Delving deep into the culinary (and social) history of one of America’s oldest cuisines: soul food.
During the 1960s and ’70s, soul food came out of the kitchen and into the spotlight, brought to the fore by African-Americans’ burgeoning racial pride. Today, however, it comes not only with a side of cultural baggage, but also an unhealthy dietary image—a plate of fried meat or fish with vegetables boiled nearly to death, followed by sweet desserts and even sweeter drinks. Although many other aspects of African-American culture have become globally accepted, “soul food has become a toxic cultural asset inside the black community and a cuisine stigmatized from the outside.” In his debut, Miller offers “a very public makeover” for soul food. Rather than take a broad overview of soul food as a cuisine, each chapter dives deep into the background of one specific dish, covering both the oldest food traditions (e.g., fried chicken, greens and corn bread) and some more recent additions (red Kool-Aid and macaroni and cheese). Miller’s historical trails are occasionally a bit speculative, such as his efforts to put Kool-Aid in a line of red beverages stretching back to drinks made with kola nuts in western parts of Africa. Overall, though, the author’s pages are lively, with few lapses into overly dry detail. Nearly every chapter concludes with two recipes for the food being discussed, usually a traditional recipe and a newer, healthier version. For instance, the chapter on desserts ends with the banana pudding made by Miller’s own mother, rich with egg yolks and whole milk, followed by a peach crisp made with little sugar and whole wheat flour. Offering both recipes is just part of soul food’s “heritage of experimentation,” and Miller encourages professional chefs and home cooks alike to “name and embrace the new culinary form without jettisoning the old.”
An engaging, tradition-rich look at an often overlooked American cuisine—certainly to be of interest to foodies from all walks of life.