July 16/365: Ernest Matthew Mickler

Some days you just have to learn something new. I wanted to write about White Trash Cooking, a cookbook that makes my heart glad, but that I hardly ever use. I love the photographs, especially the ones of the refrigerators and front porches, and the gleeful writing. And if I was ever to go whole-hog planning a Southern-based party, I would turn to it before looking up Paula Deen online. Without a doubt, I would trust that these recipes would work, because these people cooked every day of their lives. But my heart, and my entire body, cannot afford to cook from this book. (See my note below.)

whiteSo today I go online, before writing, to see what else Mr. Mickler has been up to. I bought WTC in the 1980s, so there must be more out there to consider. There is. He died of AIDS right before his second cookbook was published, in 1988. There’s an excellent essay on The Bitter Southerner, that dwarfs anything I was going to write. So now I am mourning a loss that happened 30 years ago that I never knew a damn thing about. I find myself tossed back into the bleakest part of those scourging years.

So go read the essay, and then enjoy this, the first paragraph in the Introduction to WTC:

“Never in my whole put-together-life could I write down on paper a hard, fast definition of White Trash. Because, for us, as for our southern White Trash Cooking, there are no hard and fast rules. We don’t like to be hemmed in! But the first thing you’ve got to understand is that there’s white trash and there’s White Trash. Manners and pride separate the two. Common white trash has very little in the way of pride, and no manners to speak of, and hardly any respect for anybody or anything. But where I come from in North Florida you never failed to say “yes ma’m” and “no sir,” never sat on a made-up bed (or put your hat on it), never opened someone else’s icebox, never left food on your plate, never left the table without permission, and never forgot to say “thank you” for the teeniest favor. That’s the way the ones before us were raised and that’s the way they raised us in the South.”

Ernest Matthew Mickler

NOTE: There are perfect recipes in this book, first-class roots-inspired recipes. But there are ten times as many that are composed almost entirely from cans of condensed soup, saltine crackers, jello, and other processed nightmares. Some boggle the mind. But then, I am reminded of my mom’s “Bavarian Cream” dessert that was composed of strawberry jello, frozen strawberries, Cool Whip, and chopped walnuts. We loved it.

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5 thoughts on “July 16/365: Ernest Matthew Mickler

  1. Oh dear, as a vegetarian trying to become more vegan, these may not be the recipes for me. But I love the idea of a cookbook that also serves up a subculture (although maybe “subculture” isn’t the ideal word: the “sub” part sounds like it reinforces every “white trash” stereotype). And Ernie seems like he lived a very big life, despite its relative brevity.

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    • Reminds me of conversations a friend of mine had at the farmer’s markets in Baton Rouge when she was living there for an Opera gig. Since she was clearly a yankee, the locals were intrigued as to what she was going to do with the okra, the collards, and the like. She in turn asked them what they would do, and they all said, “Fry it. With bacon.”

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