By JAY REED
I guess it’s finally time to finish the story on the SFA Symposium weekend.
I have done my best to make it last as long as I could, but weeks away from the new year I suppose I have to let go. Sigh.
One of the most fascinating segments of our last evening was a true-blue Lincoln-Douglas debate. Nothing really surprises me anymore at these events, particularly when it comes to creativity and authenticity. So, I guess I shouldn’t have blinked when two gentlemen appeared on the platform in full regalia — Lincoln with beard and stovepipe hat, Douglas with white spats on his shoes. The gist of the argument: “Do competitions contribute positively to the advancement of barbecue?” Both presidents made some interesting points, but in the end I had to side with Lincoln. His campaign slogan hooked me: “Mo’ Barbecue, Mo’ Betta’.”
From the debate venue, we boarded the school buses once again and headed out to Woodson Ridge Farm for the Lodge Cast Iron Pit Feed. Why the farm? Well, it took a lot of open space to hold all that food.
The first course we came to was a bowl of Tobacco Barn Brunswick Stew, which was especially nice given that the weather was a little cool on the farm. This version was a little chunkier than my friends out in Oktoc make theirs, but it still tasted like I believe good Brunswick stew should.
After the stew we went for a round of what they had dubbed “40 Acres of Vegetables.” (That’s where they were hiding the plates). All the basics of barbecue sides were represented, but with a twist, of course: coal-roasted potato salad, old-fashioned cole slaw, braised greens with fatback, and baked cranberry bean gratin. My favorite was the cornbread interpretation: jalapeno cheddar spoon bread.
Now it was time to take our plates back to the pits, where the “big three” of barbecue were waiting to be tasted: chicken, beef and pork. The chicken pit-master was from Tennessee, but his birds were hickory-smoked and slapped with a white sauce like the fine folks in Alabama are apt to use. The beef ribs were post oak-smoked, and they were huge. I am partial to pork ribs, but there was a lot of good stuff to chew on here.
Not to worry, pork was fully represented, and I mean that literally — we had whole hog barbecue, skin and all.
This kind of meal — mostly protein — can usually keep me full for another day or so. But that was not to be in this case. I wasn’t going to let it, because the next morning promised a breakfast to remember, my favorite meal of the day no matter what time it shows up.
Ryan Prewitt, a Memphis boy who is now a chef in New Orleans, dreamed up what he considered the perfect gas station breakfast. Imagine going to your favorite filling station early in the morning, when the hot box is full of all manner of biscuits and such. Now imagine that your favorite chef is the one filling the hot box. Oh yeah.
It’s hard to say what I started with. I had a plate full of dreams and a surprisingly big appetite — I just dove in. For crunch, there were Kettle-Fried Gratons with Tabasco: basically some of the best pork rinds I’ve ever had. Maybe that’s not what you grab for breakfast at the quick-mart, but apparently cracklins are an all-day food in Louisiana. Fruit salad was served in little tin cans. It looked simple, but was sweetened perfectly and flavored with a mint leaf. First time in a long time I wanted more fruit salad.
The obligatory breakfast pork? Pan-fried sausage links soaked in cane syrup. Wow. They knew I was coming. The ham-egg-and-cheese biscuit looked almost normal, but the Tabasco-cured ham put this one a notch above the rest.
The last two items in the breakfast box may have been my favorites. It was so hard to pick favorites, I had to eat a little of what The Wife left to help my decision.
Most of us have probably had a plastic-wrapped honey bun at some point in our lives. They’re sweet, they’re sticky, and they’re usually a little dry. But the ones we had that day were made from scratch and lifted out of a pan rather than being subjected to an unwrapping. Still sticky and sweet, but warm, moist, and we could actually taste the honey. If I had been given free reign of the whole pan, I’m sure I would have set off every glucose meter in a hundred-yard radius. The other top choice was the Boudin-Filled Oreille du Cochon.
Boudin, of course, is a Cajun sausage that uses rice as one of the fillers. That’s not entirely new to me — I’m a fan of boudin. (That little phrase rhymes, by the way, if you pronounce it correctly: fan of boo-dan). Those fluent in French may already realize that Oreille du Cochon means pig’s ear. I do not fear the ear. I’ve had the real thing sautéed (and a sandwich from Jackson’s Big Apple Inn is on my bucket list). But this was a pastry, a different texture than a beignet, but much the same shape.
In the end, this was essentially a Cajun pig-in-a-blanket dusted with powdered sugar. I doubt Sister Schubert will add this to her repertoire, but maybe Brother Boudreaux will take it on.
To wash everything down, we were treated to homemade sodas: one tasted like orange cream and was fabulous, the next was fresh strawberry and also excellent, and the third was lime — a little tart, but pretty good mixed with the smooth strawberry. For the ride home, (because that’s what you do when you leave the gas station) they gave us cookies and homemade Slim Jims.
It was hard to say goodbye, but just like SEC football, the off-time just leaves you hungry for the next season. Can’t wait until next fall.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .