“Call me Mama, Baby”
Driving down Rosedale Avenue, past Torchy’s Tacos and the hospital district, I spot a small brick building with barred windows and a large sign boasting “Mama E’s Bar-B-Que and Home Cooking”. I pull into the gravel parking lot and make my way inside. Three women stand behind the counter, slicing brisket, buttering buns and pulling fresh, homemade pastries out of the oven. The oldest is a small woman standing just over five feet, with a smile as bright as the sun. She walks out of the kitchen through a side door covered in children’s art and hugs me.
“Call me Mama, Baby.”
One of the only female pit masters in Fort Worth, Ernestine Edmond knows nothing beats a home-cooked meal made with love. When I asked her why she thought the North Texas barbecue scene was dominated by men, she laughed.
“Who do you think taught those men how to cook? Their mamas. Who do you think at home making the potato salad and caring for the babies? Their wives. I’m just the only one in the foreground. People don’t realize the weight this 115-pound woman can handle. I picked cotton as a child; if I can carry a bag of cotton as a little girl, I sure can pick up a bag of meat on my own.”
This strength, this gutsiness, runs through the four generations of women who own Mama E’s. At 67, Mama E runs this place like she runs her home because this restaurant is an extension of her home. Her 8-year-old great-granddaughter helps to run the cash register after school. Her daughter creates the tea cakes and pies that fill the small room with a heavenly smell. Her husband oversees changing the light bulbs and holding the door for Mama. Her family, however, is not limited to her blood relatives. It extends to her customers.
“You know, I don’t do this for the money because I don’t make a lot of money. I do this because this is where the Lord needs me…. The customers who come in are my family, we pray together… I have nurses from Cooks who come in because their patients won’t eat the hospital food, so I send them what they need. My customers’ babies become my grandbabies. Everything I do, I do with love. It’s a pleasure”.
In a corner, a sign reads, “When God sends you an Angel, he don’t always look like you!! Thank you God for my Angel, Jeff Carpenter. Love you always!” When I ask Mama about it, her eyes begin to water, her voice shakes, and she tells me a story. After a burglary, the missing cash register and pit were covered by insurance, but the damages to the property were shattering, financially and emotionally. As an insurance adjustor surveyed the damage, a stranger walked through the door, saying he saw the broken windows, and a spirit told him to pull over. This was Jeff Carpenter, a local contractor. He told the adjuster to leave, called his team, and got to work.
After repairing the damages, adding bars to the windows for protection, Jeff sat with Mama E and a list itemizing the repairs. She wasn’t sure how she would cover the cost, but her faith in the Lord was strong. Jeff took the list and a pen, scribbled something at the bottom, and slid the paper back across the table.
She owed him nothing.
Mama uses pecan and oak to create her signature barbecue. The flavor doesn’t come from a spice rub, although she’ll throw some cayenne on your order if you request it. The flavor comes from the hands that prepare the meal. Some call this soul food; to Mama, this is just home cooking.
As we wrap up our time together, Mama hugs me again and tells me I’m one of her babies now. The hour we spent together was filled with laughter, love, and the occasional tear. It isn’t hard to see why her customers are fiercely loyal once they find her. She represents all the things that make this city great: family, love, good food, and good times.
Mama gives me a chopped brisket sandwich and a bottle of Coke. The sandwich bursts with flavor – the tender meat, smoky sauce, and buns toasted to perfection. She learned these recipes from her mama, and she knows her daughters will carry on her spirit after she is gone.
Mama E’s Bar-B-Que and Home Cooking is located at 818 E Rosedale Street, and is open every day except Sunday.
This article was the result of a collaboration between Madeworthy and Sarah Angle’s Featured Writing students at TCU, and Sophie King’s article was the winner!