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The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

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A people's history of Southern food that reveals how the region came to be at the forefront of American culinary culture and how issues of race have shaped Southern cuisine over the last six decades THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of food and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, noted a A people's history of Southern food that reveals how the region came to be at the forefront of American culinary culture and how issues of race have shaped Southern cuisine over the last six decades THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of food and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the South's journey from racist backwater to a hotbed of American immigration. In so doing, he traces how the food of the poorest Southerners has become the signature trend of modern American haute cuisine. This is a people's history of the modern South told through the lens of food. Food was a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. Access to food and ownership of culinary tradition was a central part of the long march to racial equality. THE POTLIKKER PAPERS begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fed and supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott and it concludes in 2015 as a Newer South came to be, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Lebanon to Vietnam to all points in between. Along the way, THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tracks many different evolutions of Southern identity --first in the 1970s, from the back-to-the-land movement that began in the Tennessee hills to the rise of fast and convenience foods modeled on Southern staples. Edge narrates the gentrification that gained traction in North Carolina and Louisiana restaurants of the 1980s and the artisanal renaissance that reconnected farmers and cooks in the 1990s and in the 00s. He profiles some of the most extraordinary and fascinating figures in Southern food, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Colonel Sanders, Edna Lewis, Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne, Sean Brock, and many others. Like many great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, masters ate the greens from the pot and set aside the left-over potlikker broth for their slaves, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient-rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, black and white. In the rapidly gentrifying South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed the dish. Over the last two generations, wrenching changes have transformed the South. THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of that change--and reveals how Southern food has become a shared culinary language for the nation. Music Copyright (c) 2012, Lee Bains III


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A people's history of Southern food that reveals how the region came to be at the forefront of American culinary culture and how issues of race have shaped Southern cuisine over the last six decades THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of food and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, noted a A people's history of Southern food that reveals how the region came to be at the forefront of American culinary culture and how issues of race have shaped Southern cuisine over the last six decades THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of food and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the South's journey from racist backwater to a hotbed of American immigration. In so doing, he traces how the food of the poorest Southerners has become the signature trend of modern American haute cuisine. This is a people's history of the modern South told through the lens of food. Food was a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. Access to food and ownership of culinary tradition was a central part of the long march to racial equality. THE POTLIKKER PAPERS begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fed and supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott and it concludes in 2015 as a Newer South came to be, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Lebanon to Vietnam to all points in between. Along the way, THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tracks many different evolutions of Southern identity --first in the 1970s, from the back-to-the-land movement that began in the Tennessee hills to the rise of fast and convenience foods modeled on Southern staples. Edge narrates the gentrification that gained traction in North Carolina and Louisiana restaurants of the 1980s and the artisanal renaissance that reconnected farmers and cooks in the 1990s and in the 00s. He profiles some of the most extraordinary and fascinating figures in Southern food, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Colonel Sanders, Edna Lewis, Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne, Sean Brock, and many others. Like many great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, masters ate the greens from the pot and set aside the left-over potlikker broth for their slaves, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient-rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, black and white. In the rapidly gentrifying South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed the dish. Over the last two generations, wrenching changes have transformed the South. THE POTLIKKER PAPERS tells the story of that change--and reveals how Southern food has become a shared culinary language for the nation. Music Copyright (c) 2012, Lee Bains III

30 review for The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    Yesterday, the individual who occupies the American presidency referred to the nations of Africa, Central America and Haiti as "shitholes." A few things related to The Potlikker Papers came to mind as I considered the stupidity of the racist who now is responsible for leading this nation. He obviously has no idea of history. Slaves from Africa built this country and American cuisine would be unthinkable without their essential contributions to its heritage. I lived in New Orleans during the most Yesterday, the individual who occupies the American presidency referred to the nations of Africa, Central America and Haiti as "shitholes." A few things related to The Potlikker Papers came to mind as I considered the stupidity of the racist who now is responsible for leading this nation. He obviously has no idea of history. Slaves from Africa built this country and American cuisine would be unthinkable without their essential contributions to its heritage. I lived in New Orleans during the most integral years of my life. If you're from south Louisiana, then you know that gumbo is the culinary Holy Grail. It's a dark stew that literally defines the region. Everyone claims to know where to get the best. My favorite is filled with shrimp, oysters and crab. But there are also great chicken and sausage versions. And I can still tase the version with chicken neck bones the chef at a restaurant I worked in used to make for the staff. The common ingredient in all gumbos is okra, a vegetable that's hard to describe to anyone who doesn't know what it is. It has small round seeds. It is not native to North America; it came from West Africa, where the word for okra was gumbo. When captured Africans were rounded up on the coasts to be shipped to a place they could not have conceived, many of them grasped at the gumbo plants, took out the seeds, and put them in their hair. When they reached their destinations, when they were the reason the South became the agricultural powerhouse of the U.S., they planted these seeds and gave birth to a new cuisine, a genuine American cuisine. Other slaves brought the small beans and rice kernels that were the foundation of Carolina cuisine and their signature dish, hoppin John. The style of cooking large animals in the ground, covered with spices and simmered over the course of a day became what we now know as barbecue. I love telling good ole' white boys in the South that their favorite food would have never happened had it not been for the ancestors of the people they hate, deride and discriminate against. I am so embarrassed by the so-called man in the White House. He degrades not only our nation, but because of the power of his office, our world as well. I find it fitting that he lives on fast food, that he takes pride in eating well-done steak slathered in ketchup. It helps explain his worldview. The less diverse one's cuisine is, the narrower one's mind likely is. John T. Edge's book is a testament to explaining this thesis. Our Dear Leader makes its conclusion inescapable. Original Review It takes some doing to make sense out of the American South. John T. Edge’s The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South gets pretty close to it. Reading Edge is, for me, like viewing a Walker Evans photograph: both create simple, profound narratives that are deeper than what’s on the surface. The cultural impact of Southern food is not as obvious as it is with music. Mississippi Delta Blues gave birth to rock and roll. Jazz, Folk, Bluegrass, Country, Soul and Western swing—all children of the South—added the other essential ingredients. Ironically, although the South has long been identified with slavery and prejudice, fairly or not, its musical progeny was a vital expression of freedom and resistance in totalitarian and authoritarian societies of the 20th century. I find it interesting that Southerners like Louis Jordan and Hank Williams sang about food. Implicitly, I think they imply connections freedom of expression and a satisfied stomach.Like great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is salvage food. During the antebellum era, slaveholders ate the greens from the pot, setting aside the potlikker for enslaved cooks and their families, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, black and white. “I lived on what I did not eat,” Richard Wright wrote. “Perhaps the sunshine, the fresh air, and the pot liquor from greens kept me going.” The potlikker of Edge’s narrative is more than a story about a nourishing broth. It’s a culinary heritage of a diverse, ever-changing region that has mostly been underappreciated. But Edge reveals a deeper, metaphorical, cultural potlikker. It’s about who we, as Americans, are. Edge begins on familiar ground, but not one normally associated with food—the Civil Rights movement. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycotts and mass meetings at the Holt Street Baptist Church, how many thought about the vital roles women like Georgia Gilmore and many others played when they worked the kitchens of white families and, when they were off the clock, would cook and serve the meals nourishing the front lines of the movement? Or that the freedom to eat where one pleased was integral to civil rights?The symbolism of the long unbroken table was important to Southerners. Many had been schooled from infancy in Last Supper imagery. Sharing a meal signaled social equality. And no eating space promised more democracy than a lunch counter, where diners stooped to take their seats and eat with people of other sexes and, eventually, other races. The problem was, for much of the South’s history, neither the people who owned lunch counters nor the people who patronized them were at their best.Indeed, when he was assassinated, King made the right to nourishing food central to the Poor People’s Campaign. Civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer “believed that black Southerners would not achieve full citizenship until they claimed their sovereignty over their diet.” But Hamer’s vision stalled and actually went in different direction with the proliferation of fast food, which had its roots in the South. McDonald’s gets the credit for changing the diets and roadsides of suburban America, but it was “the Pig Stand chain, founded in 1920s Dallas [that] popularized drive-in service across the nation. Its model may have served as an inspiration for McDonald’s, which included barbecue pork and beef sandwiches on early menus.” Fast food offered a mirage of social mobility, “Southerners with lower incomes were ideal fast-food customers. A burger, a sleeve of fries, and a shake promised a sugar rush, a full stomach, and temporary middle-class status.” The first titan of fast food, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and its numerous imitators spread the gospel of deep-fried, pressure cooked chicken around the country and the world, exporting a Southern experience in standardized packages. But fast food came with a price: obesity, cultural homogenization, and the proliferation of factory farms. But it came with a backlash. Authenticity mattered to some. Proliferation of processed fried chicken led to a yearning for its original form. “Skillet fried, not pressure fried, became the chicken grail.” In the 1970s, hippies and other counter culture types congregated in Tennessee and in the mountains of north Georgia created communities focused on a simpler existence of organic, sustainable diets and products. Although they didn’t have a broad cultural reach, their influence grew steadily and infiltrated affluent communities and big business in later years. The most critical event, however, in the changing perception of the South was political: the election of former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as president in 1976. His ascendancy changed how the nation viewed the South, it became cool. It’s largest metropolis, Atlanta, still shrouded in Gone With the Wind Hollywood nostalgia, experienced a rebirth, thanks in large part to its airport, built in the 1970s and now the busiest in the world. Southern food also became ascendant, it had a “vernacular cuisine,” one that expressed its culture as distinctively as its spoken southern drawl, complete with regional variations. One of the most important saints of the this movement was Edna Lewis, who elevated “soul food” and restored memories of the African origins of Southern cuisine, contributions of slaves and their descendants, which included chefs at top restaurants in the South. Other influences contributed. Cooking shows on small public television stations showed people how to make authentic new Southern dishes—actually old ones that found social acceptability. They were featured in cookbooks that imparted the wisdom of great chefs to lay audiences. Established local restaurants found new audiences. Writers like Calvin Trillin celebrated their diversity and authenticity, attracting diners from around the nation and the world. Red beans and rice from New Orleans, Carolina shrimp and grits, regional barbecue from the Carolinas to Memphis to Texas, and local hamburger variations like Oklahoma onion burgers and Mississippi slug burgers started to get their due. At the same time, Craig Claiborne, the food editor of the New York Times, a native of the Mississippi Delta, became the nation’s culinary kingmaker. He traveled the world, dining at and writing about the best of European and Asian restaurants. Having left the South as a young gay man, he lost touch with his home region. But as he began traveling through the South again in the 1970s, he realized the food he shunned from the region he was escaping was as sophisticated as what he experienced around the world, it just didn’t have the reputation. He summoned chefs to his New York home, cooked with them, learned their secrets and became the champion of chefs like Paul Prudhomme from Louisiana and Sema Wilkes, who had toiled in Savannah, Georgia kitchens since the 1940s. Beginning in the mid-1980s, chef-driven restaurants began to proliferate in Southern cities, a trend that started in California. Its growth in the South had a different character. “Unlike the traditional cuisines of France, Japan, or the American South, rooted in home cooking and community events, California cuisine began in restaurants.” Southern chefs polished off old recipes, reinvented them, and created new ones with familiar ingredients. Interestingly, in the two cities most identified with this trend, the catalysts that transformed their culinary renaissances were epic disasters: Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, South Carolina in 1989 and the man-made catastrophe that almost destroyed New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Their star chefs became media darlings. Two features that defined the Charleston and New Orleans worlds could also be found in other Southern cities as they experienced corresponding trends. First, virtually all of them relied almost excelsively on locally sourced ingredients. Sean Brock, the chef-owner of Charleston’s Husk, became the leader of reviving grains like Carolina red rice, other raw ingredients, and techniques that had been lost due to the cultural neglect and food industrialization. He searched old cookbooks and histories to identify African origins that had crossed the Atlantic with the slave trade. Brock revived and updated recipes, learning techniques of cooking, fermentation, and food preservation that had been lost. His collaboration provided palettes for Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, who rediscovered varieties of seeds and revived lost milling processes, for example, of authentic methods of producing grits from corn. This food scene had economic consequences as well. The disasters that renewed Charleston’s and New Orleans’ culinary landscapes brought gentrification—middle and upper class tastes and economics to formerly downtrodden or poorer areas of cities. It raised real estate prices, renovated factory buildings into white collar businesses and residences, and put them out of reach of the working classes. Many of the restaurants that catered to the new residents tailed to a more elite clientele. But although “Gentrification is often dismissed as a negative cultural force,” Edge writes, “In a region that had long undervalued its people and its products, these developments had some positive effects. Southerners began to recognize that food, like music, was a cultural process, worthy of new appraisal.” There were up- and downsides. The jury is still out in determining the final verdict on gentrification’s impact. It was also a question of style. As Edge asks, “Does honest food rely on great produce and livestock, born of heirloom seeds and breeds nurtured by farmers with a sense of agricultural possibilities and responsibilities to history? Or are the artisans who transform raw ingredients into kitchen and table goods the true heroes of the story? The answer, Americans began to discover, was a little of both.” While many chefs “served vernacular cuisine” others took shortcuts in trying to emulate them, creating, instead, a “veneer cuisine, rendered Southern by what chefs topped it with or placed it atop.” It was the culinary equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. Like all good things, cuisine could produce fake knock-offs. With all these changes, however, there is a dark underside to the legacy of Southern food that eerily brings back hints of plantation culture that was thought to be part of history. As Christopher Leonard documented, the pressure to feed a growing population and satisfy its demand for chicken, pork and beef, factory farms have grown exponentially. In the process they have driven countless small family farms, the original backbone of American agriculture, out of business and created environmental and economic disasters. “The want for cheap field labor drove the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century spread of slavery from the rice fields of the Lowcountry to the cane fields of Louisiana and beyond. If small-scale agriculture was an American ideal, large-scale agriculture, which is to say plantation agriculture, was the original sin of the American South.” Edge calls factory farms “virtual gulags” where “The workers were brown, the foremen white, the sun unrelenting.” History is inescapable and repeats in the South. But the new South, mostly concentrated in urban areas, has incorporated new cultures. Vietnamese refugees have become citizens. In Houston and New Orleans, their culinary traditions have melded perfectly with indigenous cuisines. Latin American immigrants, urban and rural, have created Spanish-speaking corridors in places like Atlanta, Charlotte, Baton Rouge and Gainesville. You can get Cajun-infused pho and redneck tacos without looking too hard. You can go to Fort Smith, Arkansas and shop in an exceptional Asian supermarket. Or you try the Mexican market in Memphis. Slowly the South is changing, but not as quickly as its evolving food heritage. I’ll admit to having a love-hate relationship with the American South. I am a former Southerner who, as I semi-jokingly tell friends, escaped. Yet no matter where I go, it seems Southern political baggage always follows close behind. It has now elected the most reactionary president, Congress and numerous state legislatures since the beginning of the Civil War. That strain of Southern conservatism consists of slowly shrinking majorities who, as singer/songwriter Patterson Hood writes, “bash their heads against the future, ever South.” “The rest of the country held fast to stereotypes of the South as the American other, a cultural and economic backwater. But when no one was looking, the South colonized the North. And the North adopted Southern political and cultural mores as if they were its own.” Changes in Southern culture are most obviously expressed in changes in cuisine, they portend “a future tense South still in the making…a place that will be as Mexican as West African, as Korean as Irish, and will lose none of its essential identity in the process.” I just hope that kind of identity will overtake the regressive political malignancy that has spread far beyond the Mason-Dixon line sooner rather than later. The history of the Southern food gives me a little hope.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frances Dowell

