Wednesday night I’m in charge of barbecue chicken at my in-laws, the Cochenour’s (coke-n-hour) in McKeesport, Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania; twelve miles down the Monongahela River from downtown Pittsburgh.
Since we’re hitting the road from Chatham County, N.C. at 8am on Wednesday I made the sauce yesterday. It’s called Tidmore’s, a traditional recipe from Galax, VA, a town of 6000 people in the Blue Ridge mountains where my mother is from. I learned it from Charles Bolt, husband of my first cousin Pat Hampton Bolt. Every time I make it, as instructed by Charles, I write “Tidmore’s sauce” on a piece of masking tape on the side of the jug.
Cousin Pat is closer to my mother’s age than mine. Her father, Sam Hampton, my mother’s brother, is my namesake. He and his wife Thelma were more like beloved grandparents than my uncle and aunt. My grandfather and his brother were judges in the early years of the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention in Galax.
Pat and Charles went to Galax High School in the late 1950s. One of their classmates was Ray Roberts who went on to be a legendary literary editor in New York. He was Thomas Pynchon’s longtime editor. In the Galax High yearbook one year, the picture above Ray’s name is not him and his picture is above somebody else’s name. You can’t make that up.
Of course nobody has ever seen Pynchon in public. There are people who claim they heard his voice on the phone, but they weren’t sure it wasn’t somebody posing. At one point there were some who thought Ray Roberts was Pynchon, but that was cleared up, as far as we know. Ray passed away last year so we’ll await any new Pynchon books and see.
I have a good friend who worked for Ray at Viking for a couple of years. He said that Ray was one of the most laid back bosses you could ever have. But every once in a while, under the right conditions, Ray would “go Galax on you.” I know what that means.
There’s a good chance Ray Roberts enjoyed Tidmore’s sauce. He may have passed it on to Pynchon. Tidmore’s might have inspired Mason and Dixon. You never know.
Like all good barbecue sauces Tidmore’s is vinegar based. It calls for a bottle of ketchup (a controversial ingredient where I grew up in eastern N.C. where the sauce is clear), a cup of bourbon, two sticks of butter, hot banana pepper juice, plenty of cayenne and black pepper, garlic, brown sugar, and Worcestershire. You cook it for an hour. It’s the best sauce I’ve ever cooked. Tidmore knew what he was doing.
Savoring it, I think I’m only one or two degrees away from both the Coo Coo Bird and Gravity’s Rainbow.