Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys into the Southern Psyche by Wilber W. Caldwell (review)

Searching for the Dixie Barbecue by Wilber W. Caldwell (Pineapple Press, Inc., 2005)

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Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys into the Southern Psyche by Wilber W. Caldwell (review)

by John Shelton Reed
Southern Cultures, Vol. 13, No. 2: Photography

Pineapple Press, Inc., 2005

There aren’t all that many books I wish I’d written, but this is one of them. Wilber “Pete” Caldwell, who lives in Gilmer County, Georgia, and has written on subjects as diverse as public architecture and cynicism, turns his attention here to barbecue, and he obviously had a really good time writing this book.

He begins with a brief essay on the history of pit-cooked meat from Prometheus onward, but concludes that barbecue is an American—specifically, a southern—invention if only because most southerners believe that barbecue isn’t barbecue if it’s not called barbecue. Bringing in Prometheus (and the Iliad, and Brillat-Savarin) reveals his learning—worn lightly, thank goodness, since nothing could be more dreary than a pedantic treatment of this subject, except maybe a postmodern one. (In one instance, alas, the learning is deployed carelessly: “Harleian” is not the writer of a medieval cookbook but the name of the British Library collection that includes it.) (Just showing off.)