(by Monica Bouvier)
As far back as I can remember, our house in Anchorage, Alaska, was where family and friends flocked for holidays, birthday parties, and good old-fashioned get-togethers, specifically for my mother’s fierce and famous BBQ. She was known as Queen B. She put such a smackdown on her sauce, you’d swear your taste buds had died and gone to heaven, singing her praises with every bite. So many folks begged and pleaded for her to share the recipe, but she never would. Instead, she invited them to come visit. I thought I even heard the nurses talking about her sauce when she was giving birth to me.
My grandfather was a homesteader in Anchorage; he had the first minority-owned construction business at the time and helped to rebuild the city after the 1964 earthquake. (I used to wonder why he would get a birthday card from the mayor every year, no matter who it was.) My mother was divorced with five children when we arrived in 1965, and we never left the state.
(The fab five siblings)
Lots of friends who lived in town were willing to do anything to get their hands on a slab of my mother’s ribs and BBQ sauce. Yardwork, trash hauling, washing the car, cleaning the garage—whatever my mother needed, they would happily do. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I remember thinking: What is wrong with these folks? It’s just BBQ, people.
My mother is the oldest in her family clan of 11 siblings (13 if you include the two who died in infancy). I am the second oldest of my siblings, and the oldest girl. I’m sure my mother had high hopes for me taking the BBQ sauce recipe and doing something with it. But I was not much of a fan of the crowds that gathered for Mom’s BBQ—the noise, the squabbling. It wasn’t a legacy I looked forward to continuing, and I didn’t make any effort to learn the recipe.
All I remember about my mother’s BBQ parties was me having to clean the raw meat parts and “eating” smoke when the slabs needed to be checked, turned, or mopped during the long cooking process, then tackling the pile of dirty dishes and the sauce- splattered kitchen that needed to be cleaned after everyone left, when Mom went to her room. Lucky me. Growing up in the shadow of my mother’s BBQ adoration, I just wanted to escape.
My mother still makes her BBQ and sauce, albeit for a much smaller crowd these days. She lives in the same house, on her own, but a little older, weaker, and less able to keep up, she no longer holds family gatherings. She prefers her solitude and occasional visits from family and friends. As I am her caretaker now, checking on her daily, our connection has grown stronger. From early childhood, I've always had the mindset of caretaker or being a second mother to my younger siblings. My mother remarried, and when she and my stepfather went to work, I made sure everyone was fed, attended school, and did their homework. It wasn't until later I learned my mother had done the same thing with her siblings, and my grandmother as well. But my siblings and other family members help out whenever and wherever they can, even if it's just a phone call. It really is still a family affair.
Mom doesn't like anyone taking care of her. Years ago she was very sick from a rare form of meningitis, and during her rehabilitation, she had no choice in the matter—she had to listen to us and do what we told her to do. We joke now about how her stubbornness and independence actually helped her to get better faster, and it still gives her the strength and motivation to keep moving. She already knows that the day she can no longer take care of herself, she is moving in with me. Period.
We are both quite strong-willed, kind of stubborn and headstrong, take-charge kind of people. And don't get on our bad sides because you will hear a mouthful. Yet I am so not like my mother in many other ways. And that is said with the utmost love and respect. My mother is more of a traditionalist, and I am more of a mold-breaker. She may settle for what is and has always been, but I may ask why and want to know more. We do share the same sense of humor and taste in movies, and we love to travel. She loves to cook, and I love to go out to eat. She loves to work in the yard and garden; I'll hire someone to do that kind of work. She loves reading books, and I love to write. We are so different, but yet we are one and the same.
Due to the pandemic lockdown and spending so much time together, I was able to see the woman behind the mother mask. The vulnerable side, the funny side, the supportive side—the sides of her I missed when I was too busy eating BBQ smoke or fussing about the dirty kitchen.
I watch and listen as she reminisces about the days of old. About the good times in the kitchen mixing the sauce, at the grill mopping the slabs, and at the table with family and friends, honoring the memories of those who had passed. Those memories are priceless gifts that keep on giving. I can’t hold back the tears sometimes, but it’s in these moments when something clicks inside, and I get it. I know what my mother was putting into her BBQ sauce that made people go so crazy.
The recipe is simple, and so are the ingredients. But this ingredient is the key element. If it’s not added correctly, at the right time, in the right manner, the BBQ sauce will not have the long-standing effect on others I’ve been afforded the pleasure of witnessing. Sweet or sour, savory or spicy, this ingredient is unique to everyone and is the key to healing ourselves and each other from one generation to another.
My mother put her LOVE in every pot of BBQ sauce she made, and her LOVE is what coated the meat. It is her LOVE that everyone felt and enjoyed, and it’s her LOVE that still has them coming back for more, even today.
Just last week, I sat with my mother and wrote down the particulars of her recipe, so I have all the details myself. And as I shared with my siblings when they asked what took me so long, I said, “Better late than never.” I promise to honor my mother, her BBQ and her BBQ sauce, while she is here and even when she’s gone.
In the meantime, I’d love to take the opportunity to continue spreading her LOVE by sharing her BBQ sauce recipe here. I cannot guarantee your sauce will taste exactly like my mother’s because that one special ingredient is unique unto itself, and how it’s been cultivated makes all the difference.
It is time to reconnect, eat BBQ, and spread LOVE instead of Covid-19.
SuzQ's BBQ Sauce
2 bottles (20 oz. each) Heinz 57 Sauce
2 bottles (20 oz. each) French dressing
10 - 14 oz. French's yellow mustard
6 bay leaves
1 t. white vinegar
1 T. hot sauce, or to taste
optional: 1 c. honey or brown sugar
(and don't forget the special ingredient: LOVE)
Put Heinz 57 Sauce, French dressing, and bay leaves in a pot.
Pour the vinegar into one of the empty bottles and then add to the pot.
Place pot over over medium heat, and add the hot sauce gradually.
(The heat from the pot can disguise how weak or strong it is.)
Once the sauce starts to boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for several hours, periodically stirring and tasting.
Toward the end of cooking, add optional honey or brown sugar if you like a sweeter sauce.
Sauce should be used to mop BBQ meat, and leftovers can be frozen.