SENATOBIA – In 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto brought pigs to Mississippi.
They provided meat for his expeditionary force that was exploring the new world and was to cross the Mississippi River not far from here.
The cloven-hoof animals have never left.
They run rampant across the countryside in Mississippi and the rest of the South.
Their domesticated cousins await their fate as food on the plate, often after being slathered in sauce and slow-cooked in ovens still called “pits” after the way they were cooked in earthen troughs over hardwood coals in the 16th century.
Brought to New World via the Caribbean, the style of cooking called “barbacoa” will never leave, not the Memphis area anyway.
Kim Coleman says her Coleman’s Barbecue No. 9 in this town in north Mississippi is the last in the line of that included 186 across the Mid-South in the 1960s and 1970s.
The store uses the original recipe, Coleman said.
Her first cousin, Bobby Ferguson, operates a Coleman’s in–what else?–Hernando. He says his Coleman’s No. 43 also has a legitimate claim on the name.
His mother was sister to founder A.B. Coleman, just as Kim Coleman’s father was A.B.’s brother.
Eventually, Coleman dissolved the corporation after legal fights with franchisees, but “allowed these two stores to keep the name and recipe, when everyone else had to change the name and recipe,” Ferguson said.
Some friends and I stopped in at No. 9 recently and got a pulled-pork sandwich plate.
The meat, the beans, the slaw, the sauce were luscious, – all worthy of bragging about.
The establishment is stable, she said. Some of her workers have been there 20 years or more.
And the next generation is coming along in its own way.
One of her newest employees is Amber Humphrey who was recently sporting a Hogwart Alumni, and is hog wild about the Harry Potter novels, each of which she says she has read ten times.
Like any pit master worth her sauce, Kim Coleman is there “six days a week.”
She took over the store in 2010 from her brother, Gene, who had run it since 1999. Sales have tripled, she said.
Universal bragging rights are legitimized every May at the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from the Hernando de Soto Bridge.
If there had been any doubts about whether the championship is the pinnacle of such contests, famed food writer and humorist Calvin Trillin cleared smoke with his landmark piece in The New Yorker in 1985.
The championship is the feast for the annual Memphis in May International Festival.
Memphis in May replaced the old Cotton Carnival, a racially segregated institution. And so now it’s not Cotton is King. It’s Pork is Potentate.
The Memphis contest draws heavily from the tri-state area, though one team made it all the way from New York City this year.
Purveyors of other styles of barbecue no doubt avoid the competition.
Practitioners of Texas beef and North Carolina vinegar-based barbecue likely root, hog and probably die in Memphis.
Kim Coleman is not ready to turn loose of her heritage. She’s looking down the road with hopes of opening another Coleman’s a little way south on I-55 as she continues to chase the pig.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at email@example.com or (601) 364-1016.
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