I AM DESCENDED from a long line of fine Creole cooks. My great grandmother Lucille Bernard Cocke—the mother of Gladys Cocke Toca, my paternal grandmother—was known as “Sweet Lu” by many. Her husband, Clarence Cocke, lovingly referred to her as “wife.” To the rest of us she was and always will be known as “Granny.”
Lucille Bernard (Granny) was born on September 1, 1875 on St. Delphine Plantation in West Baton Rouge near Addis. Her father, Henry Clay Bernard, and her grandfather, Leon Bernard, were sugar cane farmers from Lafourche Parish. She died in 1954 the year after I was born, so I do not have any memory of her.
Her memory lives on, however, through the tradition of recipes, passed down and prepared by my mom, aunts, cousins, and me. My dad, Melvin Toca, barely recollects ever seeing Granny leave her station at the stove in the kitchen. He waxes eloquently on the endless pots of savory seafood gumbo and Granny’s crepes, hot off the griddle. The family slogan and standard for measuring the quality of these comforting home cooked specialties has always been, “that’s good, but not as good as Granny’s.” Food lovingly created from passed down recipes of our grandmothers, mothers, friends and family can trigger memories, and fuel us as well as comfort us.
A few years ago, I started a cookbook project as a way to regularly communicate with my children, Walker and Maggie, and continue to pass down and share favorite family recipes and traditions. Every week for a year or so, I would email them a recipe that they may have enjoyed as children or a recipe that our family served to celebrate special occasions and holidays.
I always included a little story or sometimes a “lesson” and cooking “tips from mom.” I suddenly realized that I had compiled a formidable collection and the idea of a family cookbook actually appeared to be within reach. The first edition of Almost as Good as Granny’s was published in 2013 and met with such enthusiasm, that I decided to add more family recipes as well as a special section for cooking with friends in 2014. Now I have the opportunity to share these recipes and ask you to share your favorite food memories with our readers through Foodies and Friends.
Thank you Granny for the perfect crepe recipe, mom for expressing your love through your perfectly balanced and memorable seafood gumbo, and to Walker and Maggie, here is your favorite treasure from our family kitchen: chicken and sausage gumbo. Happy Mother’s Day to all!