The Best Cook in the World

The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Mamma’s Table by Rick Bragg, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2018

I have always enjoyed cookbooks that told stories and stories that involved recipes.  I’m not quite sure which one this is except it’s one of the best.  Rick Bragg is a consummate storyteller and with his tales from his “Momma’s table” he introduces us to some serious lessons in downhome southern cooking.  But more than that, even as much as this book deals with food, it is the incredible richness in the telling of Margaret and the mountains of food she cooked, the people she cooked it for, and how she came to learn the secret of “cooking with iron” from childhood up that gifts the reader with the history and heart of a people, a culture, and a philosophy of life grown from necessity and love.

The cooking history starts with a young man going up into the Georgia mountains near the Tennessee line to fetch his daddy home to teach his 16-year-old bride how to cook because he was about to starve to death. Jimmie Jim, the father, our author’s great grandfather, had been hiding out from the law for years. Hearing that nobody missed the stranger who had been passing through years before and there was no ‘paper’ on him, the old mountain man came back to teach Ava, a hard-headed Pentecostal teenager, how to feed her young husband.

And ladies and gentlemen, that’s just the beginning, starting with a pig stolen and butchered in the night so that a proper breakfast of pinto beans, hambone, creamed onions and buttered boiled potatoes could be had along with slaw and cornbread.  Each of the cooking lessons and 74 recipes in this book comes with a telling as tasty as the meals they offer to provide.

The recipes are organized to make up complete meals and they come with people who will stay with you as friends, making your life just that much more flavorful than it would have been otherwise. This book is a keeper!  Find out more about Rick and the stories he has to share at Rick Bragg

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