Our brothers and sisters from the South have a way with words.
In their language and in their writings.
Witness the original descriptions in Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg’s best-selling memoir, The Best Cook In The World … Tales From … My Momma’s Table.
Researching his richly entertaining memoir about his Momma Margaret, 81, Rick asked about some of the measurements for the seventy-four recipes he’s included, along with her vivid remembrances about long-favorite dishes, many pre-dating the Civil War.
How does she measure?
With “dabs … smidgens … pinches … tads … oh, just some, hun.”
When Rick wonders, “How much flour did you use for the biscuits,” she shrugs, “Enough.”
Admits never owning or looking at a cookbook.
“The craft and ingredients were locked inside her, if I wanted to capture those recipes for the generations to come, I would have to tell the story of a cooking education, to walk with her skillet by skillet and pan by pan. But even if you don’t know my Momma, expect her to remember everything that happened from her rural Alabama kitchen. Enraptured, you listen to her stories.”
The Braggs hail from the Appalachian region of northeastern Alabama, not far from the village of Possum Trot.
And, yes, cooking possum is among the surprises Margaret lays out on her family table with her famous biscuits.
“A person can’t cook from a book,” she claims. “A person can’t cook from numbers.” Rick explains to an interviewer that she insists a cook can’t just read ingredients, temperatures and times, and do the magic she can do with an ancient scorched pot. She cooked by instinct and memory …
Here and there are her versions with pinto beans with ham bone; cracklin’ cornbread; baked sweet potatoes; baked hog jowl; chicken roasted in cider with carrots, turnips, and onions; beef short ribs, potatoes, and onions; pan-roasted pig’s feet (with homemade barbecue sauce); meat loaf; Sis’s chicken and dressing; spareribs stewed in butter beans; buttered grits with a touch of cheese; turtle soup; grilled cheese sandwiches with pear preserves or muscadine jelly.
Also: the immaculate cheeseburger; hush puppies; barbecued pork chops and ham slices; deviled eggs (brown eggs are best); roast turkey; fried green tomatoes; toasted coconut pie; pineapple upside-down cake; buttermilk pie; sweet potato pie; sweet potato and blackberry cobblers, and more.
Her cooking credo promised that food must taste good. “And by tasting good” she liked punchy doses of fatback drippings, lard, bacon grease, cracklin’ meat and such.
Rick grew up eating indigenous foods like squirrel brains with scrambled eggs, and Monkey on a String (barbecued rag bologna sandwich dressed with shredded purple cabbage slaw), along with dishes and recipes loaded with Crisco.
Rick’s prose are fresh and enticing. We have followed his writings from the long ago in his books and features when he was the Atlanta bureau chief of The New York Times.
What better than to relax with Rick over a good table inspired by Margaret’s favorites, and listen to him spin stories of the ghosts in Margaret’s past and their life together?
Rick and Margaret are People You Should Know.