A Mississippi Minute: Cou-Cou and Macaroni Pie Edition

When the homesick give and get the flavor of home, they start to figure out who their friends are.

Lauren caught sight of me crossing the parking lot that is Biloxi’s farmers market and looked to the sky. “Oh Lahrd!” she called, “Are you dropping this one here for me?”

I laughed. “It’s nice to see you too, Lauren.” She had her usual table, today piled with okra and some greens and a short stack of well-worn notebooks. She’s been writing a cookbook on Barbadian food in ballpoint on lined paper crinkly from age. “You’re supposed to be writing this for me, you know,” she said before flipping through her recipes—cucumber wine, beef and eddo stew, cou-cou.

“Oh, you wouldn’t be able to stop eating my cou-cou!” she hooted. I would have argued the point, because cornmeal mush cooked in okra slime is something for which I have, at best, limited appetite. But when Lauren is gearing up for a story, I find it best to just keep quiet and listen. “It’s what I cooked for Beverly,” she started.

Half a decade ago, Lauren phoned a lawyer’s office, and the woman who answered paused before transferring her call. “You’re from Barbados,” she said. “I can hear your accent.” Soon the two women, so far from home, were talking about towns they haven’t seen in years, streets they haven’t walked, foods they missed. They talked for an hour. I don’t think Lauren ever got to the lawyer. “I work at the perfume counter at the Dillard’s,” Beverly said. “Come say hello.”

“So I went to the store and I asked this girl for her,” Lauren told me. “She pointed and I said, ‘Where? Where? I don’t see nobody.’ But she pointed at this blond woman, and I said, ‘THAT’s Beverly?’” Lauren hunched down, bringing up her shoulders, coiling her big frame. She squinted her eyes, like a child playing at suspicion. “In Barbados, a white woman would not want to meet me, you know.”

But by then Beverly came over, announcing to everyone that this was her new Barbadian friend, and asked Lauren to come to her house to cook dinner. Lauren made her cou-cou. Beverly’s husband tried a spoonful out of politeness, but then she called out when he ate a second. “You never eat cou-cou!” she cried.

“Your cou-cou doesn’t taste like this,” he said, serving himself. Lauren cackled. Beverly fumed. This was turning into a postcolonial melodrama. But then she took a bite for herself and said, “Oh, this is home.” And Lauren was right; Beverly ate so much she got sick.

We flipped through more recipes in her notebook. She stopped on macaroni pie. “Oooooo! Macaroni pie!” she said. “But actually, Beverly’s macaroni pie is…” she trailed off to make a smacking sound so loud she shook. “When Beverly left, she made me two pans of macaroni pie,” she said, drawing the enormous dishes in the air while talking about their crustiness, how much cheese Beverly baked into them. More, it was clear, than what was necessary to make the pies good. Lauren took fistfuls of imaginary cheese and scattered them into the air. Five years after they met, while she got ready to follow her children to Florida, Beverly made her macaroni pies for Lauren with a quantity of cheese that was beyond flavor; it was about generosity, and friendship and a sign that, when she was gone, they would miss one another.

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