Off The Shelf
Ten years ago, right after the first issue of Edible Memphis was published, we started to receive subscriptions. I still remember the first three names.
1. Mitch Major — Mitch became a big supporter of local food, first on the Slow Food board and then as the Project Green Fork president. Mitch and his wife, Laurie, have become our friends and we’ve shared many meals and food adventures with them. Laurie used to proofread the magazine for us and Mitch even authored an article.
2. Andrew Adams — I didn’t know it at the time, but Andrew was a large part of the reason we moved to Memphis. On a visit, we enjoyed a spectacular meal at Wally Joe where Andrew was the Chef de Cuisine. He’s long been a part of pushing the food envelope here. His amazing creativity is a standout at Acre and we’ve featured him in several Edible Memphis articles.
3. Lee and Pup McCarty — The name didn’t ring any bells with me as a non-native, but I remember the subscription came in with a handwritten note.
You just don’t know what you don’t know.
Some nine years ago I received a birthday gift from my new-at-the-time, Memphis friend, Jennifer. A single blue bowl. “It’s a gumbo bowl; everyone needs a gumbo bowl,” she said. With so many people here who make great gumbo, I don’t. So that blue bowl has held everything except gumbo — cherry tomatoes from the farmers’ market; hummus for a potluck; cookies at Christmas. The bowl is never empty.
It was another few years before I turned the bowl over.
I’d heard the name “McCarty pottery” but it wasn’t until another friend, Allison, talked it up when I admired her dishes, goblets, and mugs, that I thought to look at my own bowl so similar to the thick, yet graceful pieces that Allison uses for everything.
This has been a long trip to finally get in the car with my friend, Margot, and venture to the home of McCarty.
Merigold, Mississippi has a population that numbers in the hundreds. Just under two hours from Memphis, Merigold is a blink on the map. We blinked and missed the turn. A U-turn later, we traversed about four long blocks from the highway past a handful of houses and a few grand buildings. For a small town, the stop signs are plentiful. You’re meant to go slow here.
As we passed a weathered building fronted with a copse of bamboo, it was the row of parked cars that clued us in. This was McCarty Pottery — the only destination in Merigold.
Lee and Pup McCarty’s story has been told many times. Even if their faces aren’t familiar, their pottery is. Since the early 1950s, the McCartys have coiled Mississippi clay into functional pottery. Just three glazes — cobalt, nutmeg, and jade — add color and an individual fingerprint to each piece. A black squiggle representing the Mississippi river marks bowls, platters, goblets, and cups. The statues are recognizable without the river mark. Pigs, rabbits, scarabs, angels, raccoons, owls — they all have the McCarty look
Margot and I put our selections in the holding area (the stairs) and venture across town (about 2 blocks) to the only restaurant.
The Gallery, opened by the McCarty’s in the 80s, offers two lunch choices each day. Today it’s chicken and chicken. I opt for the chicken crêpes and our server graciously offers Margot a vegetable plate, with all of the offered vegetables (tomatoes, spinach, and green beans) sans chicken. Is water from a McCarty goblet more refreshing? Are the simple little corn muffins better because they are arranged on a McCarty plate? Or, is it a great meal because the food is good and hearty and exploring what Merigold has to offer is a bit of adventure on a Tuesday in spring? Yes to all.
If you want a piece of McCarty, there are other places to purchase it — for a traditional Delta wedding gift or to add to your personal collection. But just as a farm or market visit adds flavor to the produce we buy, a trip to Merigold adds some special flavor to my new mug.
It’s not just a vessel to hold my afternoon tea. The mug represents several hours of uninterrupted conversation with a dear friend and a peaceful (yet nosy) walk through the McCarty gardens. My mug is the piece that spoke to me from hundreds, artfully packed in the small, two-room shop.
I waited too long. I should have travelled to Merigold long ago. Pup passed away in 2009. Lee is still around the store in Merigold, but not on the day we were there. The business today is thriving under the McCarty’s godsons, Jamie and Stephen. But I missed out because of my delay. I would have liked to have met Lee and Pup. They signed on immediately to support a new venture. They were one of the first.
Melissa Petersen is the editor of Edible Memphis. She drinks coffee and tea, daily, from an extensive assortment of hand-crafted pottery mugs.
If You Go (and you really should):
101 Saint Marys Street
662-748-2293 • www.mccartyspottery.com
Open Tuesday–Saturday 10:00 am–4:00 pm
(Closed Christmas Day through the entire month of January, opening the first Tuesday in February)
Available locally at Babcock’s Gifts
McCartys Gallery Restaurant
100 Sunflower Street
Open Tuesday–Saturday, 11:30 am–1:30 pm