I have learned much while putting together these recipes—particularly when attempting to recall things that occurred half a century or more earlier. Sometimes, it’s difficult, as it was with this recipe. I could not recall if the ribs that I had enjoyed so much had been beef or pork. I was rather certain that they had been pork because I do remember their size—being small, about 5-6 inches long. In searching recipes and how grocery stores market spareribs, I have discovered the popular choice of meat for this dish in those days appears to have been pork. And when I saw the size of beef short ribs being showcased in local stores, it confirmed that those I had enjoyed couldn’t have been beef, but things do change. Today beef ribs are very much in and have become more popular than ever.
Not a single recipe for ribs can be found in the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cook Book until the (1978) 12th edition, which included one for BBQ Spareribs for pork. This is more than quarter century after I had first tasted them, which can only mean baking ribs of any kind was not popular here. Perhaps their lack of being included in the 175thAnniversary Fredericksburg Heritage Cookbook confirms that. And it might explain why we did not have these very often and perhaps, I remembered them only once. This recipe was in my mom’s handwriting and consumed nearly 3 pages of a small spiral notebook. Unfortunately, it had no date, and her source remains unknown. Typically, she would have noted that.
She so loved to cook for us just as her mother had done at her boarding house and the Central Hotel. Yet, remarkably, not many recipes were handed down from one generation to the other. I did discover that my mother and my oldest sister shared numerous recipes. Jeanette loved to cook, was quite creative, and set a beautiful table. Being single limited her daily cooking opportunities, but when she hosted dinners, whether with family, friends, or her university faculty members, the finest China was used, the silverware placed with great care, and her finest table linens indicated that this meal would be scrumptious and accompanied with good conversation. Her choice of dinner would never have been ribs.
Baking ribs at low heat appears to be a must. Some suggest no more than 275ºF and slow, even for 2 to 3 hours is thought essential to the secret of fall-off-the-bone oven-baked ribs. It seems all one needs is time. In Texas, it is said that good beef ribs are the secret handshake between experienced grillers. They are the scrap bones from trimming rib-eye steaks, but have managed to maintain a cool, cultlike obscurity, despite pork ribs hogging most of the attention. Some have written that even if perhaps the meat does not fall of the bone or requires a toothy tug, beef is still the preferred choice. Some purists even contend that their flavor should remain relatively unadorned by spicy rubs or sticky sauces because only when served with no more than a vinegary dipping sauce are ribs truly allowed to showcase their incredible beefy flavor.
Within the USA, BBQ ribs are believed to have been invented in 1830 by Skilton Dennis in Ayden, North Carolina, but then there is a lot of competition and hurt feelings if one digs too deeply on who was first. Obviously, they have been around a long, long time. Closer to home, and in Texas, an American with German roots, William J. Moon, gets the nod when he opened his BBQ joint, Southside Market & Barbeque, in Elgin, TX, in 1882. There is very little known of him today. He eventually sold and new owners have grown his business from a one-man butcher shop to a must-visit destination. That still leaves me one thing I could add to my bucket list, but Cooper’s in Llano is closer.
In Fredericksburg’s olden days, especially on Sundays, one could find someone around town making BBQ and selling it. The old Sunnyside Tavern had a small BBQ pit, and I am certain that if one did a survey, there would be more found scattered around town. We generally favored Emil Birck’s BBQ. In the late ‘50s it was convenient for my mother to have me pick up a small portion of brisket for Sunday dinner. We never bought the ribs. They never even crossed our minds.
To ensure good tasting ribs please do not neglect an indispensable step after cooking: letting them rest, with the door of the oven opened. Omitting this step will only ensure that the meat will be tough and dry. What happens during “resting” is that juices for the center of the meat, no matter how narrow of a strip of meat there might be left on a rib, distributes juices from their centers outward so that the outer parts regain their tenderness. So, in other words, the juices are absorbed back into the meat from which they were expelled. This takes a while. So be patient. It is a very important step! There isn’t generally a lot of meat on a rib any way. So, allow it to reabsorb what it can.
Nowadays beef ribs have grown in popularity and gone are the days of frugality. Some have an enormous amount of meat now deliberately left on each bone. Those I remember didn’t seem to have so much, but sufficient. My mom baked them in a wood-fired oven. There was something challenging in gnawing away right up to the bone. A rib dinner just could again become a family tradition. A platter heaped with them can make a remarkable center piece at any gathering. Simple and memorable, served with ears of roasted corn on the cob and green beans and fresh garden tomatoes. Wash your hands and tie on a large napkin — both will come in handy.
3 to 4 pounds beef spareribs
1 large onion – thinly sliced, not peeled.
1 lemon – thinly sliced
For Basting Sauce:
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp Gebhardt’s Chili Powder
1 tbsp salt
5 dashes Tabasco Sauce
1 ½ cup water
Salt ribs and arrange in a shallow roasting pan, meat side up.
Roast ribs at 450ºF for about 30 minutes. *
Drain excess fat.
Top each rib with sliced lemon and onion.
Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil, then pour over the ribs.
Lower temperature to 350ºF.
Bake for 1 ½ hour, basting ribs every 15 minutes.
If remaining sauce becomes too thin, add water.
Serve on a warm platter.
*These temperatures are rather high and the ribs cooked fast—perhaps written for cooking with a wooden stove. We recommend 275ºF for 1 ½ hours and allowing for 1 ¾ hours for them to rest.