Barbecue, not gumbo, rules in Texas and North Carolina. The two states also share another famous signature – that of American writer William Sidney Porter. Known to most by his pseudonym O. Henry, the author of The Gift of the Magi spent nearly half his life in these two states. So when it comes to choosing a gumbo, the barbecue flavor of youth rules with a “surprise” ingredient as a nod to his surprise endings.
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, Porter wrote more than 400 short stories. As a young man with a persistent cough, he abandoned his pharmacist job in North Carolina in 1882 for ranch hand work with family friends in LaSalle County, Texas. After that, he moved on to Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
No doubt William Sidney Porter tasted plenty of beef barbecue working on a ranch for two years, plus living in Austin. After all, barbecue goes back to Hernando DeSoto in 1540 when the Chickasaw Indians treated him to a feast of pork barbacoa near what is now Tupelo, Mississippi. Surely, then, Porter’s younger days in North Carolina introduced him to pulled pork barbecue.
For this American writer, I recommend a barbecue gumbo recipe from Saveur. The surprise ingredient – Louisiana Hot Sauce – is reminiscent of his short stay in New Orleans, where he hid from the law while writing for two newspapers. (He really needed a pen name.)
New Orleans legend has it that Porter chose his pseudonym at Tujague’s Bar on Decatur Street in 1896 when a patron ordering a drink called out, “Oh, Henry, another of the same!”
Texas and North Carolina both honor O. Henry, each in its own fashion. In North Carolina,
fans leave $1.87 on his grave, symbolic of his Christmas love story, the Gift of the Magi. In Texas, fans can visit two historic residences. The one in Austin is a museum and the site the wacky, wonderful O. Henry Pun Off World Championship, now in its 40th year. To view a really, really clever You Tube O. Henry Pun-Off winner, click here.