Special Sauce: Rick Bragg on Why Cooks Are the High Priests of Good Living

[Photograph: Michael Lionstar. Pie photograph: Vicky Wasik]

On this week's episode of Special Sauce, the Pulitzer Prize–winning but ridiculously down-to-earth Rick Bragg digs deep into his mom, the subject of his latest book, The Best Cook in the World.

For one thing, Bragg's mother was not in the least interested in trendsetting: "Well, the first time she ever heard the term 'farm-to-table,' the puzzled look on her face—like, 'Well, how else are they gonna do it?...' They had it back in her day, too. They called it a flatbed truck."

Bragg's mother wasn't initially keen on the idea of a book about her cooking. "Well, it wasn't that she didn't so much like the idea of telling the stories of her food. She didn't like the ego it would require to call it The Best Cook in the World.... When I told her she said, 'What would you even call it?' And I told her the title, and she said, 'I wasn't even the best cook that lived on our road.' And I said, 'Well, that may be true, but calling it The Third Best Cook on Roy Webb Road don't sing.' So here we are." But a diagnosis of cancer and the ensuing years of treatment helped break down his mother's reluctance, and strengthened Bragg's own resolve: "I began to think about what would be lost, but I did not want to imagine a world without my momma in it.... I would not do this when my momma was gone, I just couldn't bear to do it. I had to do it while she was looking me in the face."

Did Bragg's mother, who spent many years working in kitchens of all kinds, including restaurant kitchens, consider herself a chef? "She did, but she.... The word 'chef,' and believe me, I understand the culture, and I understand the hierarchy. I mean, they insist on being called 'Chef' if they're a chef, and I get it, and I understand the importance. But to her, she went about it with the same blue-collar notion that she went about everything else, and she saw it as the best thing that she could do...with the limited resources she had, for the people she loved. Some people sew, some people kill themselves in a factory. My momma cooked."

And, he said, it was both the only thing she thought she could do well and a marker of prestige. "I never will forget her telling me, 'Your Aunt Jo can dance, and your Aunt Juanita can climb a tree like a man. But all I could ever do was cook.' And she said that not with any...in any kind of self-pitying way, but with a great deal of fierce pride. A cook holds an almost...and it's not just my culture, it holds an almost magical place in the eyes of, especially, working folks, and I've seen it in the Dominican Republic, seen it in Cuba, seen it in Miami and the Cuban community there, seen it in places all over the world. The cook is kinda like a high priest of good living."

There's truth and magic at work when Bragg talks about his mother and her cooking. Listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

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Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats' podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.

Rick Bragg: Well the first time she ever heard the term farm-to-table, the puzzled look on her face like, "Well how else are they gonna do it? I mean how else are you going to do ..." ... They had it back in her day too. They called it a flatbed truck.

EL: This week we are back with the great Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg, the author of The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Kitchen. So first off, I will tell you that if I wrote a similar book, it might be called The Worst Cook in the World: Tales from My Mother's Totally Uninterested Palate.

RB: Well my mom didn't like the ... She didn't like it. She didn't like the idea ... Well it wasn't that she didn't so much like the idea of telling the stories of her food. She didn't like the ego it would require to call it the best cook in the world and she said ... When I told her she said, "What would you even call it?" And I told her the title and she said, "I wasn't even the best cook that lived on our road." And I said, "Well that may be true, but calling it the third best cook on Roy Webb Road don't sing." So here we are.

EL: You would refer to her as a chef and she'd say, "They aren't any chefs, they're only cooks."

RB: Right. Right.

EL: Even though she worked in a restaurant.

RB: She did but she ... The word chef and believe me, I understand the culture and I understand the hierarchy. I mean they insist on being called chef if they're a chef and I get it and I understand the importance. But to her, she went about it with the same blue collar notion that she went about everything else and she saw it as the best thing that she could do-

EL: With what she had.

