Speaking of barbecue, the Donner Party is in the news again. The News & Observer recently ran a story entitled “Donners May Not Have Been Cannibals After All.” Why are we mentioning this here? It turns out that the most famous would-be man-eaters in American history were native Tar Heels.
George and Jacob Donner were born in Rowan County in the 1780s. Like many of their neighbors, they had a difficult time in North Carolina and headed for more promising lands out west. The Donners moved to Kentucky in 1818, then to Illinois ten years later. The family settled near Springfield for a few decades, but grew restless again and in 1846 they began their ill-fated trip to California.
We’re excited to see barbecue working its way into the academy — and not just in the dining halls. The North Carolina Literary Review may have started the trend when, in its 1997 issue, it listed William Harmon in the masthead as “Barbecue Editor.”
The October 2005 North Carolina Historical Review (shown at left with a nice cover photograph from the North Carolina Collection) features an article by Pfeiffer University faculty member Michael D. Thompson entitled “‘Everything but the Squeal’: Pork as Culture in Eastern North Carolina.” The article contains a history of the consumption of pork in North Carolina and discusses the evolution of barbecue from a unheralded culinary staple to a celebrated tradition. Thompson closes with a call to fellow scholars to take barbecue from the roadside restaurant into the classroom:
Memories triggered by the smell of pork on the grill, debates over regional barbecue styles, and the introduction of newcomers to this historical southern food ensure that the traditions of eating and preparing pork will survive — in family-owned barbecue restaurants, in pork-centered festivals held throughout the region, and in the work of scholars who continue to explore the role of pork as a critical cultural marker for eastern North Carolina and for the South.
When the inevitable happens, and some university has the sense to offer a BBQ PhD, we just hope it’s a North Carolina school.