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Book Review – “The Gathering Place” by Johnnie Sue Myers

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The first time I heard about Johnnie Sue Myers was while watching one of my favorite television shows.

The cast and crew of The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” were in Asheville and the show’s host Andrew Zimmern was eating wild mushrooms plucked from the grounds of Biltmore House and then seen chowing down on liver mush with mustard and grape jelly in Shelby.

Okay I admit it. If you aren’t a Southerner or are someone who isn’t “from around here” , the fried liver mush sandwiches did kind of look bizarre. But I personally thought the mushroom “tea” Zimmern drank was a bit much.

But imagine my surprise and delight when his crew stopped in to eat with Johnnie Sue Myers and her family.

TV host, Andrew Zimmern wrote in his blog, that his trip through WNC was “Amazing”, “But not as awesome as spending a day on a trout stream with the lads from the local fly fishing school and then taking our catch up the hill to Johnny Sue Meyer’s house for a real Cherokee feast with roasted bear, sumac tossed sautéed trout and chestnut bread.”

Johnnie Sue is a Cherokee Elder and has long nurtured a passion for protecting her people’s culinary heritage, no matter how “strange” others may think it seems. Zimmern’s visit was a great peak into the food history that I and several other WNC natives partially share.

While my family is African-American, my mother often told me stories about her part Cherokee grandmother and the “odd” foods great-granny used to cook and “force” her family to eat.

Still it was my great-grandmother’s knowledge of traditional Cherokee cooking and wild food gathering that was often credited with saving the family more than once during hard times in the Great Depression years.

So in some weird way, Johnnie Sue Myer’s cookbook, “The Gathering Place” while preserving her own family’s cooking tradition is also saving a little bit of mine as well.

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I loved reading the recipes, even the one on wild meats. While I have eaten venison and rabbit many times, I have never tasted bear, squirrel or groundhog, although I have been told on good authority that squirrel is “good eats” but groundhog can be a bit greasy.

Still some of the foods she mentions I have never heard of or seen while others are as common as cut-up fryers at the local super market. But in any case, I found the recipes easy to understand and the book a fun read.

I especially liked the idea of “Baked Raccoon”…I have been keeping my eye on the big raccoon that keeps knocking over my trash cans, lately… now that I have a recipe for him, he had better watch his step!

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