RB: Right. And for people that she loved. It was the best thing she could with the limited resources she had for the people she loved. Some people sew, some people kill themselves in a factory. My momma cooked.

EL: Yeah. I think in her own way, she was an insanely proud cook.

RB: Very. She will let slip every now and then some real, almost glee at things that she can do that others can't do, but with her it really is almost magic. It's almost alchemy. There are no measurements.

EL: I noticed that. I was like how does anyone make these recipes?

RB: Well believe me, you spend five years sitting with your momma begging her to try to explain it to you. That's the only way to do it. I begged for those recipes, but to her it was always ... For instance, "How much do you use, like flour?" She'd say, "Well enough." "Well how much is enough?" "A handful, but a good handful." And I would finally figure out that a good handful is a handful and a half, and then you gotta transfer that somehow. But the most irritating thing she would do was she would say ... again after begging she would say, "You know hon, just some." Just some? What is some?

EL: So this leads to the question, I mean this is so much more than a cookbook with the world's longest head notes-

RB: Yeah.

EL: Which would be one way to describe it.

RB: Right, right.

EL: It's a really a family cooking history.

RB: Yeah.

EL: So how did it come about? Was it a matter of my mom's not getting any younger and I really wanna get these recipes and these stories?

RB: It was probably a little sadder than that. What happened was this. We found out about four or five years ago that my mom had cancer and I was ... this is the woman who stood between me and every bad thing that ever tried to get me in my life. So I panicked a little bit and I began to ... Now she battled it and battled it and she won, let's say that right up front. She not only survived a massive surgery, but she survived ... a woman in her 80's survived-

EL: Chemo and all that. Wow.

RB: Two years of that and she ... And right now I guarantee you, she is in her kitchen or in her garden right now and ... But I began to think about what would be lost, but I did not want to imagine a world without my momma in it. So I think a lot of us are like that and so I knew that I would not do this someday. I would not do this when my momma was gone, I just couldn't bear to do it. I had to do it while she was looking me in the face.

EL: Right.

RB: So I asked ... But I thought it would be easy. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I thought it could be doable. I knew we had the stories to tell it as a narrative because my people can talk. I knew we had the stories. I wasn't sure we could do the math, we could do all that as we've talked about. But I really decided that it had to be done, it had to be done quickly. My momma's doing okay but she was in the hospital and she was weak and she refuses to wear a hospital gown. She forces doctors to treat her in like a pair of khakis, a jacket, a turtleneck, long underwear and her shoes and two pairs of sucks.

EL: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

RB: Yes. Yes. In hospital, in regional medical center, she lays in hospital bed fully clothed and they just have to by God work around her because she's not gonna wear that rear end out the back hospital gown. It's just not seemly.

EL: Yeah.

RB: So I have to get her fresh clothes. So this one day and I'll never forget the smell. I walked into the kitchen and the kitchen usually smelled like baking grease or baking bread, and instead it smelled like old cold iron, old cold iron skillets and dutch ovens have a smell too. It's a lovely old iron smell-

EL: Right.

RB: But it's very much what it is.

EL: Yeah.

RB: Something old pulled from the fire and lemon scented dishwashing detergent.

EL: The iron smell you're talking about, it's unused pans.

RB: It's just a clean pan sitting on a hook waiting to-

EL: Yeah. I know exactly that smell you're talking about.

RB: Yeah. Yeah. And it's not unpleasant at all. It's just ...

EL: It's not baking grease.

RB: It is what happens when the cook is away and I never ... It occurred to me that I was 58 years old ... well 57 at that time and I had never ... I never smelled that smell in my momma's kitchen before. So we-

EL: And it probably scared you.

RB: It scared me and more than that, it terrified me and I ... I've been scared to death a few times in my life. I've had some rocks bounced off my head, but I've never been that frightened and I knew then that we needed to do it. We needed to do it expeditiously. We needed to do it where she could hold it in her hands, look at it and either say that she likes it or throw it at me or something and-

EL: Or sometimes both.

RB: Yeah and thank goodness, she agreed.

EL: Yeah. So what did cooking mean to her? Like what did food mean to her?

RB: Well everybody likes to think they can do one thing. Everybody likes to think they can do one thing right. With her, it was always cook. I never will forget her telling me, "Your Aunt Jo can dance and your Aunt Juanita can climb a tree like a man. But all I could ever do was cook." And she said that not with any ... in any kind of self pitying way, but with a great deal of fierce pride. A cook holds an almost ... And it's not just my culture, it holds an almost magical place in the eyes of especially working folks, and I've seen it in the Dominican Republic, seen it in Cuba, seen it in Miami and the Cuban community there, seen it in places all over the world. The cook is kinda like a high priest of good living.

EL: It was her happy place.

RB: It was and her kitchen was sanctuary even if it was 140 degrees.

EL: Yeah.

RB: Her kitchen was sanctuary and we were not allowed. I mean I could walk through it. I could walk up to her and say, "Hey ..."

EL: Well you couldn't hang out with her in the kitchen when she was cooking?

RB: We were unclean. We were little country boys and we were covered head to toe with tadpoles and coal dust and red mud and look we had livestock. So we tracked unspeakable things into her-

EL: Yeah.

RB: Her kitchen, and so finally ... And she was always ... She had been badly burned as a little girl in a hearth and she was deathly afraid of holding like a skillet or having us around a hot skillet 'cause believe me if chicken was frying, I wanted to be in the proximity. You know?

EL: No lie. Doesn't everyone?

RB: Yeah. So I needed to be there.

EL: Yeah.

RB: She had almost this zen like peace but she just liked the comfort in her own head that she found there.

EL: Yeah. So what are your favorite bits of her cooking wisdom?

RB: Well the first one of course is nothing good happens in a hurry. Nothing good happens in a hurry. The other is if you turn your back, it's ruined, and not R-U-I-N-E-D, but R-U-R-N-T, rurnt, rurnt, rurnt. Rurnt is worse than ruined.

EL: Got it.

RB: If you turn your back it's rurnt. There are no decent tomatoes in this half of the century ... the past century. There are no good tomatoes since probably 19 ... I don't know, since 1945.

EL: So this is ingredient wisdom?

RB: Right.

EL: That really, she's echoing Alice Waters.

RB: Yeah. There ain't no good tomatoes anymore in this life. Corn is tough now, it didn't used to be. Can't buy a good meal anymore. A flower in the grocery stores usually goes bad before you can get home to ... My favorite is that, "You know hon, pigs are just skinny now." And what she's saying is that there's not a lot of good fat on the pork. Fat is good and she thinks that pigs are apparently just being starved.

EL: See if she knew that there was an Edna Lewis in the world-

RB: Right.

EL: When she was young, she would have found a kindred spirit.

RB: Right.

EL: 'Cause Edna was really the first farm-to-table cook that I ever read about. She's been dead what? 10 years but was a seminal African American chef-

RB: Sure.

EL: And sounds like your mother had a great deal in common with Edna Lewis, but she didn't know her.

RB: Right. Well our food ... I mean my mother does know that white folks and black folks, of our part of the world and our class, ate almost exactly the same thing. I mean almost exactly the same thing. My mother's potato salad, if I wanna get that kind of potato salad, then I have to find it in an African American community. I have to find it there. It's thinner. When I was in New York, oh I haunted Harlem.

EL: Right.

RB: I would go up and eat-

EL: Yeah.

RB: Yeah.

EL: You talk to about Sylvia's-

RB: Yeah, yeah.

EL: And not too many non-uptown people would go to Sylvia's back in the day. Now of course there are-

RB: Oh, yeah.

EL: Tour buses-

RB: Oh, yeah.

EL: And Japanese people-

RB: Yeah, right.

EL: But back when you were in New York-

RB: Right.

