In 2012, the author Alice Randall announced her decision to be the last fat black woman in her family. She told the world via an article she wrote in a little journal called the New York Times and she enlisted her daughter, Caroline Randall Williams, to join her in the quest to change the trajectory their family was headed in. The result is a touching book called Soul Food Love, part family tree, part recipe book. Soul Food Love is a discovery about the relationship the Randall family has with food – the mistakes, the successes, the lessons passed down from their ancestors – and what we can learn from the way our own mothers (and fathers) saw the kitchen.
In the history part of the book, the women talk about the domestic arts learned from mothers and grandmothers who were slaves, women who worked in other women’s kitchens and then, when they became successful enough, avoided the kitchen at all costs. This was due in large part to the fact that, “every acre of the black Southern family was fertilized with the memory of slavery, watered with the shaming of Jim Crow, seeded with the descendants of kitchen rapes during and after slavery, and tilled with the ever-present threat of lynching.” (I loved that sentence) In fact, one grandmother is described as falling “in love with every process that distanced food from the farm and every habit that freed her from the kitchen her black grandmother had been shacked to.”
Soul Food Love is the real story and gives a very different insight into how black American families started adopting the traditions that led to obesity.
There’s the grandmother who treated every ill and every complaint with sugar. There’s the man who didn’t want his wife cooking because he had grown up with women stuck in the kitchen and wanted to protect the woman he now loved from that fate. There are the people who after generations of slavery and segregation just wanted to leave the kitchen behind and celebrate every day with a meal at a restaurant that their parents wouldn’t have been able to sit in. The woman who said eating whatever and as much as she wanted was an expression of her personal freedom.
But Soul Food Love is also a well- written story. Another of my favorite quotes is:
Too much worry, too much work and too much whiskey will blow you up.
The recipes in Soul Food Love are very simple, the ingredients easy to acquire and the cooking methods basic, exactly like the food I imagine my great-grandmother used to prepare. And isn’t that the appeal of soul food?
In the book, the authors describe one grandmother who collected cookbooks and recipes, until there were several bookcases full of recipes when she died. Soul Food Love is the compilation of the best of those recipes, passed down not just through one family, but now to everyone.
The book is beautiful to admire, the size is perfect, there aren’t as many photographs as other cookbooks I’ve read but the pictures that are included have a very honey feel to them. All around winner in my book.
I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.