The Best Cook in the World

The Best Cook in the World

by Rick Bragg

Overview: 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.

Deanna Boe (02/26/19): To quote the book cover: This is a “delectable, rollicking food memoir, cookbook, and loving tribute to a region and a vanishing history, and, especially to his extraordinary mother.” Rick has talked about his family, especially his mother, in his previous books, but this one shows the exalted esteem he holds his mother. She is not a highly educated woman, but her intellect shines through in his writing about her, especially her cooking and how she kept her three sons amply nourished with the very little that she had. All this was achieved with recipes she had learned over the years, some even predated the Civil War. Is it any wonder she didn’t have anything written down for Rick to write about? He had to follow her around with a notebook in hand asking just how she did this or that. Her answers weren’t like we usually think when talking about recipes. A little dab of this or a little dab of that just wouldn’t cut it if we wanted it to turn out right!

Interestingly enough, this book isn’t just about his mother and her cooking. He brings to light how his grandmother learned to cook from his great-grandfather, which makes for a very interesting tale. Each chapter/section features other relatives and stories to go along with them. Rick can catch and hold your attention like few others. He is a true and great Southern writer! The recipes are fun to read, just don’t know about all that lard!
Rating: ****

Faith Bowers (10/25/18): What can I say? If you love cooking and love to read, which are my two hobbies, then you might enjoy this book as much as I did. Rick Bragg is from Alabama near the Georgia border. His aunts and mother are all excellent southern style cooks who learned from their mother Ava who learned from their patriarchal grandfather. The stories span three generations of families who love to garden, cook and eat. The recipes are laden with pig and butter so I probably will not try too many of them but the recipes opened up a different world of cooking, all of it excellent. The only part that was a little slow were the last 50 pages because it was no longer history but pretty modern day and so the stories are not as interesting to me. The rest of the book is great.
Rating: ****

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