All You Can Eat BBQ – $1.25 a Plate…
When you don’t talk to family members often, you miss out on stories like this… the ones you never knew even existed! On a recent visit home a couple of years ago, I visited my cousin Charles Bryan, who still lived in Union Point in his parent’s original home… with a front porch which is the keeper of all the stories. His father, Leon, was my grandfather’s (Paul) brother… they both lived in the same town and worked together at the mill, spending a lot of time together… but on this visit, I heard stories I never knew.
Granddaddy Paul worked at the Chipman Mill in Union Point his entire adult life, along with several of his brothers, and members of their family. But that’s another story to tell… the tales of work at the mill… this story tells of only one of their money-making schemes.
Bryan Siblings: Bottom – L to R: Jewell (Runt), sister Myrt. Back – L to R: Gordon, Leon, Charlie, Clyde, and Paul (my grandfather) Bryan
Work during the week always led to the Southern tradition of having a BBQ on the weekend; southerners live for their BBQ on the weekends! This wouldn’t be the regular BBQ cookout for a family dinner, this was a cookout to put a little money in their pocket.
Uncle Leon raised turkeys, cows, pigs, goats, and chickens, another way to support his family besides working in the mill. Whenever granddaddy bought a hog for a weekend of cooking, it was his brother he went to. Being a girl, I was never allowed anywhere near the cooking pit… usually, a pit dug down in the field… a place where the men sat as the pig roasted long and slow all night. You’d see the glowing embers all night, as well as the glow from their cigars or cigarettes as they sat around the pit.
Every year Uncle Leon held a Turkey Shoot… usually just before Thanksgiving. Besides just the shoot, he also sold turkeys for $3 dollars – $5 if dressed. The turkey shoots were one dollar a shot… he made more money selling shots than actually selling a turkey!
Most of the Bryan brothers were always into something, whether legal or not so legal… whatever it took to make a few extra bucks. Besides selling BBQ my granddaddy Paul also set out fish baskets to catch catfish, although I’m not sure if he ever sold them, but he probably sold a few fried fish dinners here and there, if someone knew he was cooking. I remember many family fish fry’s at granddaddy’s house… and always cooked outside in a big cast iron pan; Grandmama Bryan never let him cook fish in the house. I remember those fish fry’s… the catfish and the hushpuppies… can’t have fish without them! My mouth waters, in thinking about them.
William Clark Bryan (my great grandfather) and the famous horse who pulled his wagon around town selling vegetables and spring water!
Their father, my great-grandfather, William Clark Bryan, had also been a wheeler and dealer in making money; guess the apple never fell far from the tree. He drove a wagon all through the streets of Union Point, where he sold fruits, vegetables, and spring water in gallon jugs. Recently I learned that it wasn’t all spring water in those jugs… in the back of that wagon… my cousin Charles Bryan confirmed that he checked them out as a young boy… that water packed a punch! Those jugs were probably his biggest seller!
Whenever the two brothers held a BBQ dinner, it was always announced at the mill… they both took turns every other weekend cooking BBQ and Brunswick Stew. Before the end of the week, they would post flyers all around the mill announcing “BBQ plates – $1.25 – All you can eat.” I’m sure they helped each other in the overnight cooking of the hog.
By Saturday noon-time, locals began showing up to eat or take dinners home. Usually, before they began selling, they would put BBQ and stew aside for themselves, but one day… at the day’s end, there was no stew left, only chopped BBQ. Somehow they both had forgotten to put their stew away… I bet supper wasn’t enjoyed that night! Mama remembers that night and how grandmamma Bryan wasn’t happy… I bet she never let my grandfather forget that!
In as much as I try, I just can’t remember the taste of his BBQ and Stew or even of them cooking it… but mama tells me I was there! My mother remembers that grandmamma Bryan always had a pot of sauce brewing on the back burner… which was later added over the chopped BBQ.
Granddaddy Mckinley’s cast-iron kettle – Granddaddy Bryan with brother Clyde chopping BBQ; he always was involved in the chopping at every family BBQ. He even made his own choppers from steel he brought home from the mill, although it looks like he has a hatchet in that photo. (I have a chopper he gave me – and treasure it)
The Brunswick Stew was cooked outdoors in the small black cast-iron kettle that he borrowed from my grandfather Edgar McKinley; granddaddy Bryan’s was a larger kettle and he never liked using it for small batches. One summer, cousin Charles Bryan gave my son, granddaddy Bryan’s well-used wooden paddle which stirred his famous stew, but I somehow took possession… one day I’ll let my son have it back. Oh, if only the DNA could talk, I’d have his exact recipe! I do have the small cast-iron kettle of granddaddy McKinley’s that was most often used to cook the stew, the larger one of Granddaddy Bryan’s is still in the family, now belonging to another family member.
Granddaddy Bryan’s stew paddle
Brunswick Stew is a Southern food, almost unknown to other parts of the country… and often a different variation of that recipe in many areas. I haven’t found one yet that I like, as to what I’m used to, but I did get to taste my cousin’s stew at a family reunion recently… and I have to say it was pretty close! While I can’t remember what granddaddy’s tasted like, my favorite has always been from Holcomb’s, a place in Greensboro. Mama tells me that it tasted very similar.
Every region boasts the best “stew”… and every region has a favorite recipe, and they all vary. Anytime I discover a recipe for Brunswick Stew, I stop to read through the ingredients, but usually end up shaking my head! Our stew only uses chicken, pork, corn, and tomatoes as the main ingredients, with a base of chicken stock, and condiments of cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper. I’ve spent many hours perfecting my recipe with much help from my mother, who first devised it. While it’s not exactly like Holcomb’s, it’s pretty darn close. When you live a thousand miles away from your favorite BBQ place… it’s either improvise or do without! If I have sauce from Holcomb’s, I’ll often add some into the stew for flavoring, but if not I’ll add a few tablespoons of my favorite BBQ sauce. Even though I have a somewhat devised recipe, I still add, taste, and then add more!
My mother worked to develop this recipe for me… and I somewhat follow it, but I don’t always use a whole chicken… sometimes I use only the breast with chicken stock. I found a pepper called “Hot Shot” that I use in place of the black and red – it’s a mixture of them both. Generally the meats are ground for this stew but I use the blender to slightly shred the meats, but I have used a grinder. The heat in this stew depends on your taste… you season in the beginning, and continue seasoning along. It does take time to make, so I make a large pot, having plenty to freeze.
With the promotion of Southern foods now on the TV cooking channels, there are many more places that now serve chopped and pulled BBQ locally, but I haven’t seen Brunswick Stew pop up on their menus yet. After reading through several recipes I’ve found, I’m not sure if I’d like any of the others except for mine… I don’t want potatoes, Lima beans, beef chucks or hamburger in my Brunswick stew.
Granddaddy Paul and Uncle Leon took turns cooking it at their houses when they sold, but I’m sure it wasn’t done weekly as it required a lot of weekend hours. I remember hearing how whenever the locals heard that Granddaddy Bryan was cooking BBQ, they’d ride down and ask about buying… they were both well known as great BBQ cooks.
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