Stirring up memories
Finding Mrs. B.
April 20, 2005
almost all of the eighteen years that I have lived in Bainbridge, I’ve
wondered about Mrs. B. Not real
often, usually when I’m driving down West Street and notice the sign.
that the Post Office is right across West
Street I’ve wondered more often. We’d dropped in for lunch a
of times. (When she lived here, my daughter Katy swore this was the best
hamburger in town.) Once we had that favorite hamburger and another time the
regular lunch. Both were excellent, but neither time did I remember to ask
about Mrs. B.
few weeks ago the same thought struck, and at a very good time—right
before lunch. I acted on impulse
and dropped in for a plate of baked chicken and greens and a whopper helping of
rutabagas along with a big glass of iced tea. And this time I remembered to ask,
as the rutabagas hit the plate.
there really a Mrs. B.?”
smiling woman behind the cash register raised her hand.
lunch, I lingered to chat a few minutes and a few days later went back for
baked chicken and greens and to learn more about this Bainbridge institution.
Burke Brown has operated her downtown restaurant for seventeen years, since
1988. It was a change in career and
a return to something she loved—and loves—cooking.
years, she hadn’t had time for much cooking, she’d been at
work. She worked here in Bainbridge
for ITT for eighteen years starting out as an assembly worker and rising to
a quality-control supervisor. After
things closed down in Bainbridge, she commuted to Cairo to work in the plant there. Then that ended too, and what to do?
worked in retail for awhile, but it didn’t seem a fit. Then, Ruth’s mother suggested that
since Ruth loved to cook, she do what she loved. Why not open a restaurant?
mom was right about the cooking part (well, she was right about the restaurant
part, too). Ruth’s been
cooking, she told me, “since I was knee-high to a duck.”
parents, Gracie Hayes Burke and Willie Burke, both grew up in the Steadham
community north of Bainbridge and nearly into Miller County. After they married, they moved into Miller County
where Willie farmed on the Merritt Plantation. Gracie stayed home and took care of the
growing family—a really growing family—of thirteen children, six
boys and seven girls.
Theoldest of those thirteen was a girl—Ruth—and she didn’t know
what it was not to work. Mostly she
helped out her busy, busy mom. She
remembers the first time she ever cooked.
made some hoecake with bacon for her daddy. Her mother had a baby that day, little
brother Melvin. That was just
start of Ruth’s cooking adventures. No one really taught her. She learned by studying her mother
grandmother and sticking with it.
got up at 5:00 to go to work; Ruth got up at the same time to make his
breakfast. She spent the morning
turning out dinner; the main meal of the day came at noon. Supper was made
of what was left of dinner.
food was good traditional Southern dishes—chicken, greens, corn, sweet
potatoes, cornbread. But Ruth
some special memories. Sometimes
her mother made dumplings to go in the greens. Ruth said she doesn’t make them
now, but she remembers how to stir up the cornmeal into a stiff dough with
black pepper and water. Her mother
would pinch off little bits and drop them down in the boiling greens just
before serving them.
many local folks who grew up at the same time, Ruth remembers the trip to Sikes
Mill by the railroad tracks in Bainbridge where Willie had the corn turned
meal and grits for the family.
are another special memory for Ruth.
She recalls a syrup cake made of syrup, flour, eggs and sweet milk. The syrup was the only sweetener. But the special dessert on a Sunday was
Willie’s sheet cake. In this
family the father did cook. He made
up a special cake with a milk-chocolate icing while Bertha was turning out
barbeque chicken made in the oven with her own homemade sauce. She’d tuck some ears of corn
the oven while that chicken was baking.
Ruth did more than cook. She
to school. In the early years
attended St. Mary’s, a nearby church school. It was tiny—only two
teachers. Then she went into
Colquitt where she lived with her mother’s sister while she went to
that time, Willie took a job at the Marine Base in Albany
and Ruth went to Monroe
High School there. She graduated from Hutto High in
dream was to be a nurse, but with all the younger brothers and sisters, she
realized she needed to go to work, which she did at
one night, she called a taxi, and her life changed. She met Chester Brown, owner of
Brown’s Taxi, and soon Ruth Burke was Ruth Burke Brown. The Brown have two daughters. While she
raised the daughters, Ruth was working at ITT. (Chester continued to drive a taxi. After 53 years of
driving—he’s still at it!)
clear, Ruth’s mom’s advice was good. Ruth has done well in her business; she originally
opened up next door to her present location, and then moved in 1996. She welcomes customers for lunch and
is grits, sausage, beef, bacon, Canadian ham, biscuits, toast and coffee. Lunch? It varies. There are always several meats and
of good vegetables, but day-to-day, the menu changes—except for the fried
and baked chicken—they are always there. Plus she’ll still cook up
a patty-melt or hamburger. But most
customers, both dine-in and carry-out, choose from the ample selection of
means cabbage and rutabaga and Fridays are for chittlin’s.
I asked. I’ve been meaning to
try some more than once a year at SwineTime.
Friday, but you’d better come early or call. We almost always run out.”
much do you make?”
didn’t really ask for the recipe. But she told me she buys them frozen
and cleaned. Then she cleans
again, herself. She boils them in
vinegar water, and then chops them in a food processor and serves them on rice.
ordered a plate the next Friday.
Outstanding! So were the
greens, and as a special treat, Ruth had made me her mother’s own
did ask Ruth for a recipe, and she shared this one for her special pound cake.
Mrs. B’s cream cheese pound cake
(it must be butter!)
3 cups Swans Down
7 large or jumbo
3 cups sugar
cream cheese and sugar together.
Add the eggs, one at a time.
Sift the flour three times, and then gradually add to the creamed
mixture. Add vanilla. Turn into a greased and floured tube
cake pan and bake at 300 degree for one and one-half hours.
doesn’t just use vanilla. She
has a secret flavoring mix. And
while she’ll share her recipe, she won’t share the flavoring
secret. She says you need to
it out on your own!
Do you have a
recipe for cornmeal dumplings? Did
you ever call them “dodgers”?
I want to learn more about this delicacy!
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network