A Thanksgiving Tale, from Miami to the Mornington Peninsula

Thanksgiving is all about family. More than Christmas - that's been tainted by rampant consumerism and tales of flying reindeer (don't get me wrong, we love it) - Thanksgiving is about two of Red Gum BBQ's favourite things - family and food. 

The main attraction is the meal. End of story. And our tobacco chewing, Uncle Jimmy's inappropriate swearing. Oh, and women gossiping. When I think of Thanksgiving - I think of chaos. Of Mom or Grandma frantically cooking from the crack of dawn in their search of Southern perfection, surrounded by the other women in the family - while the men folk are firmly planted on recliners in front of the TV - beer in hand, watching the Thanksgiving Day football.  As a child I was just a spectator to all of this - shifting between sitting in on the family gossip, visiting Granddaddy on his recliner (a spot nobody but I was allowed to inhabit) or playing with Cousin Angie - usually wandering off, as children did then, exploring  new paths and creeks in the quaint Savannah neighbourhood, Grandma & Granddaddy called home.  While the hours passed over creaming and roasting, stories of family continued...Aunt Vic's dwindling, precious family heirlooms were lost forever to Cousin Kay.  The sad story of Uncle John, lost in the dead of night, found some days later, dead under a bridge (alcohol can get anyone). There's even a story of an ax-wielding ancestor but we're not allowed to talk about that - no seriously, we're not allowed to ever mention it. In and amongst the doom and gloom, there are conversations about pregnancy, infidelity and divorce. And whether the mash needs more mashing. 

 Everyone in position.

Everyone in position.

Lunch begins peaceful enough - with everyone sharing their reasons for being thankful. Traditionally this goes along the lines of - 'for the food we're eating, for the blessings of health' some mention of God... but as the wine and beers flow the responses become a bit more interesting and a bit more truthful (particularly when blessings are less abundant). Hopefully we make it around the table without someone being genuinely insulted. Unlikely.

The meal is the star attraction. The bird is ceremoniously carved by the elder male - who provides his singular input into the meal. My spot at the table was identified by the mayo jar sitting at the top, ready to put my turkey into a sandwich - an act that provided years of taunting by my brothers (who were professional taunters). I still have an extraordinary love of sandwiches - though have matured in my tastes and prefer gravy and dressing to bread for my turkey. 

On the table is the same casseroles we remember from year after year and that we may only have on this one day. Southern women pride themselves on a casserole and this meal is like the Superbowl of casseroles. The most controversial dish at the James/Cobb Thanksgiving table was Cheese & Peas. A simple dish of baby peas, chopped sharp cheddar, diced onion, mayo and salt and pepper. Served cold. My brother thought it was worthy of its white trash reputation. I thought it was heaven in a salad. I shared the recipe with friends over the years. Some loved, some recoiled. But everywhere Peas and Cheese went, excitement followed. We renamed it on occasion to Petit Pois au Fromage in order to class it up but this just felt fake. Cheese and Peas, I found out later, a classic Southern dish (of course it was, my grandmother and mother always made it) is what food should be. It is simple and real and makes no pretense otherwise. 

 Yes. Those are marshmallows.

Yes. Those are marshmallows.

What's apparent as the day goes on is that family, particularly from those across the wide US political spectrum and alcohol -  should really only get together once a year. And this time is Thanksgiving. When the love that binds us as family, with all of the shared history of lifetimes and generations - is what trumps all. 

And that pie heals all wounds. 

And that turkey, like shrimp, a' la Gump - can reinvent itself in endlessly, wonderful ways. 

And that nobody better eat the last cheese and peas. Or else. 

Today Thanksgiving in Australia looks a little bit different. Martin is intimately involved in Thanksgiving prep - he's the man on the meat, of course. And I'm on casserole duty. A tradition I happily indulge and one that connects me to Mom and Grandma and the Americans at home and abroad, busily pulling together the meal of the year. We still have casseroles, sweet potato with marshmallows and of course, Cheese & Peas. Where we can, we host our own Thanksgiving - or attend one with some expat friends. It's wonderful to now be able to share this with our little Aussie kids - who are learning that they have histories beyond these borders. We share stories of thankfulness and most importantly, take time to gather with friends and family over wonderful food - the trifecta of joy and life that is at the heart of all cultures and that reminds us of what is really important.  Pie.

 Our American/Aussie Thanksgiving

Our American/Aussie Thanksgiving

Southern Lovin BBQ Tour 2016 - So far so BBQ

I have been in the US now for about 2 weeks after flying from Melbourne via Brisbane, LA and onto Miami, a mammoth trip with two small children.

My wife as a native Floridian, born and raised in Miami, first requested we find Cuban food. So my first meal state side was black beans and rice and grilled chicken – so simple but somehow the Cuban flavours bring it to life and make you come back for more. After spending a couple of days in South Florida we headed to Disney, this part was for the kids but who knew Micky is a Pitmaster?! Disney rocks a Back Yard BBQ, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, fried chicken with all the ‘fixins. It was decent looking BBQ but not quite the quality I’m accustomed to but did get me excited about my travels and all the southern food to come. Ps. Disney World is awesome. At any age.

 Shrimp n Grits

Shrimp n Grits

Next stop: Amelia Island, Florida. My mother in law lives in Fernandina Beach, a small island community just outside Jacksonville. This is where our southern food adventure begins. This town is not about BBQ but all about shrimp. You see shrimp boats moored in the harbour here, straight outta Forest Gump. My first real Southern feed is Shrimp and Grits. My wife had been trying to convince me of grits for years, unsuccessfully. if you’re unfamiliar – they are cornmeal, a little like polenta, usually drowning in butter, maybe cheese, served warm and usually with breakfast. True Southern food! These grits were nestled under some shrimp, pan-fired in garlic and the winner was the white wine heavy cream andouille sausage gravy. Unreal. Nuff said. Other notable mentions have been the fried shrimp and hush puppies and the staple burgers and hot dogs on the fourth of July.

