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.”