It’s hard to even fathom turning my oven on with summer’s heat so hot that if you dropped a grape it would turn to raisin before hitting the ground. More and more my mind wanders towards thoughts like: Would an egg really fry if I dropped one on the sidewalk? Or could I really bake cookies on the dashboard of my VW Jetta? Yes, it’s my first summer in the Desert, yes it is hot, but that is no reason to stop cooking. In fact, summer forces me to light the barbecue and explore outdoor cooking with renewed passion.
There are so many colorful theories as to the true origins of the term barbeque. Ask a group of fervent believers and you will get a host of different answers. The two most plausible originate with the French term ‘barbe a queue’ and the Taino Indian word ‘barbacoa’.
‘Barbe a queue’ comes from French speaking Haitians who were quite fond of spit roasting whole animals (and the occasional tourist) over slow burning fires. Barbe means whiskers and queue is the tail, therefore barbe a queue denotes a spit roasted whole animal skewered from it’s whiskers to it’s tail.
Others theorize barbeque is the Americanization of the Taino Indian term barbacoa, which refers to a framework of green wood built to slow cook fish and meats over an open wood fire. When the Spanish made their way from the West Indies to the shores of our continent, they brought this cooking technique everywhere they conquered and pillaged.
By the early 1600’s, backyard barbeque feuds in Virginia were so frequent it was illegal to carry a firearm to one in Jamestown. Probably even back then folks argued whether or not what they prepared was true barbeque. The word barbeque shows up in George Washington’s 1769 diary where he mentions that he traveled to Alexandria to attend a “barbicue”.
Lamb was the favorite meat of early barbeques giving way to pigs when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived in 1539. Pigs adapted better to the lazy colonial lifestyle than cows. Colonists found it easier to let the pigs run wild, foraging on wild apples, nuts and other goodies and then recapture them rather than to shelter and raise them.
The battle over authentic barbeque continues to rage to this date with no side emerging as the clear winner. No matter what history you prescribe to, get out and enjoy, if for nothing else than to keep cooler inside.
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