Read this cookbook: “Cook & Tell: Recipes and Stories From Southern Kitchens” Edited by Johnathon Scott Barrett (Mercer University Press, $28)
By Wendell Brock
Savannah writer Johnathon Scott Barrett believes Southern food — and stories — go together like collards and cornbread. You can’t have one without the other.
In his new book, Barrett wants to tell you about his childhood friend who thought broccoli was purple. (If it didn’t come out of the family garden, the young man had likely never seen it.)
About the time Jimmy Carter read his children’s book, “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer” to a third-grade class in exchange for one of the teacher’s caramel cakes. (The teacher is Carter’s niece.)
Or about the high-school girl who was refused a piece of strawberry pie at Shoney’s by a waitress who told her she had “’mater lips.”
(To learn what ’mater lips are, you’ll have to buy Barrett’s book “Cook & Tell” or show up Saturday at The AJC Decatur Book Festival and ask the garrulous author to fill you in.)
The follow-up to his sweetly nostalgic food memoir, “Rise and Shine! A Southern Son’s Treasury of Food, Family, and Friends” (Mercy University Press, $27), Barrett’s latest effort is a talky collection of reminiscences and recipes, as told in their own words by the likes of Southern food writers Sandra Gutierrez, Damon Fowler, Virginia Willis and many others.
Barrett’s role, which he embraces with gleeful abandon, is to serve as a kind of emcee, introducing each story and embellishing and annotating with relish.
There are some real lulus here – like Gutierrez’s “Lost in Translation,” about the night she showed up at a North Carolina potluck with enough food for 20 people. (At the time, the fresh-faced immigrant from Guatemala didn’t know you were only supposed to bring just one dish.)
Or Gayle Morris’ “Newlywed Chicken and Dumplings,” about the day she made a pot of dumplings, placed them in a heavy crock she’d received as a wedding gift, got dressed up in a new outfit, then proceeded to drop the dish on the floor before she could present it to waiting family members. Oy vey!
Of course you can find Gutierrez’s recipe for Impossible Cake, Morris’ notorious dumplings, Fowler’s MaMa’s Pimento Cheese, Willis’ Old-Fashioned Beef Stew, a Shoney’s-inspired strawberry pie developed by Barrett, and many other anecdotal recipes.
(I’m dying to try Debra Brook’s Hot Shot, a condiment of tomatoes, onions, vinegar and a hot pepper — but just one chili now!)
At a time when political correctness is considered essential to the discussion of history, culture and foodways, it’s kind of startling to see a Southern white male so unfazed by politics and stereotypes.
A so-called “son of the South” and “Cracker Prince” who loves “Gone With the Wind” and “To Kill A Mockingbird,”” this bowtie-wearing seventh-generation Georgian is supremely comfortable in his own skin.
In Barrett’s world, friends and family who cook and tell are the best friends and family of all. You’ve been warned.
Note: Barrett appears at the The AJC Decatur Book Festival on Saturday from 3 to 3:45 p.m.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).