EL: That was a pretty unusual thing. So you needed that for home?

RB: Oh, I had to and I would great lengths ... Try to get a livery cab back in 20 years ago ... Try to find ... And I'd do anything to get up there and I ... And it was always the same thing. It was smoked turkey wings, cornbread dressing, green beans or greens and if I was really feeling peckish, there would be caramel cake.

EL: Tell us what your version of caramel cake is.

RB: Well it's yellow cake, yellow cake. Now some people do use white, but yellow cake usually and just an icing made out ... It's a sugar icing basically, but a caramel ... homemade caramel icing.

EL: Right. And it could be ... At the best soul food restaurants, the icing's very smooth. It doesn't ... It's not grainy at all.

RB: No, it's not grainy at all but even the worst caramel cake you ever had is pretty good.

EL: Yeah.

RB: And so it's like the worst sausage gravy you ever had, it's probably still pretty good.

EL: Yes, for sure. For sure.

RB: I spent a great bit of my paycheck up there and loved every-

EL: Yeah.

RB: Second of it.

EL: And I loved your take on ... and your mother's take on the fact that ... We talked a little bit about it before, about that Southern traditions ... food traditions are changing. Southern food culture is alive and it's multicultural in the best possible way. What do you think your mother makes of that?

RB: Well the first time she ever heard the term farm-to-table, the puzzled look on her face like, "Well how else are they gonna do it? I mean how else are you going to do ..." They had it back in her day too. They called it a flatbed truck. Our farm-to-table might just mean walking from the garden with a bushel basket full of the best tomatoes in world, back of course 50 years ago-

EL: Right.

RB: When you could still get one.

EL: Sure.

RB: She gets mad sometimes at the food channels. She gets a little mad at them when they like ... are making like a tofu hoe cake or-

EL: Right.

RB: Something like it-

EL: Sure.

RB: And that makes her ... It makes her actually feel bad-

EL: Right.

RB: Because it's just ... to her, it's just unnatural.

EL: Sure. But what about the real food from other cultures that she's now surrounded by?

RB: Oh, well for instance, she loves a good, greasy lasagna. A good-

EL: Right.

RB: Dripping lasagna.

EL: Sure.

RB: And she likes her spaghetti to be the decadent kind. If she ... She doesn't eat a lot of pizza but if she does eat pizza, she wants it smothered in bad things for her.

EL: Can she get to tacos or-

RB: She ... Best night of my life recently, I'm not making this up. Now this may speak to how dull my life is, but best night of my life, I took my momma down to Fairhope, Alabama. I have an old house down there near Mobile Bay and I said, "Why don't we go in the Mexican restaurant?" And said, "I don't know." The only taco she'd ever had was from a drive through window. And so she was reluctant anyway but there is a fine Mexican restaurant down there and I finally talked her into walking in. We got sat down and I hear a trumpet blare and all of a sudden a full blown mariachi band starts moving through the restaurant with an ... God. This is ... She's not gonna enjoy it. She's gonna be embarrassed somehow and instead, she fell in love with the music. She fell with ... I think they did a version of I'll Fly Away in Spanish and it was beautiful and she loved the guitar and she loved the ... but mostly she loved the guacamole.

EL: That's so great.

RB: Now unfortunately now she says, "Hey." And I'll say, "Where do you wanna go eat lunch?" She'll say, "Hey, let's go get us some of that locomotive." And I say, "What?" And she says, "You know that locomotive. They make it out of that ... you know, them things." And I say, "Do you mean guacamole?" So she calls it locomotive.

EL: So one thing ... The book has a unique format because there's a narrative that ends with a recipe, and the narrative falls through and it's chronological.

RB: Right.

EL: Was that your idea in the first place or is that just how it came together?

RB: That's just how it came together. Now once I figured out how to do it, the way to do was to abandon trying to say we're gonna have all these recipes and making a list of recipes. That was going to fail. So what I did was this. I did what we know best. I went with the stories and for instance, the story of how we got our food from my great grandfather to my grandmother. I knew that had to be the genesis.

EL: Got it.

RB: And I knew that continuing that for several chapters would be worthwhile. So what I have to try to find out is ... from my mom is, "Do you remember the first thing that he taught my grandma?", and thank God we date from food. We date from food the way some people date from the death of Elvis.

EL: Sure.

RB: And we know that the first thing he taught her was butter rolls 'cause she cooked the main course and that led to of course, he taught her beans.

EL: Right.

RB: So I could use beans anywhere in the next chapter.

EL: Got it.

RB: Of course, he taught her how the ham was mixed into that. Of course, he taught her cornbread-

EL: So it sort of organized itself.

RB: Yeah. Of course, he taught her a good breakfast.

EL: Right.

RB: So that was really chronologically falling off a log.

EL: Yeah.

RB: Now ... And later when my mother's own memory took over, it really got easy.

EL: Got it.

RB: But I did have to leave out some recipes of some really good food because I didn't have a story.

EL: Interesting. You don't really cook, do you? I mean I'm sorry. I gotta call ... I gotta call like I see it.

RB: Yeah. Yeah. I can cook about ... There's 70 something recipes in this thing. I can cook maybe ... Now following the recipes-

EL: Right.

RB: I think I can make a stab at all of them, but can cook four things. I can make good pinto beans and ham.

EL: Okay.

RB: Which is really just putting an awful lot of ham fat and bone-

EL: Right.

RB: Into a-

EL: Making sure the beans are cooked all the way through-

RB: Right and maybe, maybe a tiny little bit of sugar. Maybe, maybe a small onion just for flavor. Like almost no bigger than a pearl onion or it overpower it. No garlic, 'cause it'll overpower it. So I can do good sausage gravy, but I can't do a biscuit. So what good is it?

EL: Right.

RB: Unless you can run out to the Popeye's and like bootleg some biscuits-

EL: Right.

RB: Into the house.

EL: Yeah, yeah.

RB: So I am a ... No, I'm a miserable cook. I'm-

EL: But you're a serious eater and we appreciate that here.

RB: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I love to eat and people ask over and over again, "Did you use a test kitchen?"

EL: Yes, well I was gonna ask that.

RB: Yeah, yeah and of course I used a test kitchen. I'm 6'2. I weigh 230 pounds. I am a test kitchen. I am walking, breathing test kitchen.

EL: Okay. Fair enough. Does she still cook for you?

RB: Oh, gosh yeah. Yeah. She ... Pinto beans and ham are ... She has cooked Thanksgiving dinner since she got sick and I mean she might need a little help getting the turkey in the oven.

EL: Yeah.

RB: And this is a true story. In my county, if you have trouble getting your turkey into the ... My county in Alabama, if you cannot get your turkey into your oven on Thanksgiving, you can call the rescue squad and they will come out and help you.

EL: Yes, you mentioned that in the book.

RB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

EL: And then you also mentioned the fact that you bought ... you were sent to buy the turkey for one dinner and then you decided you had to get a ride on the horse outside the supermarket, and the turkey ran away.

RB: That might be as kindly put as I could've ever heard it. Thank you.

EL: I try to be charitable.

RB: Well there's no reason in locking somebody in this whole room and then beating them up. So I ... No. What I happened was I ... I had one job. Everybody else had a lot of jobs during the holidays. They had to procure trees, they had to blow mistletoe out of the trees with a shotgun. They had to buy presents and wrap presents. Well I wasn't trusted with anything like that because I was considered when I was five, six, seven, eight, nine simple-minded. So they ... I was turkey boy. My job was to carry the turkey from either the Piggly Wiggly or the AMP, carry it to the car. That was the only job I had.

EL: Not so hard.

RB: No. I mean right? Anybody can do it until ... But there's this rocky horse. You know those-

EL: Yeah, sure.

RB: Coin operated rocky horses. Well look, you're a kid and you got pocket full of nickels and I ...

EL: And you can figure out a way to hold on to the turkey when you're on the horse.

RB: Let's just say I lost track of time, I was moving a little too quick and there's a not a good handle on those things. Now they put them in like a net.

EL: Right.

RB: But I had both arms wrapped around it and it just kinda squirted up ... I was being so careful to not have it fall through the bottom, I wasn't paying attention to the top.

EL: So it was expelled.

RB: Yeah and it took a pretty good ride through that parking lot before I ran it down.

EL: Yeah, you said that there were two hills.

RB: Yeah, it didn't have one slope. It had two slopes.

EL: Right. Now it's time for the Special Sauce All You Can Answer Buffet.

RB: Okay.

EL: So who's at your last supper, no family allowed? Like just people you think would be great to have. You don't have to know them obviously.

RB: I'm not gonna think too hard about this or-

EL: Yeah, yeah.

RB: We'd be sitting here all day. Galileo.

EL: All right.

RB: Galileo wrote in Italian instead of writing in Latin so that his work could be read and used-

EL: And acted upon.

RB: And acted upon by more than just the elite.

EL: Got it. All right. I like that.

RB: And if that's not a by God reason ... And he suffered for it, and he was forced to recant, but I forgave him. I've always said that Lincoln would have a hell of a story to tell if there wasn't anybody ... if he didn't have to worry about what he said.

EL: Yeah.

RB: And like every other politician, he had to worry about what he said.

EL: I like that. Lincoln and Galileo.

RB: So if he ... I did a book on Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee is still with us, but he's supposed to have died many times now so-

EL: So you gotta have Jerry Lee.

RB: Yeah, Jerry Lee-

EL: And one more-

RB: Just to hear the story again of him making Elvis cry.

EL: All right.

RB: And I know this is hokey, but my grandfather died the spring before the summer I was born and he was a gigantic figure in my part of the woods. He made whiskey in the mountains for 30 years. He did time in federal prison one time.

EL: You know that I am going to let you Rick Bragg be only person to include a member of your family because it sounds like you-

RB: Oh, that. See, look-

EL: Yeah.

RB: That's how smart I am.

EL: That's okay. So what are you eating?

RB: Well I had some really good Greek food for lunch.

EL: All right.

RB: I love all ... Look, I can destroy a Chinese buffet. I can destroy Chinese buffet. I love the grazing part of a Mexican restaurant. I lived in LA for a while. So I had some really fun.

EL: Oh, yeah.

RB: But as far as I'm concerned, pico de gallo, I could eat-

EL: On anything.

RB: On a shoe tongue.

EL: Yeah.

RB: No problem. Hard to get ... My great disappointment in life ... in this part of my life is the slow decline of fried chicken. There's still great mom and pop places with great fried chicken-

EL: Yeah. So we'll just make sure that they're cooking the fried chicken.

RB: Yeah, yeah.

EL: So you gotta have fried chicken and it sounds to me given how much you've written about pie that pie has to be the desert.

RB: I almost killed myself with pie. I mean I almost did my life in with pie. Stole ... not the whole damn pie, but a boy, a child should not be allowed to eat more than a quarter slice of pecan pie. I think it's like heart ... would be really bad for their health. I put myself into some kind of like LSD-like coma or a trip-

EL: You did? Like what happened? You just ate an entire-

RB: I ate too much sugar. It was a pecan pie, it was still warm. My mother said, "Wait. We'll cut it later." I stole it and I didn't steal the whole thing, but I stole most of it and I sat and I ate it, and I ate it gleefully and joyfully. And then you know how children get hyper? I got loopy and staggered around. So ... Yeah, I shouldn't be allowed near pie.

EL: Yeah. I'm the same way. I have the same predilection and I can ... I've taken to buying the little pies-

RB: Yeah, I get them. Yeah.

EL: Because that way I'm not gonna go through an entire pie.

RB: Yeah. Yeah. But then if you eat four ...

EL: Yes, that's true.

RB: Yeah.

EL: That's true. So give me three books that have profoundly influenced your life as a writer and as a person.

RB: Sure. To Kill a Mockingbird put into song almost and to story the feelings that a lot of us already had about ... I was born in '59, I grew up in the 1960s. In this beautiful sermon, this beautiful kinda morality play, but mostly just this beautiful story, this beautifully written story-

EL: And it was poetry.

RB: It was poetry and I have disagreed with some parts of it. I think that when Southern writers take us and they kinda make the upper classes, the lawyer class, the old money class, when they make them always the hero, the enlightened South-

EL: Right.

RB: And the villains are always the poor folks that live on the way to the dump. My only disagreement with that book was that she fell to that. She-

EL: Interesting.

RB: But that said-

EL: Yeah, for sure.

RB: She's still the most ... I remember reading a faded paperback copy-

EL: And now it's gonna be a play that Aaron Sorkin is writing.

RB: Really?

EL: Yeah.

RB: Well good. Good.

EL: And there was a fight about ... with the estate about whether they had permission-

RB: Right.

EL: And whether he was taking too much license, but it's been settled.

RB: Well-

EL: It's coming to Broadway. All right. So there's one.

RB: There's one. I know that Moby Dick, the passage where Ahab drives the gold sovereign into the mast post and gives his impassioned sermon on the lengths that he is willing to go to kill this thing, is some of the best writing I think I've ever read. Pretty much anything by Thomas Wolfe, pretty much anything.

EL: Yeah.

RB: The relationship ... I was just talking with my editor, Jordan Pavlin at Knopf about the relationship that he had with Perkins ... Max Perkins.

EL: Yeah.

RB: But I guess if I was gonna pick a book, Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.

EL: That's a great book.

RB: Right.

EL: That is a great book.

RB: People always say desert Island, they always use that.

EL: Right.

RB: I was marooned in Clearwater, Florida with no books and no TV and not even any radio. But I had a paperback copy of Lonesome Dove and I read it two times back to back and the love affair, cause that's what it is, between Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, the love of a friend-

EL: Yeah.

RB: That you feel come out like just hard as steel and soft as the air.

EL: Yeah.

RB: I just think that's just one of my favorites.

EL: It's just been declared Rick Bragg day all over the world.

RB: Really?

EL: What's happening on that day?

RB: Well probably a whole lot of people would not bother to show up for work. Probably they will sell out of deli fried chicken all over the world. More than likely they'll sell out at the ... they'll probably sell out at the Target or the Walmart and that $5.00 rack of copies Sam Cooke and Hank Williams.

EL: I like that. And so everyone will be listening to Sam Cooke-

RB: Cooke.

EL: Which is pretty awesome.

RB: Pretty awesome.

EL: Yeah. Maybe Jimmy Rogers.

RB: Jimmy Rogers. My momma still thinks Jimmy Rogers is poetry.

EL: Yeah, he is. He's great.

RB: And Hank and probably could wear out some Merle Haggard, but I'm also ... I've always been a big rhythm and blues-

EL: Yeah. Me too. Sam Cooke is ... to me is a stone cold genius.

RB: If you could sing like Sam Cooke, you would just sit in the middle of a field.

EL: That's what you'd do on Rick Bragg-

RB: And you'd sing to the sky.

EL: Yeah.

RB: Right.

EL: And everyone would hear it 'cause the vibrations would be so powerful.

RB: Absolutely.

EL: So thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us Rick Bragg. Please, it was such an honor to have you here.

RB: Heck, this is easy.

EL: Do yourself a favor and read The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table. Even if you don't cook from it, it's an awesome read or you can read All Over but the Shoutin' or any of Rick's books 'cause they're all terrific. So thanks again Rick and so long Serious Eaters. We'll see you next time.

RB: All right.