The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table by Rick Bragg is about a cook who never reached for a cookbook.
Here is a beautifully written memoir by a man who can’t cook very well – at least according to his mother. And that mother, Margaret Bragg, is the central figure in this culinary history from author Bragg, who is known for family stories (All over but the Shoutin’).
Bragg comes from a long line of adept cooks, and this story begins with his great-grandfather Jimmy Jim teaching Bragg’s grandmother Ava to cook when she was a newlywed. Other legendary family cooks make appearances, along with family legends of all kinds.
For Bragg, food and stories go hand in hand, and Margaret is not only the chief cook, she is also the chief storyteller. These accounts are more than entertainment; they are a way for people to survive hard times. We should all be so lucky to sit at the elbow of a great cook as they work and pass along family knowledge.
Bragg recently told the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) that Best Cook is not a cookbook. It’s about a narrative, it’s about food and people.
I can cook a mean biscuit, but I usually won’t if I can get some good store-bought ones. I make red eye gravy with ham and grits — the good kind. A chocolate pie sounds like something I could do.
I don’t have the patience my momma has, and I can’t make any of it taste like she does.
One of my favorite things she made us was fried pies — but she recently told my brother Sam and me that she never made that. She had forgotten. That was the reason to do this book.