The outdoor football feast popularly known as tailgating has expanded beyond stadium parking lots and that’s a good thing.
Unable to grow when 90,000-plus fans headed to the big game took up all the partying space, the big food and drink shindig morphed into something more democratic and accessible: the patio, the backyard, resorts, houseboats and even an outdoor Drive-In theater.
With antecedents dating back to the Civil War, this “oh-so-American” phenomenon combines the barbecue ritual with family picnics, old-fashioned cookouts and reunions into a new culinary culture incorporating some of the most creative food we have today, showcasing specialty items, sophisticated catering and much more.
Tailgating is growing at breakneck speed, mirroring the increased popularity of high school, college and professional football.
You haven’t really experienced “new” tailgating until you attend a gameday soiree at Abby Jackson’s Blackhawk Fly Fishing, a trophy trout resort on the banks of the wild Soque River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. Long before kickoff (Ms. Jackson is a good-natured, enthusiastic Georgia Bulldog fan), drinks and wines are served and the large picnic table is adorned with team colors of red and black.
The backdrop is nature in all its splendor.
Trout fishing will wait for another day.
The food is Abby’s interpretation of Southern gourmet: stuffed avocados, salsas, shrimp every which away, sweet potato biscuits, pork sliders, smoky, spiced baby back ribs, condiments galore, sausages, and a selection of desserts.
In the background is the game, on television or on your own device with ear plugs. “It’s like being at the game,” said Ms. Jackson, who calls her weekly gatherings ‘smokin hot tailgating’, “but there’s no need to hurry and get to seats before kickoff. Keep eating and drinking. Having fun is the only requirement.”
Abby, as she prefers to be addressed, wears many hats: charming hostess, gourmet cook and cookbook author, media celebrity and creator of her own sauces, pickles and salsa sold in markets under the Abby J’s brand. She develops her own recipes that are true to local vegetables and fruits. Her dishes are always original.
Emeril’s new tailgating television show (streaming) showcases cultural culinary diversity. Chef Emeril, who has captured the spirit of this seasonal feast, says “tailgating is competitive, just like football fans.” Abby Jackson, Georgia’s Tailgating Queen, doesn’t have to compete with anyone. Her concept she named “Smokin’ Hot tailgating,” evolved naturally. On Saturday’s during football season her version of this outdoor feast is celebrated in perfect harmony with nature.