I think my love of cooking came from the simple premise -- I love to eat!
Being raised by a single parent, my father, for my entire life gave me little options as to the age old question, “What’s for supper?” Generally, the six of us, his children, ate whatever he managed to rustle up. Frozen chicken pot pies were a staple in our household for a while, and I despised them.
Some of my fondest and most vivid memories of growing up centered around food and family. Either at home with my brothers and sisters and dad of course or with my maternal grandparents during the holidays. I spent many a Thanksgiving and Christmas in Troy, Ala. at Dommie & Gramps’ house. They both worked for the railroad and Gramps had done so from the moment he stepped off the train and used his skills as a telegraph operator. He had fled Madison, IL after a raid by the Feds where he worked at a speakeasy during Prohibition. He arrived in Jesup, Ga. a few days later, tired and hungry. The 20 year old son of Romanian immigrants Anthony Dragoui went to work and the fella doing the hiring misspelled his name. Being that he thought the Feds may still be after him he wasn’t about to correct anyone. He was forever Anthony Dragoin from that day on.
The One & Only Coach Long
“Some of my fondest & most vivid memories of growing up centered around food & family.”
His wife, my grandmother Dommie, was a typical Southern cook. I remember shelling fall peas with the women and other children, cousins mostly, at her kitchen table. Most of the grown up men were in the den watching Gramps’ old black and white TV. It was football season after all and Thanksgivings were made for bowl games. The younger boys were allowed to come in and watch, as long as we were
seen and not heard. Both the Long and the Dragoin families were Auburn fans, but more about that later.
To this day I can still smell the delectable aroma of Dommie canning fig preserves. She would get some of us younger children to go pluck some ripe figs from the tree outside her home on Brundidge Street in Troy and I was always so curious as to why she would do what she was doing with those figs. I don’t remember if I even liked the things, but they sure did smell good.
Little Jimmy (on the bottom right) with his family, and reclining in the photo below
“I remember shelling fall peas with the women and other children, cousins mostly, at her kitchen table.”
My dad, Coach Bruce Long was a huge man! He was intimidating to look at standing a whopping 6’ 4” and weighing about 275 pounds. He coached high school sports in Dothan and Newton, Ala., Chattahoochee, Fla., as well as stints in Pelham and Thomasville, Ga., before locating us all to Adel, Ga. He was a sight to behold wherever he went, this behemoth of a man... always with six little kids in-tow!
Over the years, one by one, my brothers and sisters grew up, moved out, joined the Army, got married or went to college. And then it was just me and Daddy.
I was somewhat of a typical teenager; into baseball, music, girls and friends. I developed a love of photography during a visit with the 4H club to Rock Eagle in Eatonton, Ga. I found a lost camera there and from that point, my career was set or so I thought. During the summer, when most of my friends were working in the tobacco fields, I was doing Summer Portrait Specials. I had a darkroom at 13 and often honed my photography skills there late into the night.
Bruce Long On The Field.
“I guess I first began cooking like most men do, on the grill. Learning about charcoal, wood, air, fire, the right combination. Trying not to burn anything.”
At 19 I got an interview with Olan Mills Studios, a large national chain that specialized in family portraits. They had never hired someone so young, but they seemed quite impressed with my portfolio, and I began my career as a professional photographer. I trained in the north Georgia mountains area with a husband and wife team that liked to dine in the “mom and pop” restaurants of the towns that we were working in. As I got my own territory in South Florida, I continued avoiding the chain restaurants and opted for the more home cooked meals that the local places offered.
After less than a year, I decided that life as an on-the-road photographer wasn’t for me. I moved back home and settled into my dad’s place in Sparks, Ga. It was a quiet little town one mile north of Adel. The locals used to say that Adel was so close to hell that you can see Sparks! In the hot sweltering summer, I mostly agree with them.
I guess I first began cooking like most men do, on the grill. Learning about charcoal, wood, air, fire, the right combination. Trying not to burn anything. You learn a lot in this life by making mistakes, I’m an expert at a lot of things because of mistakes.
I bought daddy a Brinkman smoker one Christmas. Honestly, I’m not too sure he ever used the thing, but I certainly did. I took over the cooking of the Thanksgiving turkey. I smoked hams, Boston butts, even bacon. I guess you could say, that’s what got me started really wanting to cook. That and the fact that daddy wasn’t much of a cook himself. It’s not that he didn’t try. Once when I was around five dad had cooked us all ‘breakfast for supper’ as we called it. Typical breakfast offerings; eggs, grits (I had to have mine with sugar in them), bacon, toast with jelly. He had decided to do a little experimenting I guess and was boasting about us eating ‘new eggs’. Our oldest sister Beth, was quite insistent that there can’t be a ‘new egg’ and she pressed him for more information about these so called, new eggs. I guess he got tired of her constant questions about them and told her that “the can was on the counter.” As soon as she looked at the can she went running out the door holding her mouth. The man had mixed a can of pork brains with the eggs! Brains and eggs may be tasty to some, but I assure you, not one long child has ever had them since. Maybe that’s why he never experimented in the kitchen much. Some of the things he cooked were really good. But his cookbook was so thin, it only had one page.