    (3.75 stars) The Potlikker Papers is largely about the politics of food—who eats high on the hog, who eats low on the hog, who owns the hog and how that hog was raised. The first 180 pages alone are worth the price of admission, and I hope they spark a renewed interest in Civil Rights figures such as Fannie Lou Hamer (who I thought I knew something about, but I learned a whole lot more here) and Georgia Gilmore, a previously unsung hero of the movement. Edge does a marvelous job of documenting the (3.75 stars) The Potlikker Papers is largely about the politics of food—who eats high on the hog, who eats low on the hog, who owns the hog and how that hog was raised. The first 180 pages alone are worth the price of admission, and I hope they spark a renewed interest in Civil Rights figures such as Fannie Lou Hamer (who I thought I knew something about, but I learned a whole lot more here) and Georgia Gilmore, a previously unsung hero of the movement. Edge does a marvelous job of documenting the changes in Southern food culture from the 1950s into the 1980s and ‘90s. The chapter on fast food in particular really gets at how foodways evolved during this period. Fast food, frozen food and canned biscuits did a lot to change the way Southern women like my mother-in-law cooked. In fact, I know a whole lot of working women from that generation who hold no nostalgia for the hard labor of cultivating and preserving food. They spent their childhoods doing it, and as adults they were more than happy to feed their families beans from a can and cookies from a box. They’d grow a few tomatoes in the summer, but that’s as far as it went. Edge also documents how economic growth transformed the South during the late 20th century and on into the 21st century. Once considered one big backwater, the South turned into an economic powerhouse in the 1980s and ‘90s. Atlanta, Charlotte, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park became some of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Even Birmingham, Alabama, became nice place to settle down and raise a family. Birmingham! I’ve lived in the South most of my adult life (and some during my childhood as well), and it’s been interesting to see the overall effects of this revitalized economy. One thing is for sure--the resulting hybrid vigor has served to flatten out a lot of regional idiosyncrasies, which makes it tough if you’re a writer interested in local and regional foodways. What Edge chooses to focus on as he moves into the 21st century is artisanal food. And this, for me, is where the book stumbles—where it’s no longer a people’s history of food, but a foodie’s history of food. His focus in chapters such as “Artisanal Pantry” and “Restaurant Renaissance” is on growers and chefs who are breathing new life into traditional foods, folks who occupy the more esoteric corners of Southern foodways. So, for instance, the star of “Artisanal Pantry” is Glenn Roberts, who founded Anson Mills with the aim of making grits from heirloom corn. Roberts sounds like a fascinating man, and I’d like to give those grits a try sometime. Sam Edwards' slow-cured country ham also sounds delicious. But while these men and the others profiled in these chapter (all men, by the way, which is irritating) may be doing the Lord’s work, they’re preaching to a fairly small choir, and it concerns me that Edge doesn’t own that fact. Quite the opposite: at the end of “Artisanal Pantry,” Edge tries to convince us that in the 21st century Southerners ditched brine-injected city ham for long-cured country ham. They rejected grocery store pap for stone-ground grits …. In the 2000s, as the region awakened to the economic and cultural promise of craft production, Southerners embraced artisan possibilities across a spectrum that connected agriculture and industry and pop culture and included moonshine, antebellum grits, three-year-old heirloom ham, cane sugar Coca-Cola, and twenty year old Pappy [moonshine]. Well, like I said, I’ve lived in the south for a long time, and it’s true that in the last ten years these things have been made available to me, especially if my husband and I trek to downtown Durham and eat in one of its finer restaurants. But of my husband’s thirty-odd Southern Baptist cousins, the grandchildren of millworkers, the children of truck drivers and teachers, a number of them the first in their families to graduate college and move into the middle class, I can guarantee you that not one has an interest in artisanal whiskey, and if they eat ham at all (they’re mostly a health-conscious bunch) it’s from a spiral ham bought at Harris Teeter or Honeybaked Ham at Christmas and/or Easter. I can’t claim to know their grit preferences, but they’re sensible people and unlikely to spend $6 to $10 on a pound of deracinated corn. I’m not saying that that artisanal grits have no place in the discussion of Southern foodways. I personally love what Glenn Roberts is doing, I just reject the claim that what he’s doing is having a huge impact on how most Southerners eat. There’s something about this chapter and the next two that strike me as off the mark. If you really want to talk about growers, thinkers and cooks that have had a large regional (and national) impact, then why not discuss heavy hitters such as Barbara Kingsolver, a Kentucky native, novelist and Wendell Berry acolyte, whose book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, published in 2007, joined Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma in changing how many Americans, particularly middle class suburbanites, thought about food? Or what about Chef Vivian Howard, star of the PBS show A Chef’s Life? Howard’s trajectory strikes me as very similar to a lot of my smalltown Southern friends’: she grew up wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as she could, and she did. Eventually she moved to New York City with the intention of becoming a writer and ended up a cook. When her parents offered to help her open a restaurant in Kinston, NC, she couldn’t refuse, and so home she came. A Chef’s Life documents her experience opening a restaurant, but also it also documents how Howard came to re-embrace her food heritage. The show has struck a chord with a lot of people I know who grew up in the South, grew beyond the South, and then ultimately returned to reclaim their Southern roots. The last two chapters of The Potlikker Papers return to a people’s history of food and are well-worth reading. In particular, the final chapter, “Nuevo Sud,” gets at what’s exciting about Southern food right now—all these brand new southerners, recent immigrants from Mexico, India, Africa, and Asia, bringing their cultures’ foodways into the mix. Unlike Glenn Roberts and Sean Brock, these cooks really are changing the way working class and middle class Southerners eat, as well as changing our ideas of what it means to be Southern in the 21st century.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    An excellent read if you want to know more about food, the South, or both! Edge explores food in the South from the 1950's through the 2010's, and discusses various influences on cuisine. I've lived in Tennessee my entire life (55 years), and this book explores the background of foods, chefs, and restaurants in ways I've never known about. For example, how did Hurricane Katrina affect the food and restaurants in New Orleans? I was very interested to learn how the ancestors of slaves had an impac An excellent read if you want to know more about food, the South, or both! Edge explores food in the South from the 1950's through the 2010's, and discusses various influences on cuisine. I've lived in Tennessee my entire life (55 years), and this book explores the background of foods, chefs, and restaurants in ways I've never known about. For example, how did Hurricane Katrina affect the food and restaurants in New Orleans? I was very interested to learn how the ancestors of slaves had an impact on Southern food and cooking. Now I want to read a similar history of food in the not-so-modern South!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Phoebe

