Southerners love to stand around a fire.  This evidenced by the fact that we are probably the only breed of modern era people to purposefully fashion a metal drum into an upright vessel and call it a “fire barrel”.  We are so serious about it, we actually take great lengths to cut out holes near the bottom to feed rebar through to support the burning wood (and whatever else deemed safe enough to be fed into said fire barrel – note: consumption of canned beer expands this criteria) and a portal in the bottom so coals can be removed.

I like to think that this harkens back to our Neanderthal ancestors who simply had to maintain the fire because restarting could prove near impossible and who also had to guard it from neighboring Neanderthals who might try to take the fire.  It’s instinctual, you see.

Another trait ingrained in us is the need to incorporate food into any and all of our activities, including funerals, moving and non-religious holidays.  The combination of these two instincts has created a specific style of entertaining wherein we simply stand around a fire or other heated cooking apparatus and, well… eat.

Boiled peanuts, fried fish, barbequed hogs (notice the ribs never make it to the table – they’ve all been eaten at the pit), roasted oysters, steamed crabs and all tailgating fares are just a few examples of this phenomenon.

After spending some time in upstate New York, I’ve developed a theory.  I think one of us married an Italian and somehow ended up in Binghamton, NY and created something called Spiedies.  Native specifically to Binghamton, spiedies are marinated cubes of meat grilled on a skewer and served in a crusty roll or slice of bread (hot dog style) without condiments.  If you think about it, Spiedies are the perfect specimen of Fire Barrel Fare.  They are basic, rustic, can be cooked on a wire coat hanger, easy and able to be consumed onsite.

Akin to the Italian Spiedini, Spiedies (pronounced “speedies”) are chunks of chicken (most common), pork, beef or lamb (traditional) marinated in a mixture of oil, vinegar and herbs overnight (think Greek dressing), skewered, grilled and served with bread. The bread is used as a sort of mitt to pull the meat off the skewer.

So, when the weather cools off giving you the excuse to have your first fire barrel of the season, give them a shot. You can buy the marinade online from Lupo’s Spiedies in upstate New York or do what I’ve always done and marinate the meat (I like chicken best) in a good Greek vinaigrette overnight.

And if your friends balk at eating some Eyetalian Yankee food, tell them we’re sure this stand-around-the-fire dish MUST have Southern roots.

Learn more about Spiedies and order marinade at Lupo’s Spiedies online at http://www.spiedies.com/index.php

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Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a contributing writer for the Food & Drink section and is currently working on her first cookbook. Mandy is an award winning recipe writer and judges regional cook-offs and other culinary contests.

“I'm just a gal that likes food. Of course I like to eat, but what I've discovered about myself over the years is that there are more ways for me to enjoy food than just eating it. I like to shop for it, read about it, cook it, entertain with it and write about it. And when it's really good, sometimes I'm tempted to throw it on the floor and roll in it."