Ernest Matthew Mickler's White Trash Cooking

by  Michael Adno/Bitter South­ern­er

In the 1980s, some folks wrote off Ernie Mick­ler, author of “White Trash Cook­ing,” as a yay­hoo curios­i­ty. Oth­ers thought him one of the most bril­liant South­ern folk­lorists and pho­tog­ra­phers of the 20th cen­tu­ry. But per­haps most impor­tant­ly, Mick­ler left behind a tes­ta­ment to the fact that all South­ern­ers — even those at the mar­gins — have a right to claim their roots.

In spring of 1986, Ernest “Ernie” Matthew Mickler’s “White Trash Cook­ing” land­ed on book­shelves across Amer­i­ca — a 160-page, spi­ral-bound anthol­o­gy of South­ern recipes, sto­ries, and pho­tographs. 

Odd­ly enough, damned near every­one loved it. It was imme­di­ate­ly revered by lit­er­ary snobs, South­ern aris­to­crats, Yan­kees, folk­lorists, down-home folk, and peo­ple on either side of the Mason-Dixon.

The book stirred a firestorm of pub­lic­i­ty — part­ly seri­ous, part­ly tongue-in-cheek — land­ing Ernie on “Late Night With David Let­ter­man” and Nation­al Pub­lic Radio, in mag­a­zines like Vogue and Peo­ple, and in a litany of news­pa­pers. In The New York Times, crit­ic Bryan Miller deemed “White Trash Cook­ing” the “most intrigu­ing book of the 1986 spring cook­book sea­son.” Even the grand dame of South­ern lit­er­a­ture, Harp­er Lee, claimed she had “nev­er seen a soci­o­log­i­cal doc­u­ment of such beau­ty  —  the pho­tographs alone are shat­ter­ing.” She called the book “a beau­ti­ful tes­ta­ment to a stub­born peo­ple of proud and poignant her­itage.”

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