    2.5 stars. I feel guilty for settling on a rough, ungenerous rating for this book, because I did like it for many of its qualities. Solid, thorough history; documented research interspersed with personal interviews; a discussion of race, socioeconomics, immigration, etc; and overall a complex undertaking of the relationship between history and Southern food. Super interesting stuff and a topic I didn't know too much about. Unfortunately, this started out really well but developed into a slog for 2.5 stars. I feel guilty for settling on a rough, ungenerous rating for this book, because I did like it for many of its qualities. Solid, thorough history; documented research interspersed with personal interviews; a discussion of race, socioeconomics, immigration, etc; and overall a complex undertaking of the relationship between history and Southern food. Super interesting stuff and a topic I didn't know too much about. Unfortunately, this started out really well but developed into a slog for me to read about halfway through. I think I lost interest when I realized that the dry writing style of John T. Edge would continue on for another 150+ pages. This read exactly like I expected a historical nonfiction book to read, which isn't exactly a good thing: pretty dry, a few good observations here and there, a smattering of really good chapters, but so much descriptive reporting of events, delivered without an ostensible thematic roadmap (aside from rough chronology) and in a cold, somewhat distant tone. Especially in some of the middle sections, I had a hard time following where the author was taking me as a reader and even how certain chapters were grouped together, because they seemed pretty random topic-wise. One final note: I wasn't sure how to feel whenever the author is (white, male, from GA, a prominent professor, author, and editor at Garden & Gun magazine) spoke at length on the racial issues of the South. There were a few points when he meandered pretty far from the connection to food to do a lot of recounting of racial events and tensions that have colored much of the South's history. I have mixed feelings about this: on one hand, I think that writing a food history of the South without devoting many chapters to slavery, race relations, and the role of the African American community would be a crime of the gravest nature. That would be pointblank wrong and John T. Edge avoids this for the most part. In fact, he dedicates a large number of pages to acknowledge the black chefs, pitmasters, farmers, activists, and pretty much every profession of the South and goes even further in acknowledging that they have gone unacknowledged. So props for that, especially since those are the chapters I found the most engaging. What gives me pause, though, is my questions about whether Mr. Edge is taking liberties with these stories. As an affluent white male, are they really his to tell? Every now and then he mentions his own childhood in Georgia, his current life in Mississippi, and I can't help but wonder about his own place in all this. His book smacks a little too uncomfortably of white man still having the loudest voice in the room. I would have been less skeptical if he had taken a more personal tone throughout the book: less declaring history, more telling stories from a hyper-aware position as a white Southerner. I don't blame the author or accuse him of anything more serious than questionable topic choice. Nothing in his very respectful words could be construed as racism, but he's exposed himself in a way such that he has to walk an incredibly fine line of white guilt and white ignorance. By choosing to write this book, he put himself in a really difficult position, which he must have known from the beginning. I admire that he has put himself out there and attempted to write about sensitive and difficult subjects from as objective a place as possible, but in the end, it's still the white man who is doing the talking and I just wish that that wasn't the case. Take that as you will. Don't let me deter you, though: if you have an inkling of interest in food and the South and the people who cooked it, then definitely give this book a go. I didn't care for the writing, hence my kinda low rating, but there was enough fascinating history here to like that made me glad I picked it up.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kayle Barnes

    Maybe it's because in 2017 it feels like understanding the South is key to understanding America, or because I grapple with the meaning of being black and woman and Southern and choosing to (mostly identify as the latter), or the fact that like jazz, I think Southern food is America's gift to the world, for all those reasons and more I thoroughly enjoyed this history (surprisingly fast-paced or maybe it just felt that way because it was highly engaging?) of Southern food as it is known and bette Maybe it's because in 2017 it feels like understanding the South is key to understanding America, or because I grapple with the meaning of being black and woman and Southern and choosing to (mostly identify as the latter), or the fact that like jazz, I think Southern food is America's gift to the world, for all those reasons and more I thoroughly enjoyed this history (surprisingly fast-paced or maybe it just felt that way because it was highly engaging?) of Southern food as it is known and better how should know it. I could have read a whole book on each of the chapters, but loved the wn chores and individuals he introduces. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    It isn't that The Potlikker Papers is a bad book, but it also isn't a "Food History of the Modern South." It is a social, cultural, and political commentary onto which a few food trends and fads are loosely tied. That isn't a bad thing, necessarily. In truth, I found it well written with some interesting vignettes. However, I think the author could have greatly benefited from a class discussing differences in correlation and causation. Just because two trends occupy the same general time frame d It isn't that The Potlikker Papers is a bad book, but it also isn't a "Food History of the Modern South." It is a social, cultural, and political commentary onto which a few food trends and fads are loosely tied. That isn't a bad thing, necessarily. In truth, I found it well written with some interesting vignettes. However, I think the author could have greatly benefited from a class discussing differences in correlation and causation. Just because two trends occupy the same general time frame doesn't mean each is causally related. For example, was the increase in farms, growing your own food, and a resurgence of cheaper homemade products (like sorghum) truly a result of the cultural "hippie" trends of the 1960's-1970's or was it more caused by the dire economic recession and inflation of the same time period leading people to look for cheaper food sources? The answer to that is complicated and debatable, but this book seeks to put the two, and other food/social/political trends together in a direct causal relationship leading to several square peg, round hole scenarios. This is the kind of book that would make for great debate in a good book club or a college seminar, but I can't say that I enjoyed it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alison Hardtmann

    Potlikker is the liquid left in the pot after boiling greens like collards or mustard. During slavery, the owners would dine on the greens, while the liquid in the pot was left for the slaves to consume. This potlikker is far more nutritious than the boiled greens and modern Southern chefs have reclaimed it. The Potlikker Papers is a social history of food in the American South and how the food the South is known for, from fried chicken to hopping John to gumbo to po' boys is a result of the Afr Potlikker is the liquid left in the pot after boiling greens like collards or mustard. During slavery, the owners would dine on the greens, while the liquid in the pot was left for the slaves to consume. This potlikker is far more nutritious than the boiled greens and modern Southern chefs have reclaimed it. The Potlikker Papers is a social history of food in the American South and how the food the South is known for, from fried chicken to hopping John to gumbo to po' boys is a result of the African, Native American and European cultures that influenced what we eat now. John T. Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and his passion for every aspect of Southern cuisine is evident in every page of this excellent book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in food or who lives (or has lived) in the American South. For those who appreciate good food and live in one of the Southern states, it's required reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dale Cousins

    More of a social history spiced with food than a book on food illustrated by social history, I enjoyed the commentary of how Southern food had evolved in multiple directions over time. Be it New Orleans or Charleston or BBQ or Creole or Low Country, the cooks of the South have adapted or "made do" as my grandma would say. It was interesting that everyone---Colonel Sanders to Craig Claiborne to Paula Deen to Bill Neal gets equal time. Interesting read with a fair amount of time devoted to history More of a social history spiced with food than a book on food illustrated by social history, I enjoyed the commentary of how Southern food had evolved in multiple directions over time. Be it New Orleans or Charleston or BBQ or Creole or Low Country, the cooks of the South have adapted or "made do" as my grandma would say. It was interesting that everyone---Colonel Sanders to Craig Claiborne to Paula Deen to Bill Neal gets equal time. Interesting read with a fair amount of time devoted to history from the 1950's through 2000's that I remember.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    I am hungry. The Potlikker Papers made me hungry. Also made me want to buy a bunch of cookbooks. Edge's anecdotal history of the south and food is fabulous. Some very interesting points and great connections. I discovered Southern Cooking when I was eighteen and living with my great uncle and aunt in East Texas. My maternal grandparents were from North central Texas with heavy southern roots. When they moved north, they left the food behind them. I rediscovered southern food when my wife was pre I am hungry. The Potlikker Papers made me hungry. Also made me want to buy a bunch of cookbooks. Edge's anecdotal history of the south and food is fabulous. Some very interesting points and great connections. I discovered Southern Cooking when I was eighteen and living with my great uncle and aunt in East Texas. My maternal grandparents were from North central Texas with heavy southern roots. When they moved north, they left the food behind them. I rediscovered southern food when my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Collard greens are great for morning sickness. We lived in West Philly and could get collards and other southern foods - cuts of meat. Began with Craig Claibonre's Southern Cooking and haven't stopped. The Potlikker Papers does a great job of linking the changes in the south through food.

  10. 4 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    Using the lens of food, this book examines the south from the Civil Rights Movement until today. Edge takes cooks and chefs (usually) from an era, and using their story as a grounding, explores their era, environment and traditions. It’s an interesting book if you’re interested in food, especially if you like tracing the evolution of dishes and cuisines. Having a grounding in the history of the times and places he was discussing was helpful but certainly not necessary to enjoying this book. Also, Using the lens of food, this book examines the south from the Civil Rights Movement until today. Edge takes cooks and chefs (usually) from an era, and using their story as a grounding, explores their era, environment and traditions. It’s an interesting book if you’re interested in food, especially if you like tracing the evolution of dishes and cuisines. Having a grounding in the history of the times and places he was discussing was helpful but certainly not necessary to enjoying this book. Also, this is straight history. There are no recipes or anything of that sort.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Fitzpatrick

    A must read if you are interested in important chefs, restaurants, and food trends in the culinary history of the South. I actually preferred the first section, which covered the 1950s and 1960s. It talks about how home cooking fueled the Civil Rights Movement, while segregated restaurants were a major battlefield. We learn about what motivated the restaurant owners who refused to integrate until the law was changed, and what actions they took after. This first section of the book reads the most A must read if you are interested in important chefs, restaurants, and food trends in the culinary history of the South. I actually preferred the first section, which covered the 1950s and 1960s. It talks about how home cooking fueled the Civil Rights Movement, while segregated restaurants were a major battlefield. We learn about what motivated the restaurant owners who refused to integrate until the law was changed, and what actions they took after. This first section of the book reads the most like a history book. The rest of the book reads more like a foodie magazine, but still contains excellent history. We hear about hippies that move from urban areas to farms in the South, the Black Panthers starting up restaurant chains, etc. Repeatedly white chefs became celebrities due to their tutelage in African American kitchens. I found the number of people featured to be a bit overwhelming, but for cooking students this book is probably an excellent primer.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    A semi-academic history of the Southern food culture. Many Southern chefs are profiled by there are no examples of recipes of the food of the South. Overall, the work provides some interesting views and would be good for anyone interested in the background of regional cooking. This was a free review copy through Goodreads.com.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    I like John T. Edge. He writes with an authentic Southern voice that makes me feel a kinship for him. He is garrulous and charming. He is a lover of Southern tradition, but not afraid to reject the parts of it associated with hatred and oppression. He is one of my people, and for once I can be proud of one of my people. In writing about the food of the South, Edge has found a subject that lends itself to celebration of the poor and disenfranchised. Of course it is no secret that plantation cuisin I like John T. Edge. He writes with an authentic Southern voice that makes me feel a kinship for him. He is garrulous and charming. He is a lover of Southern tradition, but not afraid to reject the parts of it associated with hatred and oppression. He is one of my people, and for once I can be proud of one of my people. In writing about the food of the South, Edge has found a subject that lends itself to celebration of the poor and disenfranchised. Of course it is no secret that plantation cuisine is really Black cuisine, since it was cooked, served and cleaned up by Black people, with the only participation of the overlords being the eating. Edge also writes about barbeque, Appalachian food, New Orleans cuisine and the new styles of cooking practiced by Latino and Asian immigrants to the South. In nearly every case these are cooking styles that owe more to poverty than wealth. Edge also acknowledges the contribution of the South to the processed psuedo-foods that are making us obese and killing us -- KFC, Hardees and others of that ilk. Although Edge mentions my home state of Kentucky more than a few times in this book, his focus is primarily on the deeper South, an area that was always seemed a bit foreign and primitive to me when I was growning up. They were better than Yankees, our distant cousins, but still perhaps not fully human, a region probably largely populated by people like Faulkner's Snopes family. Edge makes these people come alive. I want to invite them all to dinner and trade stories with them deep into the night after a giant meal meal of fried chicken, corn pone and blackeyed peas.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    I REALLY enjoyed this book - a survey of Southern food from slavery to immigration. I was completely sucked into the stories, seeing how each successive generation took foods of the past and reinterpreted them, and even by more modern stories where immigrants from nations across the globe are moving to the south, and putting their own spin and flavors onto more traditional southern food. The author does grapple a bit with the debts we owe black slaves, especially those that served as cooks; how c I REALLY enjoyed this book - a survey of Southern food from slavery to immigration. I was completely sucked into the stories, seeing how each successive generation took foods of the past and reinterpreted them, and even by more modern stories where immigrants from nations across the globe are moving to the south, and putting their own spin and flavors onto more traditional southern food. The author does grapple a bit with the debts we owe black slaves, especially those that served as cooks; how chefs of today must realize that their success is built on the backs of these reluctant food preparers who used traditions from home and prepared meals with local foods. I learned so much.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dominika

    A comprehensive contemporary history of the evolution of Southern food, this is dense with information but utterly fascinating. If you're a casual food academic, you may recognize some names (Sean Brock and Glenn Roberts, Emril Lagasi, etc.). But there are a lot of countercultural elements to the rise of the South, from hippie communes preaching farm-to-table while sipping peyote tea, to how the African American community banded together to fight against segregation, to the advent and history of A comprehensive contemporary history of the evolution of Southern food, this is dense with information but utterly fascinating. If you're a casual food academic, you may recognize some names (Sean Brock and Glenn Roberts, Emril Lagasi, etc.). But there are a lot of countercultural elements to the rise of the South, from hippie communes preaching farm-to-table while sipping peyote tea, to how the African American community banded together to fight against segregation, to the advent and history of Fast Food (Including Harlan Sanders) and how that affected the south, to food journalism and the reoccurring trend of Southern Food. It's an absolutely rich and fascinating history wrought with civil rights issues, the effect of gentrification, the battle of rural values vs. convenience, etc.

