue, hard-frozen, in their luggage. That stuff is GOLD.

You can’t, or shouldn’t, eat it very often. Luckily, you don’t need to. And since we only come back here once a year, we feel free to pig out–pun intended–on ‘cue till we can’t stand up. (Then there’s Mama Dip’s fried chicken, but I’ll save that for next year’s posts.)

The antidote to all that grease (and, this year, to our Heels going out in the first game of the tournament) is the Wildflower Walk.

The Mate started this tradition way back when. The ACC Tourney finals air at 1 pm. That gives you hours and hours to while away and try to make room for more BBQ. So he got his basketball-watching friends, plus several of their non-basketball-watching spouses, to meet out on some land we owned and take a walk through the woods to look for trout lilies.

When you think “lily,” you picture something showy, right? Tiger lilies, or Easter? Trout lilies are their shy, modest, sweet little country cousins. They grown in the dead leaves of hardwood forests. Their leaves are speckled like trout, their pretty, mild-yellow faces hang down. They are among the first flowers of spring, and they are HARD to spot. Until you find one, and then, of course, they’re everywhere.

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So, yes: these same crazy Tarheel fans who’ve been watching game after game and screaming at the tv for three days are now squealing with delight over…a flower. It’s a beautiful thing. They wander. They marvel. They breathe the quiet forest air.

 

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And then, of course, it’s back to basketball and BBQ. The noun.

We’re heading west tomorrow, rain or shine. But in my mind, and stomach, I’ll still be gone, for a few more days, to Carolina.

Tell me: what is BBQ to you? Verb, adjective, noun? And do you have any traditions like our Wildflower Walk?

4 thoughts on “Leaving NC, Where Barbecue’s a Noun and Fish Are Flowers

  1. Oh, yum! Barbeque is a verb here in Michigan, but we have a smoker, so we barbeque often–with a sweet, vinegary tomato sauce. We’re still under several feet of snow, but should spring ever come, it’ll be announced by hordes of morel mushroom seekers hitting the woods.

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