A Southern Recipe Rooted in Friendship

Hello there.  I am so incredibly happy to have you here today.  It is a sincere honor that you’re willing to take some of your valuable time and spend it with me.  I’ve thought about what to write for my inaugural blog for awhile.  I’ve settled on a feel good story and a recipe.  I promise it will be worth it.  We’ll talk biz and loan and credit stuff next.

In 1983 I lived in Birmingham, Alabama.  Having grown up in Michigan I had never been south of the Mason Dixon line in my life save a trip to Florida.  The south was simply a “place to drive through” to get to those glorious beaches.  I was married with a baby and another on the way.  My job was that of a traveling salesman.  My territory encompassed all of Alabama and Mississippi, parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.  I was typically gone at least three nights a week.

One of my favorite places was Philadelphia, Mississippi.  A hotbed of racial activity in the day.  And yes, some of it was still blatant as late as the 80’s and maybe still to this day.  But that’s a story for another time.  It’s a quaint little town where one can step back in time………Now remember I had never been in the south let alone live there and travel its roads on a regular basis.  It was like being in a foreign land.  Especially the food.  It was on my first overnight visit to Philadelphia that I was introduced to “barbecue”!!

When I moved “down south”, I was six foot tall and a lean 165 pounds.  When I left the first time 2.5 years later my weight exceeded 210 pounds.  You probably see where I’m going with this.  I got addicted to barbecue.  Especially from a place in this little southern town with a northern name.  The meat was tender and juicy with a nice smoky flavor.  Pure oral pleasure.  But it was the sauce that was special.  Initially it was like biting into a piece of candy.  I’d never had sweet barbecue sauce before.  (Hell, I was just getting used to “sweet tea”).  When it hit the back of my mouth I thought the spice would burn a hole in my throat.  It was incredible.  I’d slather my ribs with it.  Bathe my shredded pork shoulder or butt in it…… sometimes I’d just take a spoon and eat it by itself.

The proprietor of the establishment was in his 70’s and had been smoking pork and making sauce for the better part of 50 years.  Proof was the dozen butcher blocks mounted on the walls.  Brass plaques inscribed with the years each was in use.  The center of the block(s) grooved 3-5 inches deep from so much cutting.  George was black as the ace of spades.  Not that it makes a damn hill of beans worth of difference but you’ll understand why I tell you that in a few minutes.  He had but about 10 teeth placed sporadically in his mouth and his hair looked like a piece of steel wool.  Shiny and the color of pewter.  He talked with a southern drawl that took me a time or two to understand but I eventually did.

I had stopped at his shack at the urging of a local business owner that was on my route.  I was there every six weeks or so.  He told me George’s barbecue was the best I’d ever eat.  He wasn’t kidding.  I’d be in Philly for 3 days at a time.  I could have stayed in Jackson which wasn’t too far of a drive.  I just like this place.  I liked the motel where I could drive my car right up to the door of my room.  I liked the Lazy Boy recliner out on the porch that I sat in every night reading.  I liked the people.  And I liked the barbecue!

George and I became friends.  He’d ask me stories about Detroit.   About growing up.  He’d tell me stories of hatred and bigotry that I simply couldn’t understand.  I ate there for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  He’d just sit there and laugh at this little white Yankee as he called me.  He wasn’t even open for breakfast but I knew I could find him out back in the smokehouse every morning.  I’d come and help him stoke the coals and he’d pull off pieces of meat and give them to me.  I was in heaven.  I’d go to work and then come back at lunchtime.  And the same for dinner.  This went on for the better part of a couple years.  And then it came to an end.

I got the word that the company was transferring me back up north.  Minneapolis of all places.  Who would want to live there.  Unfortunately I had no say in the matter.  I made my last trip later that month to Mississippi.  Before I even called on a customer I went to see George.  Told him I was leaving.  He called me a traitor.  “Damned Yankee’s, you can never trust em”, were the first words out of his mouth.  “You a southern boy now don’t you know”.  I agreed but the point was mute.  I had six meals with him over the next few days.

The night before I was going to see him for the last time I requested two things.  First, could I buy a gallon of that most incredible sauce to last me til I got settled up north.  Second, could he give me his sauce recipe for future use.  You would have thought I’d asked to sleep with his wife.  “What’s got in that head o yo boy”?  “Ya’all gone plum crazy er sumpin”?  I will never forget it as long as I live.  I’d never seen him angry.  I finished my dinner and said I’ll see you in the morning.  It was a long night.  I felt I’d lost a friend.

Next morning I did the usual.  Only this time I was going to the shack to say good bye.  George was  inside already.  Door was open so I went in.  He looked at me and motioned under the counter.  Didn’t say a word.  There was a cider jug full of sauce.  I asked how much I owed him and he just shook his head no.  On the counter was an envelope with my name on it.  You already know what was inside.  We both cried.  Two grown men.   From opposite ends of the world.  As we hugged good bye he made me promise one thing.  Don’t ever sell it.  Just give it away.  Over the years I have.  My friends and neighbors rave about it.  I laugh at them eating just as George used to laugh at me.

Here’s your copy.  Don’t ever sell it.  Just give it away……………

George’s sauce

4 cups tomato sauce
½ cup molasses (the cheap stuff)
½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white vinegar
½ tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup liquid smoke
2 tablespoons tobasco
½ cup bourbon (optional)
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Blend together in a saucepan and bring to a boil on the stove.  Shut off heat and let sit to room temp.  Remember, real barbeque sauce is NOT thick.  And real barbeque doesn’t get coated with sauce while cooking.  Sauce is put on the meat after taking off the grill.  I trust you will enjoy as much as I have the last 25+ years.

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