Pulitzer-prize winner writes memoir, cookbook

Photo by Steven Forster Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg is a Pulitzer-prize winner and a best-selling author of books such as “All Over But the Shoutin'” that focuses on the stories of his family. The Mid-Ohio Valley might also remember him as the author of “I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story.”

In his latest book, Bragg returns to a very personal story – that of his mother’s cooking roots in “The Best Cook in the World.” Through stories tracing back through his mother’s family tree, he relates the cooking journey that formed his childhood.

“I’ve written about food on the periphery for so long,” Bragg said about its role in his other books. “It was an important part of life to these people.”

It was through some hard circumstances that his latest work came to be. “I didn’t have that nudge, that shove that you need to devote to a book,” Bragg said. “Then my mom got sick and she got cancer.” Bragg said she has since survived the surgery and the chemo treatments. “She’s 81,” he said proudly. “She is more frail than she was.”

Bragg said it was when he went to her house to take her some clothes to her at the hospital that the seeds of the new book were planted. “I walked into her kitchen. It always smelled like bacon, biscuits, cornbread or pinto beans and ham. It always had a warm smell and it was now cold and empty and smelled like lemon dishwashing detergent. And it struck me how wrong that was.”

He said it was not much later that he asked her for a recipe from his childhood. “She said, ‘Hon, I never wrote down a recipe,’ and it occurred to me that there was not one recipe book in her house. She had never written them down, and didn’t even use conventional measurements.”

He said his fear was since he and his brothers don’t cook, those recipes and family background would be lost.

“While I had her captive in the hospital and rehab center and recooperating at home, I interviewed her. I collected stories and recipes.” And he found doing so was fun.

Bragg said he’s found that people remember great meals they had.

He spoke about how older cooks like his mother don’t measure and use “some” or “dabs” of an ingredient. “To them it’s like magic. To us it’s alchemy, some kind of dark secret.”

“The Best Cook in the World” is published by Alfred A. Knopf. It is $28.95 and 528 pages long.