Thursday, September 02, 2004

Ma Mae: Over on the Yahoo! Groups Good Eats forum, Susan posted this old post of Alton Brown's from his website. It's from 2001. I post it here for you.

Last week "the big one" finally caught up with my grandmother. Good Eats fans may remember Ma Mae from a show called "And the Dough Also Rises" wherein she and I staged a biscuit bakeoff which she won.

Ma Mae wasn’t a great cook. Her batterie de cuisine was humble. The highlight of her culinary library was a paperback published by the electric company in 1947. Her oven cooked a hundred degrees hot. She didn’t even own a decent knife. And yet, her food was the epitome of good eats. Her chicken and dumplings, greens and cornbread were without equals. Her cobblers were definitive. Her biscuits…the stuff of legend. She learned to make these from her mother and grandmother. She didn’t tinker with the dishes nor did she dissect them or ponder their inner workings. She just cooked. She thought my own Frankensteinian desire to understand food was a little on the silly side.

The first thing I did when I got to her house was greedily seize the small wooden recipe box that had sat on the counter my entire life. Upon inspection, this ancient codex proved disappointing. There were gobs of recipes written in her smooth hand, but they were all the stuff of gossip…Mary Sues Marshmallow Salad…Gertrude's Oatmeal divinity, etc. The real treasures were nowhere to be found and that made sense. She knew those recipes and had no reason to write them down. It had been my duty to learn them from her and I hadn’t taken the time. In her last years I’d been too busy to visit much, too preoccupied with peeling away the mysteries of egg proteins and figuring out why toast burns. In short, I’d missed the whole stinkin’ point. When I left her house after the funeral I took Ma Mae’s favorite cooking tool, her grandmother’s cast iron skillet. I understand this vessel, the particulars of its metallurgy, how heat moves through its crystalline matrix. But I’ll never be able to coax the old magic from it and for that I am very sorry.

This is a cautionary tale kids, and I hope you’ll take heed. In the end, cooking isn’t about understanding it’s about connecting. Food is the best way to keep those we must lose. So put down that glossy cookbook, put down that fancy gadget and get thee to grandmother’s house. Or go cook with your dad, your aunt, your sister, your mom. Cook and learn and share while you can.

End of lecture.

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