- Title: The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table
- Author: Rick Bragg
- Publication Year: 2018
- Format: Audiobook
- Rating: 4.5 stars
- Synopsis: Margaret Bragg does not own a single cookbook. She measures in “dabs” and “smidgens” and “tads” and “you know, hon, just some.” She cannot be pinned down on how long to bake corn bread (“about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mysteries of your oven”). Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. But she can tell you the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes, corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, chicken and dressing, biscuits and butter rolls. Many of her recipes, recorded here for the first time, pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next. In The Best Cook in the World,Rick Bragg finally preserves his heritage by telling the stories that framed his mother’s cooking and education, from childhood into old age. Because good food always has a good story, and a recipe, writes Bragg, is a story like anything else.
I like to say “I was born in the South, but I’m not a product of the South.” So I know good food but I am also at a distance where I can easily detach and see its flaws. So when I read books like this that viscerally remind me of my roots and of my family, there’s a tendency to feel conflicted. But thankfully, this book was full of the good food and family and left the white supremacy in the freezer to unpack another day.
I’ve enjoyed Rick Bragg’s books since they were assigned in my journalism program. So when I saw he was writing a memoir/cookbook about his family, I knew I’d eventually read it. (If only because after a year in DC I’ve yet to find any mac n’ cheese or biscuits that are worth a damn.)
What I got when listening was major deja vu. I had so many moments of “are you sure you’re not talkin’ about my own grandma?” in the first 3 chapters that I stopped keeping track. He captures the personality of the matriarchs in his family with such skill that it’s like I knew them in the end. You can hear his momma piping up when he asks “dumb” questions about the recipes she never wrote down for herself. Even the recipes themselves are infused with their voices.
With the recipes comes a memoir of a poor white family living and cooking their way through the 1900s. Bragg details a little of the wider world, with snippets of “the black diner on the other side of the tracks was also serving up the same food,” but his focus is what he knows: the stories of his family, in a sort of time capsule.
This is a memoir of his family, and without meaning, to it’s a memoir of the South. But only the good parts. The hospitality and the unpretentious charm. There’s this feeling of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” which sounds quaint – but only if you don’t look too hard.
All of that to say is I’ll be putting it in the hands of my mother and aunts as soon as I can. And I need to bake some biscuits – stat!
Do you love audiobooks or want to give them a try in the new year? I’m helping a local bookstore give away a 3-month subscription to Libro.FM over on my Instagram.
Libro.FM is an audiobook platform that, for the same cost as Audible, lets you support your local bookstore when you buy audiobooks. In this Year of Indies, why wouldn’t you want to support your own indie? So whether you’re an audio novice looking to try something new in 2019 or an audiobook obsessive like me, this would give you 3 months to potentially find a new favorite book!
HOW TO ENTER! 📚
• Follow me on Instagram ⭐️
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