Heartfelt, often hilarious stories from an Alabama kitchen, a place from which issue wondrous remembrances and wondrous foods alike.
Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Bragg (My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South, 2015, etc.) matches the tales he assembled about his father in The Prince of Frogtown (2008) with an equally rough-and-tumble collection of folk wisdom served up courtesy of his mother, who “cooked for people she’d have just as soon poisoned, and for the loves of her life.” There’s an aching nostalgia throughout, not just for years gone, but also for a way of life that seems to have faded away, a Southernism of which “our food may be the best part left.” It’s a food that African-Americans call “soul food” because it transcends bodily pain and torment and, Bragg writes, offers “a richness for a people without riches.” Over the course of this long narrative, the author’s mother turns over the stage to other relatives, and webs of stories are spun, to say nothing of well-observed notes on old-fashioned Southern foodways: raccoon is stinky, snapping turtle is sometimes eaten, “but that, too, is complicated,” and tomatoes are to be cherished if you can find one that tastes like a tomato, to say nothing of a chicken that tastes like a chicken. Bragg’s mother is a worthy guide throughout, unyielding in her judgment: “Use brown eggs when you can get ’em,” she warns. “They’re more like real eggs.” In this inauthentic world, there’s nothing like some comfort food: greens, grits with just a little hint of cheese, fried chicken, and black-eyed peas—not to mention ham and redeye gravy (“smoked ham steaks can be used as a shortcut, if you are a Philistine”), government cheese, fried bologna sandwiches, and fried okra (not battered, since it “defeats the purpose of fresh food”).
Affectionate, funny, and beautifully written: a book for every fan of real food.