Welcome funny names fans! Not since early 2017 have we had an opportunity to talk about food celebrities. The streak is broken today.
Let’s celebrate Mildred “Mama Dip” Council. There are no photos of Mrs. Council in the public domain, however, The Daily Tar Heel has a wonderful photo of her working in her restaurant’s kitchen.
Born in 1929, Mrs. Council earned the nick name “Dip” because she was tall and was the only one in her family who could reach the bottom of the rain barrel to dip out water when the water was low. She was born into the time of the Jim Crow laws, when all that was expected of her was to be hard working and a good cook.
In the introduction of her first cookbook, “Mama Dip’s Kitchen,” which she published in 1999, she describes herself this way:
“I was born a colored baby girl in Chatham County, North Carolina, to Ed Cotton and Effie Edwards Cotton; grew up a Negro in my youth, lived my adult life black and am now a 69-year-old American.”
Mrs. Council grew up in North Carolina. While raising eight children, she worked for monied Chapel Hill families and local fraternities. She earned a reputation as a hard worker and a good country cook with a down to earth manner.
In 1976 she was struck with a crazy idea. She opened her own restaurant, Dip’s Country Kitchen, with the $64 she earned from her job at the local hospital. She used $40 to purchase two days worth of food and $24 to make change. She ran out of food after breakfast. She used the profit from breakfast to buy enough food for lunch and like any successful idea, ended up doing the same for dinner. She earned $135 that day, more money than she earned from her day job.
Mama Dip did not use recipes, instead she called herself a “dump cook.” She cooked by eye, feel, taste, and used whatever she had on hand at the time. In her own words, “Farm fresh is the highlight of country dump cooking.”
She cooked good simple country food—crisp fried chicken, biscuits and gravy and a pecan pie with crisp nuts and a soft, sweet, soul-melting filling. Word spread and people began to make pilgrimages to her restaurant. New York Times Food Critic, Craig Claiborne, found his way there. He encouraged her to write down her recipes. Those two cookbooks lead to a bigger restaurant that is still run by her children.
She received North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in recognition of her contributions to her home state.
Mrs. Council passed away Sunday, May 20th, at the age of 89. She left us with this cooking advice:
“Use what you have. Try something different. Use your imagination.”
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