MAMA DIP (Continuedfrom Page 75)
munity, the love of life that manifests itself in
loving preparation of food, leads to as healthy a
lifestyle as any low-fat substitute, consider this:
Mildred Council is 72, and she has the twinkling,
sopranic laugh ofa 20-year-old, unhardened
by the Depression era in which she grew up.
"We never knew nothing about the word
'poor,'" says Council, who's mother died just
before Council turned 2."It was just about
happiness. I've been cooking since I was 9
years old - and I'm not
talking mud pies. I learned
to cook anything. There
wasn't enough for us to
throwa way. We made
flapjacks, we made cook-
ies of molasses and flour.
There wasn't a grocery
store for us to go. We'd
cook anything we could
get our hands on. I think
about how we'd sit
around the fire and pass
around a pan with what-
ever we'd put in it,
whatever creation we came
up with. We'd have some
of that good, fresh butter to put on it.
"Now," she says, cackle tumbling over giggle tumbling over throaty laughter, "people are
afraid to eat a little piece of butter, you know?"
I do know. And I imagine my grandmother,
who learned to save aluminum foil for re-use
after re-re-use, would enjoy sitting down to a
little old-fashioned meal of chicken livers and
bread pudding with Mama Dip, for she, too,
navigated the kitchen when times were less
abundant. A grateful heart is a satisfied heart, it
seems. But country cooking is about some-
thing else, too. It's about knowing your way
around a stack of ingredients with no measuring cups as guideposts.
Council says she learned to know when a
cake was made correctly by throwing some
flour and sugar and other necessities into a pan
and introducing it to the oven; if it rose, it was
a success. If the ingredients didn't get along,
she cO;L'(ed them into submission until the
cake was perfect. Soon, she had the sense for
it, the feel for pinches and dashes.
"I never needed a cookbook," she says. "I
once asked a woman I cooked for, why she
never gave me one to use. She said, 'Well,
Mildred, I just never figured you needed one.'
And I guess she was right. I guess I just got
that from my father."
And it's true: She never needed a cook-
book. Until the big-timers from New York
told her she did. One day, The New York Times'
Craig Claiborne visited Mama Dip's Kitchen.
"I didn't know he was a food critic, r didn't
know anything about them," recalled Council.
Daughter Lane, one of Council's eight chil-
dren, took Claiborne's order. When Lane
returned to the kitchen, a look of confusion
inhabited her face.
"Mama, there's a white man out there asking
for chitlins," she reported."What do I tell him?"
"I said, 'You go back out there and ask him
if he wants'em boiled or fried,'" said Council.
"That's all I need to know.'
"He called me from
New York later and told
me who he was. I gave
him the recipes for my
chicken livers, my okra and
tomatoes. He said, 'You
know, you need to write
these recipes down.' "
Council's son, Bill,
agreed. But there was this
problem: How do you
write about something
you love, something you
just know? To Council,
committing her recipes to
a cookbook would be like
trying to capture the vex-
ing smile of Mona Lisa with a Polaroid.
"Bill said, 'I'm going to put your typewriter
down right here on the counter, Marna, and
every time you put something in the pot, you
just come over here and mark it down on
this,' "she recalled. "r said, 'Bill, I've got no
schooling for a typewriter!' So eventually we
went to the Radio Shack and bought a tape
recorder and did it that way. But I wrote that for
six years. Hardest thing I'd ever done in my life."
So Manhattan was good to her in this regard;
her book, Mama Dip~ Kitchen, was published
in October 1999 and has led to nun"lerous
national television appearances, including a
recent stint on The Food Network's "Cooking
Live." But another New York entity, ABC's
"Good Morning America," got put in its place.
"The producer wanted me to come up there
to New York for Thanksgiving morning last
fall and cook on their show," says Council.
"And you know, I used to visit my cousin up
there, and we'd go to Fifth Avenue, and - you
know how they are up there. They trot. They
walk so fast. I said, 'I can't be there with the
Macy's parade going on.'The lady said, 'But
Mrs. Council ... ' and I said, 'Let me tell you
about the South:We stroll in the South. No, I
ain't coming. You want to see me, come down
to my restaurant in Chapel Hill.'"
Take her advice, fellow Tar Heels. And bring
your grandma along, too.
"We had it good.
Now, family don't
get together and talk
like they used to.
At night, by the fire,
after we ate,
my father would sing
and we would talk/
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