In this time of uncertainty and quarantine, there is nothing like a little comfort food to provide a diversion.
And for those who like their comfort slowly roasted and smoked over a wood fire, Santa Fe-based master cookbook author Cheryl Alters Jamison is coming out with just the thing.
A four-time winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for her cookbooks, her 20th and latest, “Texas Q,” is due out this month. Original plans called for it to already be available, but the world situation pushed back the publication date, Jamison said.
“I look at cooking as comforting,” she said. “It’s great for you or your family. You feel like you’re accomplishing something positive.”
“Texas Q” expands on a topic she explored many years ago with her late husband, which won them their first Beard Award, for “Smoke & Spice,” published in 1994, which delved into the history of barbecue across the American South.
Given the nature of the book, Texas got one chapter, but that wasn’t enough, said Jamison, who is also the heart of the website excitedaboutcooking.com
“We needed to say something more on the topic,” she said. “Back then, we thought we were chronicling a dying art. It was slow, messy, it was outdoors. It was something people didn’t do a lot of in that era.”
But then it caught fire.
“People got more interested in real American cooking,” she said. “An interest in more rustic or authentic American cooking. It all coalesced in an amazing new interest in barbecue by the general public. It’s amazing to think back now, how scarce it was then.”
And before going any further, Jamison wants to make it clear that when she speaks of barbecuing, it is done with wood – or flavored coals – and slowly, preferably with indirect heat, as opposed to the open flame of gas and a grill, known as grilling. She has written several cookbooks dedicated to the latter and said it is a perfectly acceptable way to cook meat.
A barbecue, however, is something different.
“We’re talking slow-smoked, serious barbecue,” Jamison said. “Grilling became synonymous with barbecuing as a cooking technique, but is really a different animal in all respects. It was an event. A gathering. It started with people digging trenches and burning logs down to do the cooking. But with the move to suburbs and cities, you couldn’t dig up your backyard, so grills became a thing people had access to.”
Barbecuing, however, was meant for slow cooking large pieces of meat, such as whole hogs and sides of beef, she said.
It gradually evolved into a way of cooking smaller, but tougher, meats.
“That low, slow cooking tenderizes meat that can be tough as leather boots otherwise and adds so much flavor in the process of the cooking,” Jamison said. “You end up with something extremely tender. And you get the side benefit of the smoky flavor that comes from the wood.”
This new book not only gets into the history of Texas barbecue, but what it has evolved into.
“I refocused just on Texas,” she said. “One of the things we’ve seen happening in Texas is there is a very strong multicultural blending with newer cultures that have come into the state. Korean. Vietnamese. Tex Mex was always a staple of things, Tex Mex barbecue and chicken-fried steak.”
And a big focus of Texas barbecue used to be brisket, but there is so much more out there for people to experience, Jamison said.
“I wanted to give the reader a chance to look at the topic and look at where it is today,” she said. “It is a cookbook at its heart, but it’s a history of all of these. The heart of it is a cookbook so people can make these things at home.”
In addition to the meat recipes – which even include such things as hamburgers – “there are lots of side dishes and desserts,” she said. “I think this appeals to New Mexicans because it oozes its way over to our state. We like live fire cooking here.”