  16. 5 out of 5

    William Burruss

    When someone looks at me I’m 100% white, but when I eat I am Soul Black, a mix of grits and cous-sous, Indian and American Indian. My enjoyment of food takes me to seafood and barbecue shacks, and to five star restaurants. What I like about this book is that I am living the New South’s Experience and that it shows me how people of all ethnic backgrounds have assisted in this gastronomic love affair.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    You should LISTEN to this book...John T. narrates, and his occasional laughs and saucy language made for a commute that dictated every food choice morning and evening for two weeks (pun intended because this man makes you hungry with every word). Even after 10 years in the South studying Southern history (and food), I learned so much. History, food lore, and good people...John T. Edge tells great stories and adds to my argument that the South has it all.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Gonzalez

    Really interesting history, but a little dry. I think I would have enjoyed this more as a documentary rather than a book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Just like the flavors and textures of southern cooking are layered so is the history and breadth of the peoples who created this regional fare. Many food and historical movements such as vegetarian cookery, slow food and civil rights arose from the south. Hippies who settled communes and learned how to farm ancient crops such as sorghum and soybeans and chefs who recreated what their ancestors cooked on the plantations. Dr. King and the many conscientious objectors who fought for equality among Just like the flavors and textures of southern cooking are layered so is the history and breadth of the peoples who created this regional fare. Many food and historical movements such as vegetarian cookery, slow food and civil rights arose from the south. Hippies who settled communes and learned how to farm ancient crops such as sorghum and soybeans and chefs who recreated what their ancestors cooked on the plantations. Dr. King and the many conscientious objectors who fought for equality among all men were also nourished by southern foods. A very interesting and good read. Food for thought.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Candice M.

    While I was disappointed that the book was less about the history of Southern food--how it arrived; where it came from; who, when where it was developed; and the direction it was taking now--the rating is a reflection of how little I got out of the book. Mr. Edge's book is an ambitious attempt to meld large issues that could occupy volumes into a single work. The focus is specifically aimed towards the professional culinary industry in the South. As a result, many Southern foods are omitted. The While I was disappointed that the book was less about the history of Southern food--how it arrived; where it came from; who, when where it was developed; and the direction it was taking now--the rating is a reflection of how little I got out of the book. Mr. Edge's book is an ambitious attempt to meld large issues that could occupy volumes into a single work. The focus is specifically aimed towards the professional culinary industry in the South. As a result, many Southern foods are omitted. The book is a socioeconomic study of the South, a series of essays that very loosely ties in food to issues still plaguing the South since the Civil War. The chapters meander about the Southern region like a drunk trying to find his way home. Unless you are a serious student following the culinary trends, you'll get lost with the author. It took me two-thirds of the book to realize most of his material probably came from institutional, professional sources associated with Southern Foodways Alliance. Yes, the world knows Lagasse and who doesn't know KFC, but that isn't the crux of the story. A regional map pinpointing specific cities mentioned with the person/business linked to it would have helped me from getting dizzy flipping pages back and forth and constantly referencing the index. I would have enjoyed it more if he really discussed grits from both a historical and socioeconomic viewpoint. Working through college at a local Shoney's just off the interstate I still smile recalling the Yanks that came in, looking at the menu, and asking, "what's a grit?" I would have appreciated more exploration into the Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Mexican, and European (not just French) flavors infused with both yesterday's and today's Southern cuisine. He doesn't really delve into the distinctions of barbecue with its dry rubs and sauces that are rooted in regional perspectives. There is only cursory mention of game dishes such as rabbit or squirrel but not much about deer, opossum, dove, quail, duck, gallinule, turkey, catfish, sunfish, or mullet. I guess subsistence living doesn't translate well on a restaurant menu. As much as the book is into African slave food choices, it omits that raccoon is a delicacy hotly sought after by Southern blacks. So much so that many dishonest hunters sell skinned cats. As a result, the consumer now requires at least one paw left on the carcass for identification. I'd like to have known why goat, so ubiquitous in my South, is not mentioned at all or why it is not typically considered mainstream Southern food and is associated more with recent Muslim or Hispanic immigrants. Collards take the limelight with no utterance of greens from turnips, beets, or mustard greens, which anyone living in the South has had some exposure, welcomed or not. And beans...in Edge's world there is the Louisiana red beans and rice or black eye peas and rice (Hoppin' John), but in my world there are lima beans, speckled peas, zipper peas, butter beans, butter peas, etc. I'm confused why The Farm in Tennessee is even mentioned except some waxing romantic notion about sorghum syrup, which anyone who has tried it would liken it to black-strap molasses fully understanding why the grain was regulated for livestock feed. We purchased goods from The Farm in its heyday and they were about as Southern as gâteau basque. They were hippy-wanna-bes living in a commune. Like most Southerners that live independent, somewhat insular lives, it was live and let live. We didn't bother them, they didn't bother us. However, they didn't change nor shape how anyone lived or ate to any great degree in the surrounding area. Edge's perspective of cause and effect should be corrected. It wasn't The Farm that had an effect on the South but the other way around. When I go home to visit, The Farm is an afterthought that is discussed as a memory and not as an active community still around today. I felt towards the end that he was apologizing for being a Southern white male born after an era of great turmoil--feeling guilty after the fact, which in the South, can still smack of racism--as if his behavior today, specifically, continues to reflect the white plantation owner of yore. Maybe that is why he felt compelled to share the story about his son's purchase of a blue, instead of grey, cap. He constantly threads Civil War and Civil Rights eras throughout the book, yet avoids establishing the significant roles they had with what we eat today except to say that blacks deserve more than they are getting in recognition, funding, and other supports even now--more on that below. Yep, but we already knew that. I expected some revelation on how that was changing in context with Southern foods other than to say there were some food establishments now owned and operated by blacks. Yep, I knew that too. I finally found the book's mission in the last chapter only a few pages from the end where he states, "Racism and its burdens was my primary concern when I began thinking and writing about food." Unfortunately he never gets to the core discussion, skirting around all issues including Southern foods and cuisine. Yes, there is mention of the critical, influential roles Southern blacks and their enslaved African ancestors played in Southern cuisine, but it doesn't go deep enough into the subject for my tastes (no pun). There are also many inferences that all white Southerners descended from white plantation owners, that all rebels fought for slavery and only about slavery. I'm a white female Southerner, born here, live here, die here. I've met descendants of plantation owners; and, yes, Southern plantations still exist having reinvented themselves into hunting retreats. However, of all my over half-century existence, none of my friends or associates descended from slave owners. Not every white born in the south owned or had slaves; so the inference that we all were nurtured by Mammy's teat and ate only food prepared by slaves or blacks is a skewed view that he carries throughout the book. He could have subtitled the book, "white women can't cook" and sold more copies. He may feel an obligation towards the Southern black but he only nods at the poor, whites and only in the Appalachian area when it comes other potential sources of historical inspiration for Southern cuisine. I was totally flummoxed that when he mentions the peanut, it is Jimmy Carter not George Washington Carver that garners attention. Granted the issues are much, much more complex as demonstrated by the myriad of books, research, and political corrections made over several generations that this book can't nor should address. If the Southern food did not lend itself to commercialization or, more accurately, did not lend itself to be reinvented by some aspiring chef where race lines crossed-good or bad, it didn't get mentioned: muscadine and watermelon wines, mayhaw jellies, fried green tomatoes, sauteed chanterelle, or dried crab apple pie, for example. He claims that "big ag" is a Southern-made phenomenon without any references to substantiate the claim. Thanks to the Carolinas' pig farms and the Arkansas chicken houses leading the rest of America by the nose into industrialized farming, the farmer workers are no better than the slaves. Reflecting back it almost suggests (again) that it is the Southern attitude to enslave the disadvantaged. He doesn't mention the California contract workers' protests in the 1980s or the famous book, "Grapes of Wrath", which reflects a nation-wide, not Southern-wide, human rights/worker rights issue. There is no explanation as to why the South is the chicken hot-house for the country nor acknowledgement that there are even bigger hog factories in the Midwest that makes North Carolina's hog farms anemic. Nor does he go further to discuss the ramifications of "big ag" on the food industry as a whole. His way of addressing it is to provide some cursory description of farm-to-table examples in a paragraph or sentence, rarely dedicating more than a few words to the movement that has gained momentum in the twenty-first century. There is not one word mentioned on the environmental impacts ala the Dust Bowl because it twarn't Southern. Yet, Georgia is encouraging farmers to practice dry cropping by providing incentives to minimize irrigation. The only environmental impacts mentioned have to do with hurricanes that man can do little about. I did appreciate some focus on how these acts of God changed culinary landscapes in New Orleans, Houston, and Charleston in their aftermaths. I had hoped the last two chapters would focus on how these topics like "big ag" or the slow food movement may affect the future of food in the South, but instead I got more rehash of Southern racism thanks to Jim Crow, post-civil war, attitudes; and, finally, a minor mention of how a new wave of immigrants are embracing and redefining the South, which may by the white Southerners' only hope of redemption (see back cover on comments about that one!). Other notable omissions about agriculture and how that relates to eating are pecans--making a comeback due to China's consumer demands, the juice oranges of Florida--it's influence on the consumer (OJ is not what you think it is), and American chestnuts--how it's almost all Chinese and will it survive for another generation to crack it's prickly hull for the sweet nut. The excessive verbosity entrapped me like a hog ensnared in a mud bog. The book is riddled with descriptions that have nothing to do with the book's stated purpose of sharing food history. A little less of "That photograph also conjured a turn-of-the-previous-century scene, when writers flocked to the mountain South to catalog a vestigial past and locate a simpler present amid the hills and hollers of Appalachia", and more about what the hills and hollers proffered in the way of something to eat and how its socioeconomic status has influenced the food it offers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    History of southern food More than I ever thought there was to know about food in the south. Lots of interesting info but at times it read a bit like a textbook.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    The first half of this book was amazing. Tracing the food history of the southern United States, Edge uses food to examine much deeper societal themes - slavery, racism, segregation, and poverty - while revealing the trends which seem so new and hip today (eating organically, eating locally) are actually decades old. While he does discuss specific dishes, such as potlikker, Edge goes into much deeper stories of food consumption: how today's SNAP program came to be, how black communities formed c The first half of this book was amazing. Tracing the food history of the southern United States, Edge uses food to examine much deeper societal themes - slavery, racism, segregation, and poverty - while revealing the trends which seem so new and hip today (eating organically, eating locally) are actually decades old. While he does discuss specific dishes, such as potlikker, Edge goes into much deeper stories of food consumption: how today's SNAP program came to be, how black communities formed co-ops for economic stability, communes that sprang up in the Appalachia, and how women sold sandwiches and pies to raise funds for the Civil Rights Movement. The second half of the book falters a little. I think Edge is trying to describe how, in modern years, the south is coming to accept the uglier parts of its past, giving long-withheld credit to those who deserve it (for example, finally acknowledging the debt owed to black cooks in developing a regional cuisine). He also briefly touches on the impact new global influences - particularly Mexican and Indian - are having on the region. However, rather than do so in the tight, fascinating narrative that dominated the first half, the later chapter descend into something of a list format: a few paragraphs about one person and their restaurant, then a jump to a few more paragraphs about a completely new person and their restaurant. People are mentioned in passing and then entirely dropped, without a clear idea of why their story was chosen to include in this book. Overall, this is an excellent read for anyone interested in food or the south (particularly the early chapters). While it certainly has its weaknesses near the end, it accomplishes what truly good food books do: explain to us why we should care about our edible history, what our food choices say about our country and our history, and how we can use that knowledge going forward.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    The Potlikker Papers is a beautifully written examination of shifts in the politics and culture of southern food over the past half century or so. John T. Edge does an exceptional job of teasing out the complex intersecting relationships between food, culture, race, and class in the south, interspersed with mouthwatering descriptions of traditional and new takes on southern dishes. Edge's writing is so vivid that this book very nearly made me question my moral stance against eating meat! If you' The Potlikker Papers is a beautifully written examination of shifts in the politics and culture of southern food over the past half century or so. John T. Edge does an exceptional job of teasing out the complex intersecting relationships between food, culture, race, and class in the south, interspersed with mouthwatering descriptions of traditional and new takes on southern dishes. Edge's writing is so vivid that this book very nearly made me question my moral stance against eating meat! If you're interested in thorny questions about food, identity, and power, I highly recommend this book. Fair warning, though: it will make you want to eat a mountain of barbecue.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chuck Reece

