Ezell's, MawMaw, And Proustian ExperiencesMonday, May 21, 2012
One of my favorite restaurants anywhere is Ezell's Fish Camp in Lavaca / Butler, Alabama, a place so well entrenched in the Alabama culinary landscape that it's in the middle of nowhere, literally between a cotton field and a two-lane, and doesn't even have a sign to show where to turn to get there. Oh, and I once left my purse there because I'm ditzy that way, they kept it in their safe overnight, and of course when I drove back to get it the next day, I don't have to tell you that not a single thing was missing.
Have you ever opened an old book and the smell of those musty pages took you back to a certain time or place? Hawaiian Tropic suntain oil and it's summer 1977 all over again? Or you smell crayons and you're suddenly standing in the middle of your kindergarten classroom? I once passed someone wearing a perfume that smelled just like roses and it immediately took me to being in the company of my great-grandmother, who wore that same scent (I had to buy it just to have in my cabinet to remember her with).
Beautiful MawMaw has been gone since 1981 when I was still very little...but I remember certain things about her so well -- the top of her dresser, the stairs to get up to her impossibly tall bed, her jewelry, the way she dressed and carried herself, and of course her rose-scented perfume...
Well, besides smell, we all know that taste is another one of those things that can immediately bring back memories. Some people call it a Proustian experience because in 'Remembrance of Things Past' Proust went on and on (for a zillion pages, this is Proust after all) about madelines and lemon tea and being transported to childhood in his aunt's home. The NYT Magazine had a go about it "Scientists suspect that taste and memory are inextricably bound. That taste, like smell, bypasses the part of the mind that is logical and educable and travels directly to the primitive brain, seat of instinct and memory..." how authors use this same feature -- Anne Frank and potatoes, and Primo Levi and spaghetti.
All this to say, at Ezell's they serve an exact replica of my great-grandmother's coleslaw and every time I have it I am suddenly sitting at her dining room table.
Av munches on fried pickles and I am happy as a little clam with MawMaw's coleslaw.
I tried making it at home, and the coleslaw = finely cut head of cabbage + bit of finely grated onion + 1/2 cup of mayonnaise + sweet salad cubes, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup + sugar to taste, start with 1/4 cup. Give it an hour or two in the refrigerator and the mayonnaise disappears and the water from the cabbage and the juice from the pickles and the sugar transforms into this sweet-sweet milk at the bottom of the bowl and ohmygosh here we are at MawMaw's...
Ooooh their catfish:
Outside on their porch they have a board where people leave pictures from hunts, plus business cards and Bible verses: