Remembering Mama Dip
As UNC Press’s Publicity Director, I had the privilege of working with Mildred Council, who passed away on May 20, 2018 at the age of 89, on promoting Mama Dip’s Kitchen (UNC Press’s best selling title of all time) and the classic Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook. This included being Mama Dip’s media escort on many of her trips to sell her books on the QVC shopping channel whose studios are located in West Chester, PA. She and I would fly to Philadelphia (it was not at all unusual for her to be recognized in the airport there), meet our limo, check into our hotel, and then arrive at QVC to get ready for the broadcast—usually on QVC host (and UNC Chapel Hill alumnus) David Venable’s show: “In the Kitchen with David.”
Invariably, David’s recounting of Mama Dip’s story, how she parlayed $64 into a $135 profit in a single day and launched her career as a restaurateur, charmed viewers and got the orders flowing.
I viewed the broadcast from the QVC green room, which was outfitted with sales monitors that allowed me to witness the thrilling real time event of watching how many thousands of copies of her books Mama Dip could sell in just a few minutes. She would stand before a table groaning with expertly plated and styled recipes from her book. Sales would spike when David Venable showed a slice of her trademark pecan pie, topped with a swirl of whipped cream, and garnished with a mint leaf, and then took a bite, pronouncing it perfection. Her consistent ability to sell 10,000 books in a single show made her a bona fide QVC star, and we’d head back to Chapel Hill in triumph.
So, I had the rare opportunity to really get to know Mildred Council and to talk with her about many things, large and small, and our friendship grew and deepened during these trips—some of which lasted several days. She was always calm, thoughtful, and kind—and completely unimpressed by celebrity—her own, or anyone else’s. When asked about the important people who dined at Mama Dip’s, her Chapel Hill restaurant, she replied, “All of my customers are important.”
But I did, once, see her truly moved. On a late August day in 2005, she and I had a little downtime between her QVC appearances, and we decided to spend what turned out to be a perfect August day at Longwood Gardens—a 400-acre showcase that was just a short drive from the QVC studios and renowned for its horticultural displays. Mildred and I spent several hours exploring seemingly every footpath of the gardens, ending our visit at the 4-acre Conservatory, which was brimful with orchids of every variety and color imaginable. Mildred clasped her hands, flashed her trademark smile, and cried out “Orchids! Orchids!” as we took in all the beauty around us. It was a joyful and happy day—and the only time that I ever saw Ms. Dip truly impressed.
That Christmas, I got a call from Mama Dip’s daughter, Spring Council, at the restaurant, asking me to stop by because Mama Dip had something for me. When I got there, she presented me with a jar of her famous damson plum jelly—from fruit that had ripened that August. She said, “This is a gift from me, to you.”
Thank you, Mama Dip, for the gift of your friendship and the many things you taught me along the way. I will always treasure your memory.
More UNC Press blog posts about Mama Dip through the years can be found here.