Memphis BBQ and BB Kings, the Blues and some personal history

November 30, 2011

I should have been born a Southerner.  It's funny to me, in retrospect that growing in on a farm in New Jersey, taking care of horses and remembering the tastes of Southern foods, never left me.... As of late I've been thinking about my upbringing influenced by the draw of succulent Southern tastes.

My childhood was unlike that of any other of my friends or even of my friends later in life.  These aroma geared memories are succinct and robust.  They are food, specifically Barbeque and long cooked greens.  Estelle Ellis took care of my family and made sure that the lessons that she taught about food would remain with me for a lifetime.  The same holds true for the style of cooking that I find myself attracted to.

That would be Barbeque.  My first food memories are of bacon.  My first meals that I cooked for myself decades ago were pig ribs and my first love- the succulent flavors that come from a smokehouse, low and slow cooking.  Historic flavors that come from hard times and good times. I remember going to the Peppermint in East Orange, NJ and eating ribs- or working beside Martha Lou at Martha Lou's Kitchen in Charleston, SC, learning how to pressure cook fried chicken so crisp that it would take your breath away. 

The pig in the picture comes from Hoeffner's in Morristown, NJ.  This is our local butcher.  German in origin, they have a way with all things cured and pork.  Pork and cured is the basis for Southern Barbecue!  And at Hoeffner's it is their passion!

When BB King's Barbecue came into my focus- I thought to myself that they deserve my mention.  Not only because of their name- although much more famous of a brand than my own- or their location- Memphis, Tennessee, but for their passion for the historic Barbecue arts.  There is art in Barbecue as there is passion and soul in life.  There is the bitter and the sweet. Sweet tea and greens- and of course the Blues, because they are the glue that connects us all- like a pot of steaming pigs ears- you must cook them, low and slow... BEFORE you fry them.  Their crispy demeanor and funky texture may not appeal to a Yankee,  (that I am) but for someone reared on Southern foods, there is no greater art.

I'm lucky to have enjoyed a cast iron pan full of ham hocks and pot likker with the greens cooked down to their slippery goodness.  To share a taste of branch water drizzled over a glass of pre-1960 Bourbon and to remember what that tasted like for the first time.  All flavors that cannot be learned from a book.  You must live the life to be able to write about it succinctly.

It's all about passion, flavor and memory.

BB Kings is also about aroma, flavor and memory.  My first memories of music were the Blues.  I was reared on them.  Couldn't escape the Blues.  They were hummed in the kitchen to make the days go by.  The kitchen was not air-conditioned- the ancient cast iron pans sent off deep heat, the kind that sticks to your soul and forces you to drink tall glasses of sweet tea with fresh mint and lemon.  

Occasionally I would add a bit of honey instead of sugar and some Tennessee "sippin' Whiskey to the mix.  

The new brand of Tennessee Honey from Jack Daniels is the exemplification of the new South in a glass.  I've taken some, roughly two shots and added it to some long steeped black tea.  Then, I added some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a grilled slice of orange to the mix.  Some fresh rock ice is added to a tall glass, then the Tennessee Honey elixir and that hunk of grilled orange.  Add the sweet tea and close your eyes.

I call this drink the Tear it Up Cocktail. 

Ribs and Chicken cooked just so will always be in my memory, as are the flavors of Tennessee "sippin" Whiskey and the smell of the farm.  I cannot get this out of my head.  Not that I'd even want to.  I cannot wait to try their food at BB King's.  There's history in every bite.