cover image The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

John T. Edge. Penguin Press, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59420-655-9

James Beard Award–winning writer and food historian Edge evokes potlikker—the rich, savory juices left after collard greens are boiled—in this excellent history Southern foodways and the people who’ve traveled them. In the South, Edge notes, food and eating intertwine inextricably with politics and social history, and he deftly traces these connections from the civil rights movement to today’s Southern eclectic cultural cuisine. He introduces major figures such as Georgia Gilmore, who fed farmhand cooking to African-Americans in her house restaurant in the 1960s; the great civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who started Freedom Farm in Mississippi to encourage African-Americans to stay home and farm the land rather than migrating to Northern cities; and Stephen Gaskin, the leader of a Tennessee commune, who in many ways anticipated the organic and farm-to-table movements of today. Edge takes us from lunch counters (the “streamlined predecessors of fast food”) to the rise of fast food and the attempts of various chains (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee’s, Bojangles) to preserve the comfort foods that many Southerners associated with growing up, such as biscuits and fried chicken. In this excellent culinary history, Edge also profiles some of the South’s greatest cooks—Edna Lewis, Craig Claiborne, Paula Deen—who represent the sometimes tortured relationship between the South and its foodways. (May)