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"White Trash Cooking" At Home: Hoppin' John

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 5, 2009 4:30PM

All the cool kids (and some not-so-cool ones) have been tripping over each other to re-create the recipes from the Alinea cookbook that it set us thinking, "What cookbook would be the complete opposite of Alinea that could we utilize the same approach?" For us, only one came to mind.

One of our most prized cookbooks is the spiral-bound tome pictured above. White Trash Cooking was an unlikely New York Times best seller in 1986 by Ernest Matthew Mickler. Born in 1940 to a shrimper father and a cook mother, Mickler came upon the idea of White Trash Cooking while working on his MFA at Mills College in Oakland. John T. Edge, in a 2006 article for Oxford American magazine, wrote that Mickler originally conceived of the project as "a campy television show, a kind of drag-queen riff on the Galloping Gourmet." Eventually the Jargon Society, a small literary press in North Carolina, offered Mickler a small contract for the book and a promise to keep the title.

Both Mickler and the Jargon Society realized that what Micker wrote was equal parts recipe collection and sociological statement: "White Trash" as a point of pride as opposed to the lower case slur in which it's often bandied. The latter was apparently on the collective mind of the advertising department of The New Yorker when they rejected an advertisement for the book. Edge wrote that a New Yorker spokesman said at the time, "We thought the title might offend our readers." White Trash Cooking became such a hit that the Jargon Society sold the right to the book to Ten Speed Press, which coincidentally also handled the print run for Alinea. Mickler became something of a media darling, making the talk show rounds (including a notable appearance on Letterman where he started a trashcan fire on stage while preparing chicken feet and rice). Mickler wrote a follow-up called Sinkin Spells, Hot Flashes, Fits and Cravins (now sold as More White Trash Cooking) before dying from AIDS in 1988. The two books he left behind are testament to a proud people that he never treated as a joke.

Today we show you how our hoppin' john recipe from page 12 turned out. We will be sharing more recipes and how they turned ou in upcoming weeks.