Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mama Jo Interview-Audio

I am taking a Southern Studies course in "Documentary Fieldwork." For a recent assignment, we had to interview someone, not associated with the university, about food and culture. I interviewed "Mama" Jo Brassell, an African-American woman who cooks for, and owns, "Mama Jo's Restaurant." Mrs. Brassell serves what is traditionally called "soul food." I interviewed Mrs. Brassell twice. Here is the audio of both interviews along with an "Interview Log." Photos here. The man in the photo is Mrs. Brassell's husband, "Daddy" Bo Brassell.

"Mama" Jo Brassell-First Interview-3/4/09-Audio Only from Ben Guest on Vimeo.

"Mama" Jo Brassell-Second Interview-3/10/09-Audio Only from Ben Guest on Vimeo.

“Mama” Jo Brassell Interview Log
Interviewed by Ben Guest
SST 534

1st Interview

Brassell is the head cook and owner of “Mama Jo’s Restaurant” in Oxford, MS. She grew up in Taylor, MS. In this interview she talks about her various dishes she cooks and learning to cook from her mother.

The interview was conducted at “Mama Jo’s Restaurant during at about 3:00 PM. The sound of passing traffic from the street outside is audible. At several points, Mrs. Brassell asks her husband, “Daddy” Bo Brassell, a question. Mr. Brassell can also be heard talking on the phone for much of the interview. Used an M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 digital audio recorder and a Sennheiser MD 46 mic.

Brassell has several starts and stops and many run-on sentences throughout the interview.


Mrs. Brassell states her name and her hometown of Taylor, Mississippi.


Mrs. Brassell describes Taylor as a small town outside of Oxford.


Says that her mother was a cook for LaFayette High School in Oxford, Mississippi.


Talks about learning to cook from her mom.


States that she does not cook from recipes. Everything is in her head. She learned this from her mother.


States that the “Lord” gives her visions about food


And then the Lord gives me vision about food. So I got- I has- Sometime I lay down in the bed at night and He’ll picture this recipe up on the wall and I put it in my mind and I get up the next day and do it.


Gives hamburger potato casserole as an example of a vision that has come to her.


The hamburger potato casserole. It was- It came- It came through a vision through the night and it was like a rio potato, iced potato, and you slice it and you layer it with, uh, cheese and mushroom soup. Onions and bell peppers and celery. Then cream of mushroom soup. Then onions and bell peppers and cheese [makes a “layering” or smoothing motion with her hands]. Cream of mushroom soup and cheese. And then layer another potato. Hamburger meat. And then spread cheese over the top of it and then bake it for about thirty-five minutes. [Pause.] And that was my first recipe experience through a vision.


States that the visions come from the Lord.


States that religion plays a big part in her life.


Says that she cooks by taste and looks. States that this also comes from God.


Says that her mom was known for cooking: meatloaf; hamburger steak; fried chicken; country fried steak; beef stroganoff; and pork chops. Made desserts from scratch like: fried apple pie; fried peach pie; and lemon meringue pie.


Says that she has one brother and five sisters.


Says that she is the only sibling that cooks.


Says she learned to cook at seven years old, making a chocolate cake while her mom was fishing.


States the recipe for chocolate cake.


Says at nine she fried fish and made sweet potato yams.


Says she used to go to the school cafeteria to watch her mom cook.


Says she doesn’t have a favorite dish that her mom prepared.


Says that her mom is known for chicken and dressing and caramel cake at family gatherings.


Describes chicken and dressing with cornbread and seasoning.


Says she makes chicken and dressing every Thursday and Sunday at her restaurant.


Says her restaurant, “Mama Jo’s Restayurant,” has been open for three and a half years.


Describes “soul food cooking” as meals from scratch.


Describes chitterlings as hog guts.


Says that neckbones are the most popular dish at the restaurant.


Describes the preparing of neckbones.


Neckbones is the- a part of the hog that- is a part of the hog that you cut out- out of the back of and you chop them up into pieces and I boil them down- I take them and boil them down real, real low with this different seasons and onions and bell peppers and jalapeƱo peppers and vinegar and I cook them down real low and then I serve them with black pepper and salt and they are one of my number one sellers.