    Not only an important history of Southern food but also one of the best histories of the last 75 years in this region.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Darcie

    Interesting topic (I'm a recent fan of potlikker and collard greens, not having grown up with either) but this book is hard to follow.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    While I've never drunk potlikker, I have soaked it up with cornbread. I've eaten collards and black eyed peas on New Year's (and many, many other days of the year), frequently over a bed of jalapeño cheese grits. I prefer my strawberry shortcake over biscuits, will order fried green tomatoes every time I see them on a menu, and have a near-religious devotion to fried chicken. I'm also the first person in my family born and raised entirely below the Mason-Dixon line, which means I'm very aware of While I've never drunk potlikker, I have soaked it up with cornbread. I've eaten collards and black eyed peas on New Year's (and many, many other days of the year), frequently over a bed of jalapeño cheese grits. I prefer my strawberry shortcake over biscuits, will order fried green tomatoes every time I see them on a menu, and have a near-religious devotion to fried chicken. I'm also the first person in my family born and raised entirely below the Mason-Dixon line, which means I'm very aware of having come late to a food culture that I claim but could never claim to own. All of which is to say I'm probably exactly the target market for John Edge's The Potlikker Papers, which explores the social and cultural history of the food traditions I've absorbed through my pores over the years in just over three hundred pages of lively, well-written text that's end noted within an inch of its life. While some of the history Edge relates may sound familiar to listeners of Gravy, the podcast of the Southern Foodways Alliance (which the author directs in between winning James Beard awards for writing), the material is presented differently enough and with sufficient new information to keep it fresh for even hardcore followers. Fascinating as it is, though,The Potlikker Papers is only part of the story. Edge confines himself to, as he puts it, the "modern South," focusing on the 1950s to present. While that gives him ample room to examine the fascinating relationship between food and the Civil Rights movement, the effect of the mass production and marketing of Southern culture by chain restaurants, and the recent spate of chefs arguing for the return to the cuisine's roots in fresh ingredients, it does gloss over the origins of the region's food in the traditions of enslaved peoples brought over from Africa. Or perhaps gloss over is not quite the right term; Edge is always careful to acknowledge the debt the South owes to all of the many cultures that have contributed to it, particularly African-American, but his book largely presents that debt as a fait accompli rather than digging into the deeper history. So my only quibble, such as it is, isn't over cultural sensitivity - Edge is one of the few people I've seen accurately refer to the KKK as terrorists - but over scope: I'd prefer this to be a three volume set running to 900 pages. Until that happens, I'll have to settle for binging Gravy episodes and bracket reading this with Twitty's The Cooking Gene.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    A very well written and engaging history of not only the food of the historic and modern south but also how slavery and civil rights are tied seamlessly with that food. The book starts with the description of the work environment for blacks in the early 20th century up to mid-century where they cooked the food, took orders, served the food and cleaned up afterwards for little or no money, only getting to take the leftovers home. The Civil Rights movement brought an end to this treatment and food A very well written and engaging history of not only the food of the historic and modern south but also how slavery and civil rights are tied seamlessly with that food. The book starts with the description of the work environment for blacks in the early 20th century up to mid-century where they cooked the food, took orders, served the food and cleaned up afterwards for little or no money, only getting to take the leftovers home. The Civil Rights movement brought an end to this treatment and food that sustained the people of the south like cornbread, okra, sweet potatoes, collard greens, fried chicken, etc. slowly made its way into the culinary consciousness of all Americans. All the major players in the movement for recognition of southern food are named and discussed like Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne, Edna Lewis, Emeril Lagasse, Natalie Dupree & others. With the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, the stage was set for the big movement. As President Carter put it, “For the first time in history we will have a President without an accent.” Americans embraced it and soon restaurants offering southern recipes were springing up in places from New York City to Los Angeles. The book comes toward its end with a discussion of the racial slur used by Paula Dean and its aftermath. Racism raised its ugly head and announced its presence had never really left the south. Southerners decrying their way of life through taking down the Confederate flag and removal of Civil War heroes statues is countered by our current Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s declaration that what such people do not see or can understand that the south is also her south but the south they celebrate is not the south she celebrates. The establishment in 1999 of the Southern Food Alliance came into being to address these issues. The south has the largest influx of immigrants of any part of the nation. Hispanics, Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians & Chinese and with them new recipes are appearing using traditional southern cuisine with new ingredients. Creole cuisine with Pho’, tamales filled with collards and Boudin sausage, pinto beans and cornbread with kimchi and Korean bakeries turning out sweet potato pastries. This is a wonderful book and anyone who loves food will enjoy its historic perspective. As to the south changing….well, we’ll see.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeri Rowe

