I had a zen cooking experience this weekend. Well, technically, I wasn't the one cooking, but I suppose I was consulting.
On our recent vacation to Maggie Valley we stopped in at a steak house in nearby Waynesville. To my awe and surprise Texas Style Brisket was one of the menu items. In the land of pork-n-vinegar barbecue I was literally shocked to see the word brisket staring back at me. Despite my recent leanings toward veggie fare, I decided to take the plunge and see if the North Carolinians could do a Texas specialty justice.
It was heaven. Pure, unadulterated, smoky, tender heaven. Wonderful. Even the barbecue sauce was "right."
As a result, we decided to throw a brisket into the smoker this weekend. It was B's first time out smoking the beef (wow, that sounds kinda dirty), and it brought back a flood of memories for me. My grandfather, hands down, smoked THE best brisket in the universe. He lovingly prepared his barrel smoker--arranged the charcoal, spiced his water tray with liquid smoke, beer, and only God knows what else. He cooked his briskets for a good 12 hours, and they came out charred on the outside, with a perfect smoke ring, and a juicy, wonderful interior. Texas barbecue perfection. Often, we never even bothered with the sauce, we just fought over the crispy end cuts.
While I'm pretty sure that B was annoyed with my "consulting," the whole act of trying to recreate my grandfather's specialty was very...special. I had to think back really hard to days when I was just a young child lingering next to him, peeking over his shoulder. I was too young to pay much attention to the particulars, but I was pretty amazed at what I was actually able to draw forth from the past. The specific smell of his cooking, the ashy pile of charcoal left on the garage floor afterwards, the specific texture of the meat when we lifted the lid to sneak a look.
As Barbara Kingsolver eloquently points out in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (and I'm clunkily paraphrasing) we bring the dead back to us in the rituals we perform with them in mind. Whether it's gardening, cooking, or retracing a bygone childhood excursion, we can live with them again, in a moment, in a breath, in a simple act of daily life.
I didn't tell B, but it became so important to do the brisket "right" this weekend because it felt like paying homage to my grandfather. All those times he thought I was only half paying attention I was watching, learning, memorizing. I didn't even know it until now.
I think he would've been pretty pleased with our efforts. I certainly am. I have leftovers for a week! I remember that from my childhood, too. It was good to relive some of those memories, even if only for an afternoon. I'm looking forward to more practice in the future.