Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Penguin Random House Book Review: Soul Food Love


Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams, a mother-daughter team, published, through Clarkson Potter, a 224 page “cookbook” that is truly a tale of five kitchens. This volume is a history of three generations and one hundred years of cooking and eating in one African American family. 

Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family is an extensively well-researched historical account of struggles and successes. 

The kitchens include:

  •         Dear’s Kitchen
  •         Grandma’s Kitchen
  •         Nana’s Kitchen
  •         Mama’s [Alice’s] Kitchen
  •         Baby Girl’s [Caroline’s] Kitchen

The kitchens celebrate forgotten food staples such as sweet potatoes, peanuts and sardines. The volume is separated in two parts. The first half is the history of the family and how the recipes came to be and the second, recipes and dishes, drinks and desserts. 

Alice and Caroline have taken the same admired Southern soul food delicacies and managed to replicate the same dishes to be healthier for the body. A few recipes include Peanut Chicken Stew, Red Bean and Brown Rice Creole Salad, Fiery Green Beans and Sinless Sweet Potato Pie. 

This book focuses on how a kitchen has been a myriad of places for black Americans, places of servitude and hunger, places of violence, of shelter, and places of peace, artistry and sacredness. 

The stories and food shared within these pages are direct from those enslaved from generation to generation handed down. Their children and grandchildren recognized that their family learned and relearned how to feed themselves during times of great prosperity and in times of extreme poverty. 

The admiring and heartfelt aspects of Soul Food Love are discovered when opening a random page. While reading about a recipe or dish, one is reading about history from Selma, Alabama and horrific lynching’s onto first marriages and the happiness of buying a new home. There are photos throughout the book to show the reader how much dedication has gone into the research behind the dishes, from the lives of the people who created them, cooked them and lived in times extremely different from present day. 

Even in the early twentieth century, there were concerns about health and diet, especially fat and sugar. When times changed, so did diet. Carry in, TV dinners, and processed foods became popular and mainstream. 

My favorite part is Grandma's Kitchen, perhaps due to the strength, perseverance, the self-respect and courage. 

During WWII, in Nashville, Tennessee, in a Jim Crow society where black people were consistently reminded that they were not worthy, when there were separate drinking fountains for black and white, when whites only were allowed to sit at the front of the bus or at lunch counters, this is where Grandma excelled. Cooking as protest and mingling with various clubs, respected, and often the muse of renowned poet, Langston Hughes. 

Below is a photo of Grandma [Alberta Johnson Bontemps] with Caroline Randall. 

Fast forward to page 158 and you will find, simply, Sweet Potato Skewers. This is my favorite recipe. 

The only things required for this dish are skewers, sweet potatoes, onions and olive oil. 

On page 160, is my second favorite recipe, Defords Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate. Again, this only calls for sweet potatoes, red chilies, clove, red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil and pomegranate seeds. Simple, cheap, healthy, tasteful, elegant. 

There are recipes ranging from desserts to fish to meat, simple to complex. Easy to follow, ingredients one can find in their own cupboards or locally, at any store and do not require a long time to prepare. 

The last kitchen, Baby Girl [Caroline Randall Williams] is where one finds a 1,500-page collection of cookbooks, love of cooking and hosting handed down from Grandma to Caroline. Caroline learned early on that health was of utmost importance and she kept this lifestyle abroad as a student, later, teaching her students as an educator and in her personal life. 

From Caroline’s own words: 

“For now, standing on the shoulders of these brilliant, big, black women, I go ahead and feed my friends from my small kitchen. I feed them from my history, from our history, our past, our present, and from the fresh start of what I hope our future looks like.” 

This is a not just a cookbook. This is historical biography, of times still silenced, times people have yet to study. This is a volume of precious stories of five generations chock full of delicious homemade food beginning in 1897. 

This is a story of struggle and success, of quality and inequality, and most of all, this, is a story of love. 

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

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