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Race, Class And Paying Down Southern Food’s Great ‘Debt Of Pleasure’

The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of a Modern South by John T. Edge.

The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of a Modern South by John T. Edge.

John T. Edge is a male who knows how spin a good yarn. Listening to him speak can feel like descending underneath a spell of your favorite college professor. He’s wickedly smart, funny, comfortable and welcoming.

And for years, a story he’s been revelation is all about Southern food: about a executive purpose in Southern identity, and about what it owes to a African-American and newcomer cooks who have historically been left out of a customary narratives a South tells about itself.

In his new book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of a Modern South, Edge attempts to compensate down what he calls “a debt of pleasure to those farmers and cooks who came before me, many of whom have been mislaid to history.”

“These were women, these were mostly times people of tone who didn’t get a honour they unequivocally earned,” Edge says. “And in profitable down that debt of pleasure, we wish to move their lives into service and make pithy a ways in which, if we wish to puncture into Southern food, you’re categorically digging into issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity.”

John T. Edge

Jason Thrasher


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Jason Thrasher

John T. Edge

Jason Thrasher

Edge is a executive of a Southern Foodways Alliance, partial of a Center for a Study of Southern Culture during a University of Mississippi. And he says those dual things — Southern food and enlightenment — are inextricably intertwined. As he writes, “agriculture begat a region’s strange sin: slavery.”

But food is also a lens to snippet where a South is now, as an glass of immigrants has remade a region, and as Southern cuisine itself has left from being suspicion “retrograde” to being famous as “foundational to American cuisine.”

His book spans a 60-year period, revelation a story of a South, decade by decade, by food — from a kitchen of Georgia Gilmore, who orderly cooks and bakers to sell food to lift supports to support a Montgomery, Ala., train boycott, to a complicated Southern artisanal food movement.

Fannie Lou Hamer, a famed voting rights romantic from Mississippi, graphic here in 1964, also became what we would call a “food sovereignty” activist.

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Fannie Lou Hamer, a famed voting rights romantic from Mississippi, graphic here in 1964, also became what we would call a “food sovereignty” activist.

Library of Congress

One of a fascinating stories it shares is that of Fannie Lou Hamer, a famed voting rights romantic from Mississippi who also became what could be called a “food sovereignty” activist. In a late 1960s, she began aggregation farmland and orderly a stock pity module — that she called a Pig Bank — that recruited poor, farming black families in her local Mississippi Delta to caring for profound womanlike pigs. The families returned dual piglets to a bank, that were afterwards common with other families. By a second year of a program, 100 families had pigs to slaughter.

What she was attempting in a late 1960s seems complicated even today,” Edge says.

Edge spoke recently with NPR. A twin of a review follows, edited for abruptness and clarity.

Southern food can go from forage to greens to tamales. What is Southern food?

Southern food is for me a story of people as most as mixture or dishes. Tamales, a food that’s unequivocally renouned only west of where we live, in a Mississippi Delta, shows a early impress of Mexican emigration into a Mississippi Delta to work string harvests in a early 20th century. Each plate spins a account of a segment we call home.

A lot of these dishes that give us pleasure were combined by people in subjugation, infrequently combined for their overlords.


The Potlikker Papers

The Potlikker Papers

A Food History of a Modern South

by John T. Edge

Hardcover, 370 pages |

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Indeed, a pretension of my book references only that arrange of dish. You took a pot of greens — could be collards and mustards — and prepare it down, low and slow, with pig hogs or pig tails. And a glass that stays during a bottom of that pot, a strong essence, is a “potlikker.” And there’s a rebellious beauty in that dish. During a days of enslavement, worker masters would mostly keep a greens for themselves and disdain to give a potlikker to a enslaved, not meaningful that a nutrients leach out of those greens and sojourn in a potlikker. So a slaves were left with what was truly a healthful partial of a dish.

For me, this book was an try to boil down, distill down 60 years of Southern story and offer voice to all those cooks who demonstrate themselves by a kind of rebellious creativity in a kitchen and a fields and during tables.

Does a fact that you’re a white male essay about Southern food askance your work in certain directions?

I grew adult in a home of a Confederate brigadier ubiquitous in parochial Georgia, with a chronological pen out front that distinguished exploits of Gen. Alfred Iverson Jr. If we review that pen you’d consider him a hero. If we puncture into your story like I’ve done, you’d commend he was not. So most of a story of American South is mythos and fable. As a white son of a South, we feel it my avocation to tell a truer, some-more honest story of my place, to demeanour a past precisely in a face.

There are now Southern restaurants in Brooklyn. we meant Southern food is hipster food. What does that say?

It says a lot. Southern food has been cyclically hip for a final 50 years. In a late 1960s, America fell in adore with essence food, that is a food of rural, black Southerners who altered north. By a 1970s, a American press falls in adore with Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, falls in adore with forage and a references to forage as “Georgia ice cream.” By a 1980s Paul Prudhomme stairs to a stage. And Paul Prudhomme, son of Opelousas, La., a disciple of Cajun cuisine, Louisiana cuisine — a 1980s are his.

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I consider it also reflects a kind of mainstreaming of a American South. For a longest time, we were an outlandish place and we were outlandish people, outward a American mainstream. And this latest adore event with a segment reflects a not-quite-redeemed South, though a fitfully redeemed South — a South kind of reclaiming a history, staring it down, and now reinterpreting it.

And does it change a food? Is that OK?

It changes a food. What we wish it doesn’t change is a narrative. That’s unequivocally what’s critical to me … if we’re going to canonize boiled duck in a register of good American dishes, we also canonize George Gilmore, a good boiled duck prepare from Montgomery, Ala., who leveraged a talents of a stove to expostulate change in a region.

What about changing demographics in a South? More people are nearing from Central America and Asia, for example.

The South, over a camber of 60 years, has altered some-more briskly than any other segment of a nation. You see that in my son, who’s now 16. we grew adult going to eat grill sandwiches on a Saturday afternoon. He’s some-more expected to opt for tacos al priest and salsa verde. In a city like Houston, we see Vietnamese Cajun crawfish restaurants widespread opposite a city. we see all these pleasing combinations entrance into focus. A new, kind of “future-tense South” is during hand, and it is in a hands of immigrants — Southerners, first-generation Southerners.

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Is it a good and delightful time to be essay about Southern food?

We now as a republic recognize, in ways we never have before, a value of a food culture. We commend food as an countenance of people and place, allied to a approach we demonstrate ourselves by novel or song or eremite expression. Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, will shortly be out in August. [Twitty is a cook and historian who explores African-American foodways.] Ronni Lundy only published her pleasing book, Vittles, about Appalachian food enlightenment of a American South.

There are a operation of conversations going now, during a impulse when we commend a value in a dishes is some-more than about sustenance. There’s low definition in there.