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The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South Hardcover – May 16, 2017
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“Long one of the key voices in the discussion of Southern cuisine, Edge challenges the accepted narrative… [and] watch[es] the momentum build until the South comes into its own.”—New York Times Book Review
“Edge is an ecumenist when it comes to such culinary crises, and that’s what makes him so wonderful a surveyor of the last 50 years of southern history…Decade by decade, Edge shows that we aren’t just what we eat; we are where that food was grown, how it was cooked, who cooked it, and who all gets to eat it with us.” —The New Republic
“To read “Potlikker” is to understand modern Southern history at a deeper level than you're used to. not just a history of Southern food; it also stands as a singularly important history of the South itself.” —The Bitter South
“A panoramic mural of the South’s culinary heritage, illuminating the region’s troubled place at the American table and the unsung role of cooks in the quest for social justice.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“In dense detail, this book ranges fluently over the politics, drama and romance of Southern foodways.”— Nashville Scene
“An insightful, refreshing, and at times revealingly ugly examination of food and its place in the South…In the evolving story of Southern food, The Potlikker Papers is a must-read force for good.”—Charleston City Paper
“Like sitting down to a bountiful Sunday Southern dinner. Edge uncovers the rich narratives that lie beneath Southern food, illustrating the tangled and compelling webs of politics and social history that are often served up alongside our biscuits and gravy… Edge’s delightful and charming book invites us to pull up a chair for a satisfying repast of tales that illustrate that the food history of the modern South reveals the dynamic character of Southern history itself.” --BookPage
“[Edge] has created a canon of Southern food writing that follows in the tradition of legends like John Egerton and Vertamae Grosvenor. The Potlikker Papers is an extension of this cultural plumbing of the South and its meaning in modern America... Edge asks us to consider how we, as Americans, active and passive Southerners, journalists, and eaters, can begin to set the record straight in this very moment—to tell the histories of those living and working in the South with truth and humanity. To recognize them and say their names.”—Saveur.com
“Masterful…When it comes to chronicling Southern food, John T. Edge puts his motor where his mouth is, logging many thousands of miles over the years to illuminate these hidden corners of the region’s cuisine like no other…Edge expertly sieves through decades of cultural influences to explore how today’s rich culinary tradition emerged.”—Garden & Gun
“The one food book you must read this year…No matter the subject, there is always something to learn from Edge’s work...The Potlikker Papers is a reminder of where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.”—Southern Living
“Edge’s research and command of prose make this a necessary history.” —Booklist (starred review)
“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…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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Mixing deep scholarship, charming anecdotes, and his own extensive culinary explorations, Edge provides a chronological account by decades, starting in the 1950s…What will stick with most readers are the vignettes about specific chefs, restaurants, food producers, food marketers, politicians, celebrities, and race-based relationships…Without question, this is a book for foodies, but it is also for readers who…care deeply about regionalism, individual health, and race relations.” — Kirkus (starred review)
"The Potlikker Papers, offers the most honest, brutal, beautiful, and insightful discussion to date on the country’s most complicated cuisine—from the food that fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Mexican, Vietnamese, and other international dishes that feed the New South." — Southern Living
“What we eat tells our story. John T. Edge wonderfully tells the story, through grits, pone, and pig meat, of the ever-morphing American South—fleshing out the caricatures of Harland Sanders and Paul Prudhomme, traveling history’s through lines from the lunch-counter protests of the Civil Rights era to the latter-day flowering of pitmaster chic. So good, so fun, so thorough, so important.” – David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula
“There are certain writers who you just know have found the perfect form for their creative expression, and so it is with John T. Edge, our preeminent chronicler of southern food and culture. In this rich, compact history of the South through its food and cooks—from Martin Luther King’s favorite fried chicken artist in Montgomery, Georgia Gilmore, to The New York Times’s long-reigning food editor Craig Claiborne—Edge has produced a wonderful narrative of the region’s evolution on race, gender, and justice, with a light-handed knowingness at once sympathetic and critical.” --Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home
"If I know anything about Southern cuisine it's because of John T. Edge. Somehow he's weaved together a story of how Southern food shaped, not only what was on the table, but American history. " -- David Chang, CEO/Founder, Momofuku
