By JOHN MARK EBERHART
One of the key things the Yearwood women had to do for Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen was make sure they could make the Brunswick stew.
It was a bit complex. Jack Yearwood had died in September 2005. And his recipe wasn’t exactly proportioned for a family of four, Trisha Yearwood recalls.
“He was an amazing cook,” Yearwood said of her father. “They would sell barbecue and Brunswick stew on the town square for Kiwanis Club or something, and people would buy the ticket based on if Jack was cooking. So his recipe served … 160 people!”
If you don’t know Brunswick stew - and many people don’t, because it’s a Southeastern thing - you’ll fall in love with this meaty vegetable concoction. Made right, it’s almost the soup or stew equivalent of barbecue, tangy and savoury. Because he made it in such quantities, Jack Yearwood used to put it up at the cannery where he worked.
This was in Monticello, Georgia, about an hour south of Atlanta, where Trisha Yearwood grew up. Now she lives near Tulsa, Oklahoma, with this fellow named Garth Brooks. You might’ve heard of this husband and wife; they’ve had some success as country singers.
But Yearwood’s newest project isn’t a hit single like She’s in Love With the Boy or Believe Me Baby (I Lied). It’s Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, a cookbook written with her mother, Gwen, and sister, Beth Yearwood Bernard.
In a phone interview, Trisha Yearwood said the book was born out of necessity. The mother of invention in this case was her hankering for her mother’s food.
“I love to cook, but all of my recipes came from my mom, and so did all my sister’s. My favourite meals were things I learned to cook, because when I left home I missed my mom’s cooking. So I learned how to make her potato salad, her fried chicken.”
As for the Brunswick stew, Mom re-created it by dividing Jack’s recipe. Good cooks know this doesn’t always work. For some reason, a recipe that serves 160 can taste different when you try to make it for three or four. But Gwen pressed on, and the result “tasted like his,” Trisha said.
“One of the things I’ve missed living out here is that most of the barbecue in Oklahoma is beef, and I like pork barbecue, and chicken, too, and the Brunswick stew. This is the Brunswick stew I grew up on.”
Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen is dedicated to Jack. And that Garth Brooks fellow wrote the foreword.
By the way, don’t get the wrong idea about this barbecue thing. Yearwood knows very well that Oklahomans, Texans and Kansas Citians all enjoy their bragging rights. But those three letters, BBQ, are a very personal thing.
“It’s always about where you’re from,” Yearwood said. “It’s what you grew up on, what you’re used to.”
Any sort of comfort food is, really. So is music. Identified primarily as a country singer, she’s really an amalgam of influences. One of the biggest was Elvis Presley.
“I think I was always mesmerized by strong, pure, beautiful voices. Elvis’ voice and the emotion in it was unbelievable. I’d never heard anything like it. And I was listening to my parents’ records, so I was listening to Heartbreak Hotel and Money Honey and all the 50s stuff, real raw Elvis.
“That’s why I latched onto Patsy Cline, too. As a kid, at 6 and 7 years old, I didn’t realize that Patsy Cline was already dead. I was just listening to this voice and thinking it was very contemporary. Pure, big, powerful voice. And that’s why I later gravitated toward Linda Ronstadt.”
For Yearwood, life is good these days. If it always takes angst to be an artist … well, actually, she just doesn’t buy that, whether the art is music or cooking or writing a cookbook.
“Growing up, I didn’t realise it, but I had a really idyllic childhood, with wonderful parents who loved each other, a great family atmosphere and a really great community. Those are things I treasure, especially having lost a parent now. Cooking is a memory … making something my dad made.”
Or simply feeling a connection to the family members who remain but who can’t always be in the same room when the stew or the soup or the sauce starts to simmer.
“We couldn’t be together on Easter this year, so I made the meal I knew my mom was making. It was comforting to me. I wasn’t with her, but I was having the same food.”