Thursday, March 24, 2016

Grandma's Barbecue Sauce

I have vivid and really fond memories of summers as a child at my grandparents houses in Austin County, Texas.  There were cows, dogs, tractors, fishing, lots of imaginative play in the pasture and woods, and huge feasts!  Whether it was Papa frying his famous fish or oysters with homemade tarter sauce (often followed by Granny's dewberry cobbler), or Grandpa firing up his old barrel barbecue, we were always in for serious treats.

Barbecues were no small thing. They were often elaborate and included all varieties of fresh meat—mutton, pork, beef, chicken and sausage.  I can still picture Grandpa in his overalls these many years later, mop rag in hand, lovingly saucing all the meat as it slow-cooked on the pit.

Our meat-centric nephew (who today enjoys the tractor and the farm as much as we did when we were that age) would have fit right in at these gatherings.  Of course, there were plenty of home-grown vegetables that would have satisfied our veggie-loving niece, too.

Summers always promised a number of large pit community barbecues, including the Father's Day barbecue at the Dance Hall in Milheim—an annual favorite since the 1890s.  These were times for generations to come together and share a meal in fellowship.  We had such a great time at these community events, and made a quick trip back this year.

Though it was way too hot, and our stay this year was very brief, it's always nice to watch friends who haven't seen each other in many years reconnecting, and we plan to gather the whole family for another one in the not-too-distant (and hopefully less hot) future.

Dad recalls attending often when he was young (Coushatta Hall, Milheim and Cat Spring), and likes to tell the story about how he earned the money for his FFA project thanks to these community events.  When he was about 14 years old, he wanted to buy a lamb to raise.  Coushatta Hall held dances on Saturday night and barbecues on Sunday where they sold beer in bottles.  They charged a nickel deposit on each bottle. Folks would take their beer to the parking lot to drink it, and either toss the bottles or abandon them on the tables there.  Dad and his buddy collected the bottles and returned them to the beer sales stall to claim the deposit.  After enough days gathering time, he earned close to $20 and used that money to buy his lamb.  

At the Milheim barbecue, everything is served up family-style, and includes pickles, onions, beans, potatoes, white bread—and ooooh, that perfect vinegary sauce, or barbecue gravy, that just can't be beat—and a glass of tea to wash it all down. Diners stand around tall tables under the shade of big trees to eat, visit, and listen to the Czech and German polka music that's always playing. 

When my sister and I were kids, one of our favorite delights at the barbecue was the cake walk.  Grandpa always won a cake, and we always asked him to pick the German Chocolate to take home!  No luck winning this year, but it was fun putting down our 50 cents for a try.


We'd come home stuffed, satisfied and exhausted.  But not too tired or too full for a slice of german chocolate cake with ice cream and a lazy game of dominoes in the slight cool of the evening on the screened-in porch.

We have recipes for both our Granny's and our Grandma's sauce.  This one is mostly Grandma's with some adaptations from Granny's recipe too.  Granny used a potato masher to break down the onions as the sauce bubbled down, so that's what I do too.  The smell of this vinegary sauce simmering on the stovetop takes me right back to my childhood.

Grandma's Barbecue Sauce

3/4 stick butter, melted
1 T olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 fat cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes
a few drops Tabasco
3 T cider vinegar
2 t chilli powder
2 t smoked paprika
2 1/4 c water
2 T brown sugar
1 T worchestershire
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t pepper
1 tsp dry mustard

Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow the sauce to simmer for at least an hour.  While the sauce simmers, use a potato masher to help break down the onions.  Season whatever meat you're grilling with salt and pepper, and mop with this sauce throughout the cooking process.

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