I’ll never forget this one time I had made Sunday lunch. BBQ pork chops, macaroni & cheese (my oldest sister Beth’s recipe that I still use today), black eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread. Dad and I ate in the living room watching some football and when I finished, I went with my best friend Walter fishing. About six that afternoon, I went home for dinner and dad was sitting in his recliner with a plate in his lap. “You eating dinner already?” I quipped. “No. I haven’t stopped eating lunch yet!” He said. The man loved to eat!
“I think my love of cooking came from the simple premise that I love to eat!”
Later marriage came, and kids, then I started a business. I had worked for a “shopping guide” publication as a sales manager and decided to give it a try on my own having given up on photography, as the field in my little community was too crowded with photographers. I had been an entrepreneur most of my life anyway, so it seemed a natural thing to do.
For all her good qualities, my wife Cyndee just didn’t like to cook. Her mother Vernell had done all the cooking for her family and Cyndee just wasn’t into it. Vernell was another one of those Southern cooks that could really throw down in the kitchen, and I enjoyed many meals at my in-laws table. But my wife’s dislike of the stove and my dislike for chain food led me to take over the cooking for the family and I didn’t mind one bit.
I took on the task of learning to cook with as much fervor as I had when I was learning photography. As my dad would tell us on the ball field, I would always give it 110%, in everything I do.
“I took on the task of learning to cook with as much fervor as I had when I was learning photography! As my dad would tell us on the ball field, I would always give it 110%, in everything I do.”
Over the years, children grew up and my wife and I grew apart. It happens. The kids moved out what seems like forever ago and now I’m more often than not rambling through an empty house talking to myself just to have some conversation. Being an empty-nester isn’t fun, at all.
I still cook. But I will admit, cooking for one isn’t much fun. I’ll have a crowd over for Thanksgiving, family, friends. My daughter Brooklyn has been helping out the last couple of years. There’s always an occasion to have friends over. Holidays, cookouts, football Saturdays. Then there’s tailgating. Oh the trips to Auburn over the years!
Going to Auburn as a youngster with your hero, your dad, to watch your favorite players like Pat Sullivan or Bo Jackson has to be the epitome of all things that make America great. Sitting on the tailgate of his old station wagon eating a bunch of Krystal burgers or some Kentucky Fried Chicken before going into the stadium that holds almost 90,000, cheering on your favorite team... ‘On to vic’try strike up the band!’ The Auburn Fight Song goes.
Over the past several years I’d always drop by and see my Uncle Sonny Dragoin, if time would allow it. He would always charm any girl that I would take with me to see a game. He was the golf coach at Auburn for many years. It’s not the same going to a game and not stopping by to see him. I was always his ‘ole buddy’ and he was mine.
After leaving a game against Arkansas once, I did what I usually do, take a long way home. I love taking the back roads and seeing places that I’ve never seen before. It was one of these times I ran across an old roadside BBQ shack outside of some little Alabama town I can’t even remember. I told my girl friend that I wanted some BBQ from that little shack. “It just HAD to be good.” I thought to myself. My heart was set on a BBQ sandwich and some Brunswick stew. But the lady said she had just sold out of the stew and offered me some cabbage stew instead. That’s not what I had in mind and the disappointment must have showed. She gave me a taste of a cabbage stew. Oh my Lord was it good! I bought 2 or 3 quarts of that stuff to take home with us and over the next couple of days, my friend and I picked apart what we thought were the ingredients of that cabbage stew. I still make it, just as if I had bought it at that little roadside BBQ joint in LA. (Lower Alabama).
Kind of by happenstance, earlier this year, both of my brothers Bruce and Sonny were at my house for an extended visit. We spent many an hour talking, visiting, joking around, reminiscing about our childhood and watching football. It was great having two people that I love and admire spending more than a week here with me. Of course food came up, as it often does, and I mentioned my hatred for those dreaded chicken pot pies. Who would have thought that a man in his mid-50’s would still remember those horrible things from his pre-teen years? But I did. Food must have such a lasting impression on us all. Not long after they had left, I was watching one of those cooking shows and one of the things that they were cooking was, believe it or not, chicken pot pies. I watched. I don’t know why I did, but I did. I hated the things, hadn’t eaten one in more than 40 years. But I watched it anyway. The chef made the thing look good, and easy. Hey, I like good and easy! I decided to try and make one for myself. So after 40+ years of swearing that I’d never have chicken pot pie again, here I was cooking and even enjoying a most delicious recipe, thanks to a cooking channel on TV. Daddy would be proud!
All of that and more, brings me to this....I love Southern food! One of my favorite things to do is find a recipe, cook it and tweak it to make it even better. I started this business with this simple premise in mind, that food should be good. Too often we buy things from a grocery store and they’re just not as tasty as they looked on the package or as the hype about them would have you believe. And while we always don’t seem to have as much time to spend in the kitchen anymore, I hope to bring you wonderfully delicious foods that you and your family can enjoy for years to come and make your time spent in the kitchen well worth the effort.
I welcome your feedback and your suggestions. Keep checking in on us, we’re just getting started!
- Jim Long, Founder