Says that “Mama Jo’s” is the only restaurant in Oxford with the type of food she prepares.


Says that 75 to 100 people are served per day.


Says that business has been slow because of the economy.


Says that Tuesday and Friday are the busiest days of the week.


Says that Friday on a payday is crowded.


Describes the front and back parking lots and the heavy traffic in the parking lot.


Says that meatloaf is her favorite dish to make.


Was in a Holiday Inn cooking contest which she won with her meatloaf.


Describes the competition.


Describes how she prepares her meatloaf.


Says caramel cake is her favorite dessert to make.


Describes her recipe for caramel cake.


Describes compliments she has received about her cooking.


Says that keeps between 60 to 70 recipes in her head. She does not write recipes down.


Describes the iron skillet that was handed down from her mother.

2nd Interview

Brassell is the head cook and owner of “Mama Jo’s Restaurant” in Oxford, MS. She grew up in Taylor, MS. In this interview she talks about the impact of religion on her cooking and the relationship she has with her customers.

The interview was conducted at “Mama Jo’s Restaurant” at around 3:15 PM. The sound the television, tuned to a “Court TV” show, and the sound of passing traffic from the street outside, is audible. At one point, Mrs. Brassell has a long conversation with her husband, “Daddy” Bo Brassell. Used an M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 digital audio recorder and a Sennheiser MD 46 mic.

Brassell has several starts and stops and many run-on sentences throughout the interview.

Note: Although I had set aside 35 minutes for the interview, when I arrived, at about 3:15 PM, Mrs. Brassell informed me that she had an errand to run before 4:00 PM and would have to cut the interview short. The interview lasted 19:15.


Mrs. Brassell spells her name.


Mrs. Brassel talks about importance of religion in her life.


Mrs. Brassell describes her chicken spaghetti as a recipe that was given to her in a vision from God.


Talks about how, at the age of eight, she traveled to LaFayette High School to watch her mom cook at the school.


Says that her mother enjoyed cooking for children and enjoyed her job.


Discusses the meaning of “soul food.”


Well, the meaning of those dishes to me are when you say country cooking you go back to the hogs and the cows and the fresh vegetables grown in the garden, um, that’s what I- that’s what I look at country being because canned goods are not country. They processed. And when you got the greens out of the garden, the purple hulled peas, the fried corn, the pigs feets, the chitterlings, and the neckbone, those are- that is country eating. The fried skillet, the fried corn and the black skillet, iron skillet, all that stuff is come from back years and years ago back when mom was in the kitchen, grandmom back in the kitchen cooking, with the iron skillet and stuff, and that’s what they usually cooked back in the days. And my customers, when they come in and when they see this and they eats it and this- this is the first thing they say, “This remind me of my grandmother.” So it goes back a long way.


Talks about the enjoyment of running a restaurant.


Describes her relationship with her customers as caring.


Talks about the various dishes that can be made with an iron skillet: fried corn; fried cabbage; fried chicken; pork chops.


Talks about cooking with an iron skillet and how an iron skillet will “hold” the seasonings from previous use as compared to a stainless steel skillet.


Lists her most important utensils: dish towels; butcher knife; forks; double oven.


Asks her husband, “Daddy” Bo Brassell, about the most interesting thing that has happened in the restaurant. Mr. Brassell says it was a man writing on the internet about how good the food tasted and then, the next weekend, 42 new customers came in because they had read about the restaurant on the internet. Mrs. Brassell describes the internet as “off the change.”


Says she has no plans to write a cookbook.


Talks about some of the compliments she has received. The best was, “You are going to make me fat.”


Talks about the $0.99 hamburgers and $1.19 cheeseburgers.


Describes her recipe for hamburgers: ground chuck; pepper; worcestershire sauce; Larry’s Seasoning Salt.


Describes the joy of owning a restaurant.


I love it. I love it. I love it because I love helping people and that’s my way of helping people by blessing people through there- through my food and my cooking.


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