Despite my firm intentions to capitalize on the need to stay at home, I have not recently been accomplishing much. The world has been turned upside down and I'm finding it hard to stay focused on anything. On top of my own frazzled state, interruptions from distant family have greatly increased. They're all distant at this point—and that's harder than usually to take because in just one week we were supposed to have begun to gather most of them together here! The interruptions are most welcome and most treasured, but it's hard to work when every call, every text, every e-mail, every WhatsApp, every form of contact suddenly feels urgent.

I was at sixes and sevens all yesterday, but I made a concerted effort to have one finished task I could point to at the end of the day: I made barbecue sauce.

For years our favorite barbecue sauce was Jack Daniel's Original Old No. 7. But for months now I haven't been able to obtain it, and I became determined to make something similar of my own. Inspired by discovering the remains of a bottle of Scotch whiskey in our cupboard, I decided that yesterday would be the day. It was Cutty Sark, not Jack Daniel's, but I will hereby shock and alienate all aficionados by insisting that "whiskey is whiskey."

I found several "Jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce" recipes online, took what I judged to be the best of each one, added a few twists of my own, and cooked it up.

In testimony to my frazzled state, it took me two tries. I hadn't gotten very far on the first one when something interrupted, and it ended up burning on the stove, making an awful mess of the pan.

After some extensive clean up work, I was able to see Try #2 through to the end.

Oh, was it delicious! Yes, I do say so myself. I think that even if I do find the commercial kind again, I won't look back. This is 'way better. The flavors bring to mind—of all things—the description in C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Proposes a Toast of devil's wine made from "vintage Pharisee": Look at those fiery streaks that writhe and tangle in its dark heart, as if they were contending ... forever conjoined but not reconciled. The flavors mingle without blending. It's sweet and sour, salty and smoky, smooth and rich with a bit of fire. No one impression dominates; each takes its turn coming to the forefront.

Whiskey Barbecue Sauce

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 - 2 tbsp whiskey
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt

Put both garlic and onion through a garlic press. Add with whiskey to a medium saucepan and heat gently for about five minutes.

Combine remaining ingredients, mix well and add to saucepan. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Stir in remaining whiskey and simmer for another five minutes. Bottle when cool, and refrigerate.

Using the garlic press on both the garlic and the onion was my idea, and I think it works well. The sauce ended up silky, with no blending necessary.

Initially I resisted using ketchup, figuring that I ought to be able to make the sauce from tomato paste alone. But all the recipes I consulted used ketchup, and the clincher was that my tomato paste stock was low and we had lots of ketchup. Since ketchup is pretty much a staple around here, why not use it?

None of the online recipes call for smoked Spanish paprika and hot paprika; Liquid Smoke and bottled hot sauce seem popular. I used what I had hanging around, and am pleased with the result. I suspect there's a fair amount of flexibility here if you can't get the named ingredients. If Worcestershire sauce is unobtainable, for example, try a dab of anchovy paste or some fish sauce.


Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 20, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Edit
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The unintended consequence of this post is that I now understand that "at sixes and sevens" and "at sixes and nines" are not precisely synonymous. So, thank you!

Posted by Eric on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 8:05 am

And I'd never heard of "at sixes and nines," so I've learned something, too.

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 8:55 am

I don't know "at sixes and nines," but I grew up with "at sixes and sevens."
I'm pretty frazzled too, trying to teach my classes online and getting many messages from Gambian friends who are worried about me.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 11:20 am

How is the Gambia doing? We need to get this thing under control before it sweeps through the countries whose medical facilities are overstressed in the best of times.

Posted by SursumCorda on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 11:26 am

I'm afraid it might be too late. I got an e-mail from the director of Medair, a relief organization we support. He wrote how their team in the DR Congo had just celebrated releasing their last Ebola patient--a few days before the first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported for the country. Their advantage will be that they are used to plagues.

Posted by Stephan on Friday, March 27, 2020 at 5:06 pm

So far, Gambia has 4 cases, including one death. All had come from other countries. Flights from Europe stopped 10 days ago and now the airport is completely closed. Bademba almost got stranded in Nigeria, where he had been sent to a training workshop. (so he's now in a 14-day at-home quarantine.) There's no way to completely close the border with Senegal. The government is pushing social distancing with videos in a variety of local languages, but it's not clear how much effect that will have in rural areas.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Sunday, March 29, 2020 at 11:08 pm
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