There are few things I like better than discovering new ideas. As an adventurous cook, encountering Carolina Mustard is a marvel for the senses and another tool for the home grilling arsenal. As an author in training, having a crazy new focus for my first book pop into my head on a long drive between The Black Canyon and Aspen is like finding a crisp tenner in an old coat pocket. Two days before pay-day. Ok, maybe even better than that.
My first American BBQ tasting was last weekend, in a sweet little playground of a town called Nederland. We had driven up to check out photo opportunities around the quirky mining museum, but this place is a confluence of madness. After happy snaps of rusting machinery and coiled ropes, aiming for that classic sepia shot, we decided to pay homage at the information centre. Boomshanka! Firstly, Nederland happens to be the home of the “Frozen Dead Guy Days”, a yearly festival inspired by…a frozen Grandpa. Bredo Morstoel was cryogenically frozen in 1989, and has been on ice ever since. He’s cocooned in dry ice in a Tuff Shed above the town, and each March a range of events are held to celebrate life, and ostensibly the vague possibility of his future reincarnation. These wintry fun times range from coffin races to a cryogenics workshop. That’s right, DIY immortality, what’s not to like? Unfortunately we’d missed the event by four months, the frozen turkey bowling wouldn’t be as effective on this midsummer scorcher.
Fortunately bizarre festival t-shirts were just a start, the kindly volunteer behind the counter suggested “The Carousel of Happiness”. Who could possibly resist? A 1910 wooden carousel had been purchased sans animals by a Vietnam Vet, who then spent 26 years learning to carve replacement figures. The experience is a delightful mix of creepy and delightful. You get to choose from over thirty different beasts to mount, from the first eerie carvings of mermaids and dolphins, to the more competently sculpted gorilla. Once you’ve strapped in (it’s the US, everyone needs a thrill stopper wrapped about their ample midriff) a huge old Wurlitzer Band Organ starts pumping out a jaunty tune, and slowly you accelerate. About now the nervous “I’m a big kid at heart, this will be fun any minute now” grimace slides into a genuine mirthful grin. Based on my voyeuristic viewing of the next group of riders, the facial expression half way through “Chatanooga Choo Choo” is 90% “wheeeeeeeeee”, and 10% “Wow, this is really seriously getting quite fast now”. One dollar per ride? Magic.
So buzzing like meerkats on amphetamines we decide on the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery for a stomach settler. Here you can get a beer taster in the form of a “Brewski”, literally a foot long chunk of ski, with five beer tasting glasses inserted. Second drawcard, I’ve never tasted American Barbecue. The beer was weak, but this was more than made up for by a “tasting” of BBQ sauces. And yes, of the six delicious blends, the Carolina Mustard was the star. As often seems to be the case with American cuisine, the most interesting new (to my kiwi taste buds) sensations are drawn not from molecular gastronomy, nor from classic French techniques. Instead just blitz five or six other sauces and pour on or baste. See the recipe at the end of this article. Simple, effective, wrong and yet right.
Travelling the back roads of this continent is bound to spring intermittent surprises, from ex-top-secret missile silos, to towns called Climax (haha, I kept every single one liner to myself, ever so proud). But it was a lightbulb moment on the drive between Gunnison and Aspen that rocked me a couple of days ago. I found an old copy of Steven King’s book on writing in a thrift store (charity shop…) a couple of weeks back. Steve taught me at a very young age, that the thoughts in a person’s head could be as interesting to read about as the actions that they performed as a result. And on the second read through of this lumpy explanation of his (and now my) craft, I began to worry that the central “idea” of my first book wasn’t really all that powerful. This thought sat in an uncomfortable place in my head, parked somewhere between “Do I tell my parents I love them enough?” and “Do I really REALLY need an iPad mini to write while I’m on the road?” Somehow, the easy comfort of being a passenger in an ever-changing landscape put my head in the right place for dramatic internal inspiration. Mr King had also explained that no author could really explain where the ideas came from. And this new idea, I have no idea how I came up with it. And once again I believe in magic. It certainly wasn’t the car corpses and mountain vistas that had been keeping my eyes entertained.
I’m so glad the world still has this ability to take me by surprise. I guess I try to frequently put myself in situations where I will discover new things, but it is always the unforeseen eye openers that have the most impact. At the moment I can’t share the big idea with you, that will have to wait until the publishing of my novel. But I can share the recipe for that delicious sauce. Enjoy!
Recipe for (South) Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce
1 Cup yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup wine or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar.
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons tomato sauce (ketchup)
Mix all, and ideally refrigerate 24 hours before use. Apparently it’s also deelish with corned beef and hash…