Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lincoln's Foods

This week, February 12th , marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. His family was very much like my father's ancestors, frontiersmen making do in a new Eden. Some dishes, popular in Lincoln's Indiana and Kentucky are still eaten today. There's the spicy stew burgoo and barbecue, a sweet mix of sauce and pulled pork. Squirrel and raccoon was eaten back then, as I'm sure , snake was. Thankfully, people have lost their taste for those meats.

Burgoo was a popular dish that everyone made. My great granny Roberts was an excellent cook and had her recipes for it. Burgoo came from 17th century English sailors and it was originally a thin gruel made of bulghur and cooked like a ragout. Say these two words quickly and it sounds like "burgoo." Another explanation is a slurring of "bird stew." Early burgoo recipes were great ways of getting rid of leftover game and vegetables. Most families and restaurants have their own recipes, with some using more beef and tomato or others using chicken and peppers. Originally cooked over a fire in a steel pot you can now make burgoo in a crock pot, letting it simmer for two hours. The tastiest ones have a mix of chicken, beef and pork cut along with veggies such as corn, tomato, okra along with red and green peppers. Seasoning is up to you. It usually has a sweet, spicy taste so you can add one or two tablespoons of brown sugar or molasses. A few shakes of cayenne and cracked black pepper won't go amiss here either. Burgoo can be frozen and microwaved for later meals.

Another dish, that was getting started in Lincoln's youth was barbecue. This was a passion of mine , pulled pork (and later soy meat) drenched in a spicy vinegar based sauce. In Lincoln's day cooks may have used mutton thanks to the extensive sheep farms in western Kentucky. The sauce was probably a mix of vinegar, water, molasses and spices and added to the meat. Carolinians and Virginians probably brought this dish with them when they claimed land s in the west. For th e last almost one hundred year barbecue has been served on a soft bun and eaten with a Coke . The dish was called "a soak and a Coke" as my dad and aunt would have said. Sadly enough you can't get it here in North Jersey although there are a few places in South NJ that do make it.

Basically Abraham Lincoln ate American foods; variations first brought over from his English and Colonial American ancestors. Foods like burgoo and barbecue are still being served today. Their taste is part of what makes America great, using traditions of the past for today's meals.

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