From Northern Florida, to Southern Georgia and Saint Simons Island and Southern Soul BBQ. We arrived mid-afternoon and decided to have dinner at Southern Soul. I introduced myself to the staff and am told to be there in the morning, 6am. Bring a meat probe, note book and pen.

 Southern Soul BBQ lunch crowd on a sweltering summer day.  

Southern Soul BBQ lunch crowd on a sweltering summer day.  

For dinner we ordered the St Louis style pork ribs, BBQ beans, mac and cheese, brisket, slaw and potato salad. Just a few things; the toddler is a big eater. Everything was top shelf - especially the ribs - ridiculously good. I go to bed just a little excited. I set my alarm for 5:15 am and jump on my purple beach bike that is at the house we rented and head to my first day at Southern Soul BBQ.

I roll up on my sick new ride and say g’day to my new crew. We get stuck in straight away, the pits are already up to temp. We are burning Oak which has been double split and is sitting outside the restaurant. They run four pits, three Lang reverse flow offsets and a rotisserie smoker. First job is to rub butts (don’t you love BBQ speak?), these get stacked in the rotisserie smoker, then briskets go in the first Lang, ribs and chicken in the second and the third pit is not being used today. I spend most of the morning prepping ribs and briskets. Service starts at 11am and before I know it we are getting smashed but it is a well-oiled machine, with Chef Leo at the pass, Big (that’s his name) slicing brisket and ribs, Terrance on sides, Dan on sandwiches, Joe and I smashing out prep and Q (yes, his name, Q cooks the Que) managing the pits. I spend most of my day answering questions about kangaroos and Australian BBQ.

 Me, Pitmaster Que and some burnt ends

Me, Pitmaster Que and some burnt ends

I leave at 3pm after picking Leo’s brain about service and hot holding and go home to see the family who have spent the day at the pool, hiding from the 100 degree Fahrenheit heat. Pizza for dinner tonight. Back at Southern Soul, 6 am tomorrow – more from me tomorrow night! 

Southern Lovin Barbecue Tour 2016

Join us on our Southern Lovin' BBQ Tour 2016! We'll be eating our way across the Southern US of A in just a few weeks time and you can follow along. What's the next best thing to escaping a cold and wet winter for a meaty, smokey summer BBQ adventure? Well, seeing pictures and hearing all about, of course! 

So the Red Gum BBQ Crew (aka, Mr & Mrs. Pitmaster and Pitmaster Jnrs.) are off to the states to visit family, friends and of course, hit up some BBQ joints. We are to do a whirl wind tour of Northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

 What I am most interested in is more than BBQ but also southern cooking in general. I hope to get some more family recipes, get info from about their favourite southern recipes, speak to chefs and cooks and of course learn from some awesome Pitmasters.

 I am off to work with Harrison Sapp, Pitmaster and owner of Southern Soul BBQ on Saint Simons Island in Georgia. This place what southern-style BBQ is all about! Named Best BBQ by Travel Magazine, Best Ribs by Southern Living Magazine and the rest. They have been kind enough to invite me along to hang out for a week and I'm just a little bit excited about this opportunity. I will be posting pictures and blogging so you can keep up to date with my BBQ adventure.

I will be coming home with some killer new recipes, techniques and knowledge that I will be showcasing at a one off event, Marty’s BBQ Return to Oz – tickets will be available soon.

Martin (Pitmaster and Southern cooking lover)

Realising a BBQ Dream

Once upon a time there was a girl from the South and her man from across the pond who had a dream of bringing BBQ to the masses. But more than just BBQ, we imagined the whole, real deal. The kind of venue, food, music, drink and people that created that special something. A place where people felt they were with family - where the meat, music and merriment was in plentitude - and where people left with full bellies and smiles on their faces. This was the dream that became Saturday Smoke. 

Sometime in 2013 we visited Commonfolk Coffee and were excited to find a place that we felt was really doing things right - or at least right in our very not-expert opinion. The space, the food, the feeling that you got when you walked in the door - like you could kick up your heels and make yourself at home. And let your kid eat off the floor - bonus. When we thought about where we would like to do a pop-up on the Peninsula - this venue was top on our list. Sam - the mastermind behind Commonfolk was so generous of his time, his advice and his space. After much consideration for how the event would come to life; Saturday Smoke was born in May of 2014. A night of Meat, Music and Merriment - where a 3-course family style dinner was presented amongst the wide open space, long bench tables and open air outside of the venue. 

We fed and fed - until people could be fed no more. We adorned tables with hessian runners and herb plants. Sourced local craft beers, wines and ciders and connected with our Peninsula roots. We got some of the best bluegrass and folk singers around to come add their strings, voices and soul to the night and by the end of the evening we knew we had made our little BBQ dream come true. What began as an unsure organiser, a hesitant but hopeful Pitmaster and Chef, a new and inexperienced staff and a room full of curious strangers - ended with a community of friends, of glowing compliments and of a thrilled and tired Mr. and Mrs. Pitmaster. This first Saturday Smoke turned into a monthly event - where we trialled a continuous stream of Southern cooking to overwhelmingly kind praise. But more importantly, what never faltered but in fact grew, was the sense of family and community we found in the event. We believe that BBQ brings people together and is best amongst friends and Saturday Smoke was the testament to this. This BBQ dream realised, we're onto the next! Saturday Smoke will live again. Watch this space. And stay tuned to see more of our dreams come true.