I spoke with cook Sylvester Thomas recently at the county jail to see how things were since I originally wrote this eight years ago. Sadly, it looks as if the Tunica Museum is closed and Ms. Eveda Bullock decided to retire about six years ago, but still stops by according to Thomas.
When you have a passion, your artistry and love for a community will never go away. I was so
happy to hear this the times we are navigating right now. People snickered and were surprised it had taken this long, but I was going to jail. Dick Taylor, the director of the Tunica Museum, felt I should meet someone there. So it started as Mr. Taylor had me hop in his 75 Triumph and we bounced down the road toward the county jail, the new facility sitting next to the old shell of the jail house, art deco in architecture and nature taking over.
Tunica locals joke that if you have to get locked up, the county is the place since Eveda Bullock took over as cook after a fire closed her popular soul food restaurant. “John Pickett who was the sheriff at that time, needed a cook and he was a friend of mine so I started cooking for him and then they hired me on.”
Before that, farmers from all around would flock to her place and she had the food ready for the rush around 11: 30 am. On average, Miss Veda says she prepared food for 130 regulars daily and usually covered 300 plates in a day. “I was cooking fresh food. Turnip greens- I would get a case and mix em together. That was an everyday thing.”
Then she goes down the list of some of the home cooking one could find. “Fresh peas, pinto beans, pork chops, chicken wings, chicken and dumplings, ham hocks, fried okra, boiled okra, cornbread muffins and the best tea in the county,” she says with a smile. She continues, “On Fridays and Saturdays it was always catfish fillets, chitlins and barbeque ribs; rain, shine, sleet, or snow I was always out there on that grill, every Friday and Saturday with my hood on if I had to.”
Even after her place burned to the ground, people voted for her place in the best of for the Tunica Times yearly round up. I was amazed as she generously shared a number of her cooking techniques. “I don’t taste as I cook, I don’t taste, it’s just figuring it out.” “No.” she laughs, “I don’t read recipes. I don’t keep recipes at all. I just try to keep it here (her head). They call for measuring and I don’t measure so that’s why I don’t do recipes but if someone shows me how to do this then I know I got it!”
She then explained how she wanted to make lasagna and her friend Polly showed her how and she’s been making it ever since the demonstration. “I guess it’s more hands on for me.” With two cooks and three inmate cooks, Bullock now manages more than cooks but
keeps her skills sharp by preparing luncheon for senior citizens in the community every month. “It’s an organization called TRIAD.” TRIAD being a cooperation between local sheriff, North Delta Planning and Development, and the Mississippi Leadership Council on Aging/RSVP
(Retired Senior Volunteer Program), all three groups working to stop victimization and fear of crime for older persons.. She prepares 300 meals the first Wednesday of every month for Tunica Seniors, which always ends with a big sheet cake to celebrate a month of birthdays.
Miss Veda has also made her mark within the community by producing programs for the inmates starting her first year there. She organizes traditional food and a programs for Thanksgiving and Christmas and for black history month, with the inmates performing and doing
readings in the gymnasium.
And it looks as if this local treasure will keep helping the community by cooking in the local jail.
“I’ve been here thirteen years at this job, and I’ll be 66 years old soon. Everybody here, they are trying to get me to retire and I’m not retiring right now because I won’t have anything to do and I like helping people. So, as long as I have health and strength I’m here by the grace of God.” 3 to 500 pounds of chitlins every weekend. I would clean my own chitlins. the help didn’t have to do it, I did my own chitlins