Saturday, May 30, 2009
Spivey Brothers Barbecue
Thinking of Kansas City and New Orleans and other cities known for spicy food as well as jazz, I concocted some barbecue baked beans a few nights ago for friends, creating a sauce on the fly from whatever was handy. They were a success (just as often not, when improvised). But if I weren't so lazy about it, I might could bake up some serious beans...
My mother's family was named Spivey. Her ancestors generations back had been plantation and slave owners but by Mom's time they were minor farmers in southcentral Georgia. She had a slew of brothers, many of whom left the farm to settle (for reasons I've forgotten) in Shreveport, Louisiana, followed eventually by Granny and Granddaddy too.
One thing the guys took with them was the Spivey love (and recipe) for barbecue, nurtured I suppose by the farm's mysterious smokehouse shed. Though the brothers held regular jobs in Shreveport, they also opened a small barbecue joint and took turns running the day-to-day operation: brewing up sauce, making amazing hot sausage, cooking the various meats, fixing heaping plates of barbecue. The "Spivey Brothers" shop became a local hit, and soon the guys were bottling and selling their popular sauce--which packed some serious heat but kept a bit of sweet there too--out of the shop at first, but then straight to Shreveport food stores, and slowly spreading out across the wider area too.
By the mid-Fifties, Spivey Brothers Barbecue Sauce was available throughout most of Louisiana. The shop was still there, but the volume of wholesale business would soon require a move to a big sauce-making plant. The brothers had also added a hot red-pepper sauce that was starting to challenge Louisiana-mainstay Tabasco (which had not yet become the worldwide phenomenon it is today). I remember riding with Granddaddy in a small silver-metal truck, delivering the sauces to stores from northwest Louisiana on down to Cajun Country.
By the early Sixties, the business had expanded further eastward, becoming a small Southeast Region success. But like many small businesses, Spivey Brothers got in debt trying to get too big too fast (by then my parents had some money invested in them too); and when Kraft Foods came sniffing around, the best financial decision--taken with much regret--was to sell the sauce business to Kraft. The brothers signed documents promising not to relaunch and never to manufacture or sell their barbecue sauce again.
This should be where the story gets even bigger, right? Kraft spreading the Spivey name across the nation? Sadly no--instead the conglomerate just killed the Spivey product line, eliminating the competition completely. I fantasized that maybe Kraft's own sauce would take on a hotter Spivey Brothers tinge, but no chance; the Kraft brand sauces have always been too sweet for my taste, at least until recently. (Present-day barbecue fans may be dictating a wider choice of heat; I haven't checked.)
And so Spivey Brothers Barbecue Sauce was lost to the world...
Well, not completely. Some of my Spivey cousins have kept the original recipe alive; and I have Mom's youngest brother Bobby's partly handwritten directions--makes serious stuff, nearly three gallons of sauce at a time, uses one good ol' Southern source for sugar (bottles of Coca-Cola!), might curl your toes and spice up your nights if you ever got to sample it...
Sorry, can't tell you any more. My sauce-singed lips are sealed.