About Trilla


Trilla's Garden

Bainbridge, Georgia



Trilla's Blog



Contact Trilla


Trilla Pando   

Trilla Pando:

Stirring up memories


Finding Mrs. B.
April 20, 2005

For 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. 

Now that the Post Office is right across West Street I’ve wondered more often.  We’d dropped in for lunch a couple 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.

A 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, just as the rutabagas hit the plate.

“Is there really a Mrs. B.?”

The smiling woman behind the cash register raised her hand.

After lunch, I lingered to chat a few minutes and a few days later went back for more baked chicken and greens and to learn more about this Bainbridge institution.

Ruth 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.

For 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 be 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?

She 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?

Ruth’s 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.”

Ruth’s 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.

She made some hoecake with bacon for her daddy.  Her mother had a baby that day, little brother Melvin.  That was just the start of Ruth’s cooking adventures. No one really taught her.  She learned by studying her mother and grandmother and sticking with it.

Daddy 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 up of what was left of dinner.  

The food was good traditional Southern dishes—chicken, greens, corn, sweet potatoes, cornbread.  But Ruth has 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 salt, black pepper and water.  Her mother would pinch off little bits and drop them down in the boiling greens just before serving them. 

Like 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 into meal and grits for the family.

Desserts 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 her barbeque chicken made in the oven with her own homemade sauce.  She’d tuck some ears of corn in the oven while that chicken was baking.

Naturally, Ruth did more than cook.  She went to school.  In the early years she 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 school.

About 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 Bainbridge.    

Her 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 Griffin Hospital.

Then 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!)

It’s 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 breakfast.

Breakfast is grits, sausage, beef, bacon, Canadian ham, biscuits, toast and coffee.  Lunch?  It varies.  There are always several meats and lots 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 prepared foods.

Thursday means cabbage and rutabaga and Fridays are for chittlin’s. 

“Chittlins?” I asked.  I’ve been meaning to try some more than once a year at SwineTime. 

“Every Friday, but you’d better come early or call.  We almost always run out.”

“How much do you make?”

“Sixty pounds—every week.”

I didn’t really ask for the recipe. But she told me she buys them frozen and cleaned.  Then she cleans them again, herself.  She boils them in vinegar water, and then chops them in a food processor and serves them on rice.

I ordered a plate the next Friday.  Outstanding!  So were the greens, and as a special treat, Ruth had made me her mother’s own cornmeal dumplings.

I did ask Ruth for a recipe, and she shared this one for her special pound cake.

Mrs. B’s cream cheese pound cake

3 sticks butter (it must be butter!)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

3 cups Swans Down cake flour

7 large or jumbo eggs

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

Cream the butter, 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.

Mrs. B. 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 work 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!

<--Previous Column | Next Column-->

Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network