"Edge’s book means to be about food, but quickly veers into a close examination of the Deep South, before revealing itself as the smartest history of race in America in a generation." —Jack Hitt
“The Potlikker Papers takes readers on an exceptional journey through the modern American South, driven by the expressive power of food as a language and currency of place. John T. Edge’s profound analysis of the region’s vibrant—but always contested---food cultures skillfully navigates the rough road from the civil rights movement’s bus boycotts to the vibrant culinary diversity of the contemporary South. This work is essential reading in the American canon of foodways scholarship.” -- Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of The Edible South
“It should come as no surprise that John T. Edge would use a “salvage food” to celebrate ignored and forgotten kitchen stories. Recognizing the unrecognized is what he does. With his trademark style of compelling storytelling, Edge sets a table where everyone is welcome and every story matters — where untold histories teach new truths that challenge beliefs, while salving old wounds. The Potlikker Papers inspirited me with renewed hope for unity not just in Edge’s beloved South but anywhere there is food to eat and people to eat it.” -- Toni Tipton-Martin, author of Blue Grass Cook Book and The Jemima Code
“Confidence is a funny thing. Without it, you may cling to poles, draw boundaries, and take aim at the other. The South never had much confidence in me, a foul mouthed, shants wearing, 1st Generation Taiwanese-Chinese-American conceived in Maryland and raised in Orlando. I left as soon as I could swearing I'd never open my heart again. I hadn't thought about it for quite some time, but then John T. boiled off the greens, discarded the nasty bits, and served me Potlikker. In it is a nutrient rich reflection on the South's past, present, and future. It gives me confidence that one day I can love the South all over again.” -- Eddie Huang, author of Fresh Off the Boat
“John T Edge has unearthed an extraordinary people’s history of the South, brilliantly told “through its most influential export: food. Like its namesake broth, THE POTLIKKER PAPERS is a concentrated, complicated account of the little-known cooks and humble community-builders who fed each other and fueled a movement for inclusion.” -- Beth Macy, author of Truevine and Factory Man
About the Author
John T. Edge is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a columnist for the Oxford American. In 2012, he won the James Beard Foundation's M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. Edge has written or edited more than a dozen books. He has served as culinary curator for the weekend edition of NPR's All Things Considered, and he has been a regular columnist at the New York Times. Edge lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his son, Jess, and his wife, Blair Hobbs.
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The positive: I had never heard of Georgia Gilmore, whose cooking was so important at the beginning of the civil rights movement. The book continues on through decades of chefs and restaurant owners and the ascent of ‘southern cooking’., while also discussing the terrible working conditions of migrant farm workers and their struggle for better working conditions. Finally ending up with the ‘new south’ which is blending/changing southern cusine to include variety from Mexico , Korea, Vietnam and their cultural influences and blending with southern dishes. So I did learn quite a bit. This is a VERY brief review and doesn’t convey the depth of the subjects I've touched upon. I learned a great deal.
The not so positive: The author talks quite a bit about industrialized food, and seems to me to think that every American can be fed by gardens and local farms. I agree that local fresh is best but I can afford that choice. Even though the author discusses lack of food/nutrition/poverty in his book doesn’t he realize it still exists? Not every American can afford fresh organic and no matter how much you hope millions and millions of people would not be able to eat without cheaper industrialized food. I didn’t really need to read a book to let me know that every immigrant group that has settled in the USA that their culture influences food. Duh. That’s my opinion. I had never heard of the southern foodways alliance and to find out more about it I checked it out online. After reading this book and the author’s specific reasoning for the choice of the groups logo for the southern foodways alliance I was surprised to find out that the staff and BOD are almost all white. Huh. I figured since the whites had surpressed black cooks, farmers and restauranteurs for so long that the food alliance would be more integrated. I also didn’t care for the comment that FINALLY the NYT hired A MAN for the food section, thereby giving it gravitas. I guess women weren’t any good at it? or perhaps it was part of the newspaper culture / chauvinism at the time which repressed female journalists and they weren’t given the opportunity to write as they would like? I definately recommend reading this book if you'd like to learn a different aspect of the civil rights movement, the evolution of southern cooking and how it's morphing. Perhaps the couple of points I mentioned won't bother you as they did me.