Yesterday when Peter mentioned our plans to have a barbecue this afternoon, I had to correct him: not a barbecue, a cookout. It’s a Southern distinction—and one about which I, despite being the daughter of a Southerner, remained unaware until our friend Steele recently explained it. Turns out that, common usage notwithstanding, the word barbecue doesn’t mean grilling, or have anything to do with hotdogs and hamburgers—it means smoking meat slowly at a low temperature, in a closed chamber, over wood coals.
True barbecue: photo and ribs by Steele Douglas
Steele had a true barbecue the other week—St. Louis-style spice-rubbed pork ribs smoked over hickory for four-and-a-half hours; beans baked with bacon, dark beer, and molasses; cornbread cooked in a cast-iron skillet; and for dessert berry tarts served with grappa. Perhaps that’s not a food-and-wine pairing that would have occurred to you, but the grappa’s high-alcohol, clean, and subtly fruity taste actually made it the perfect digestif to complement the meal’s hearty flavors.
The grappa we enjoyed that night had a story to go with it. Grappa is a byproduct of winemaking, and Peter made this particular bottle in a still years ago while living in Fiddletown, a vineyard-speckled hamlet in the Sierra Foothills. He took the lees, or tank sediment, from Amador County Zinfandel grapes and extracted the alcohol so that the spirit came out of the still clear and 89 percent alcohol. (He then added water, to bring it down to a more-manageable 90 proof.) Not entirely legal, but as Peter likes to say, nothing’s illegal in Fiddletown until you get caught…
Homemade grappa from Fiddletown
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