    We Southerners see our favorite foods like annual trips to the beach. We always remember them. I know I do. I must've been no more than 7 when I made my first two-hour trip with my parents from our home in Charleston to the northeast tip of South Carolina's Williamsburg County. But I never minded it. I knew what waited for me on an oblong table with a living-room view of my extended family's tobacco fields across the road. On that table were my Aunt Lucy's famous biscuits, and they always were s We Southerners see our favorite foods like annual trips to the beach. We always remember them. I know I do. I must've been no more than 7 when I made my first two-hour trip with my parents from our home in Charleston to the northeast tip of South Carolina's Williamsburg County. But I never minded it. I knew what waited for me on an oblong table with a living-room view of my extended family's tobacco fields across the road. On that table were my Aunt Lucy's famous biscuits, and they always were stacked like a small pyramid of baked circles as thick as your pinkie. We kids all raved about them. The adults did, too. Why? They were just good, all made in a small kitchen with the swinging screen door that creaked every time you opened it. But really, that's all I remember. Now, with someone like Georgia's own John T. Edge as the food historian and scribe, I get to find out the why behind the good I discovered in Aunt Lucy's kitchen. I keep Edge's cookbook, "A Gracious Plenty" on my shelf near his breeze reads "Fried Chicken," "Apple Pie" and "Southern Belly." But with "Potlikker," Edge went after a more a scholarly read similar to John Egerton's 1987 classic, "Southern Food." Let me first apologize for this bad pun, but when it comes to "Potlikker," my only quibble is that Edge tried to bite off more than he could ...er ... chew. There were points I wanted more context rather than drive-by mentions of places and people. But really, that's my only complaint. Edge's "Potlikker," I believe, is destined to become a classic in Southern culture journalism. Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. But he doesn't rest on his professional laurels. He deep dives into research and shows his masterly at the subject. In doing so, he presents, warts and all, our region through the Technicolor lens of food. Edge weaves quite the tale. He does that by making three-dimensional such characters as Fannie Lou Hamer and Nathalie Dupree, and quite honestly, every chapter is a delight to read. Plus, with Edge at the keyboard, he does have a deft touch with nouns and verbs. That is just ... gravy. Ooo, sorry about that one, too. Had to.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite

    To call Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge a champion for the food of the South is an understatement. He's spent years studying and writing about the food of the region, in this instance from the 1950s to the present. Edge's gift is being able to put the food and people in a larger context. The light he shines on people and places and things isn't always flattering, but is very real. This was slow going out of the gate for me, and, as a former food editor, I should be a natural read To call Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge a champion for the food of the South is an understatement. He's spent years studying and writing about the food of the region, in this instance from the 1950s to the present. Edge's gift is being able to put the food and people in a larger context. The light he shines on people and places and things isn't always flattering, but is very real. This was slow going out of the gate for me, and, as a former food editor, I should be a natural reader. I'm not sure how I might do it differently, but something about the book's structure, maybe a goal to be comprehensive, gets in its way. I live in the South, cook in the South, and eat and travel in the South. There are a lot of things on my radar that aren't here. Take regional food and heirloom varieties, for instance. When ramps, an onion cousin that's very strong, are in season in western North Carolina, they're sold out of the trunks of cars like addictive drugs. There's a green-bean variety known as a greasy bean that is prized by locals for its flavor and the string-bean-and-dried-bean-in-one experience. Edge writes about barbecue, bourbon, fried chicken and grits, but there's nary a word about the many wineries in the South, artisan cheeses or the food-abundant Chesapeake Bay. And, regional products like Cheerwine, Goo Goo Clusters and Duke's Mayonnaise don't rate a mention. I did learn something about my former home of more than 40 years, however, that yock-a-mein was popular in the early 20th century in Hampton Roads, Va. Filipinos brought their food to the heavily military area after World War II. There's a chapter on immigrants and their influence on food, but nothing about fast-food lumpia. Edge lives and works in the Deep South, though. I also wanted more from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The subject of food and the South may just be too large (and difficult to study) for a single volume, however.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but I LOVED it. As Edge describes "potlikker" was the broth left after a pot of greens was cooked - the slave owners ate the greens, leaving the potlikker for the slaves - not knowing the potlikker was nutrient rich and the better product. Today in the South potlikker has been reclaimed by chefs using it in new and unique ways, as well as celebrating it's history. This book explores the history of the South through food, starting with the pivotal role I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but I LOVED it. As Edge describes "potlikker" was the broth left after a pot of greens was cooked - the slave owners ate the greens, leaving the potlikker for the slaves - not knowing the potlikker was nutrient rich and the better product. Today in the South potlikker has been reclaimed by chefs using it in new and unique ways, as well as celebrating it's history. This book explores the history of the South through food, starting with the pivotal roles cooks and waiters played in the civil rights movement. Then decade by decade Edge shows trends in Southern food and how they reflected the changing culture of the South. A very interesting and incredibly informative book about the culture and food of the South. A must-read for any Southerner or fan of Southern food! Some quotes I really liked: "To apprehend how Southerners have fed themselves and others gains us a necessary glimpse of remarkable lives, a kitchen-eye view of the revolutions and evolutions that have shaped the region. Those stories reveal a people's history, embedded in the crops we grow, the dishes we cook, and the tables where we gather. In these Potlikker Papers, complex narratives reveal how and why Southern food has become a shared culinary language for a nation now fixed on finding new meaning in its meals." (p. 11) "Through television shows and books, [Nathalie] Dupree argued that Southern cooking should be considered a cuisine. 'People go all the way to Italy to study how to make pasta with Giuliano Bugiatti,' said the woman who, in the 1960s, had gone all the way to London to learn how to stew a proper coq au vin. He moves his hands, she said, in the same way a Southern cook shapes biscuit dough. 'It's just that no one ever bothered to say that making Southern biscuits was a technique worth learning.'" (p. 203)

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