A cookbook, food memoir, and tribute to the author's mother, who managed in spite of poverty to create feasts from foraged greens, small game, and other lovingly prepared ingredients in the Deep South.
The book includes 75 recipes, which read like oral tradition even though they’re written down (one ingredient list includes both lard and luck.) The stories surrounding each meal are just as rich ... By turns grim and funny, he can describe the flavors of raccoon, possum, bear, even squirrel brains (cook them with scrambled eggs, 'to cut down on that metal taste,' his mother advises), making it clear that they’re desperation meals for people with no better options. He also recognizes how “blue-collar Southern cooks” use time and skill to transform humble ingredients into rapturous feasts. Most of the book’s recipes are gloriously tempting examples from that canon – hand-mixed biscuits swimming in sweet cinnamon-scented milk, ham and redeye gravy, pecan pie, cracklin’ cornbread, even creamed onions that sound simple but are harder than they look to cook to perfection ... the characters remain indelible, as when Bragg writes how he sometimes sees an old woman tottering along the roadside, stuffing poke salad greens into a burlap bag. He slows the car to make sure it’s not his mother. At times, it is.
The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table...is a collection of stories — wonderful, rollicking, poignant, sometimes hilarious tales about how generations of Bragg’s extended family survived from one meal to the next ... the reader can skip the recipes altogether and concentrate on the stories wrapped lovingly around them — and still get a cooking lesson, how Margaret Bragg made plain food, well-seasoned, taste like a preview of kingdom come.
Anyone who has tried to 'read' a cookbook will understand that a memoir full of recipes and frequent digressions on topics like the perfect tomato, the benefits of pokeweed and the value of a well-cooked possum will take some patience ... Readers may occasionally be tempted to skip over a recipe to more storytelling about his family and their adventures. But be sure to mark the pages on recipes of interest.The concept of a food memoir can be challenging and probably would not work in the hands of a less skilled storyteller. Those who thumb through cookbooks at length will probably sail through the recipe sections. And Bragg often uses the recipes to launch into another yarn. What he does best is present the memorable characters of his youth in a continuing narrative from one of his books to the next.