CBR Bingo Review #I’ve lost track: UnCannon
I was thinking about using N.K. Jemisin’s Fifth Element here, but then I figured that was actually somewhat in my wheelhouse as it’s fantasy and queer. Not so much my standard wheelhouse is American History non-fiction. To make it palatable, I found what’s basically history via thing I do like: cookbooks. Scholar and cookbook collector Toni Tipton-Martin is not old (she’s later middle aged, about 60), not white (African American), and not a man. When I was checking out The Jemima Code from the library, the librarian at the desk said something like, “I bet you’re in for some tasty times.” I can how she though that; the book is subtitled “Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks” and it does look kind of like one. The thing is, this is not a cookbook. It’s a history book focused on investigating African and African American cooking in the US as documented by the African and African American communities themselves.
There are excerpts from cookbooks, but this book is more biography and culinary history than anything else. It sounds academic and dry but it’s not. The book is organized roughly by chronology, and a lot of what it is is presenting cookbook written by or largely attributed to cooks of color. After two forwards and an introduction to the project, there are 8 sections, one for the earliest extant evidence (starting in the 1820s), and then every decade or few of the 20th century. Let’s take the section “1981-1990: Mammy’s Makeover The Ever-Useful Life”. The basic trend in foodie culture during this time frame is essentially nouvelle cuisine and its influence on soul food (subjects explored individually in the previous chapter) and the shifts in marketing; this is set up by the introduction to the section. What follows is a series of 40+ books, a picture, a brief biography of the author(s), and description of contents, focus, and/or style of each. Each book gets its own page, or in a few cases, 2 pages.
As the author points out, one of the key things about the book is that it really focuses on not just food and recipes associated with African American or Southern cultures; the focus is really on what the people themselves wrote and did. Every book and every author has their own distinct presence and personality. For example, in 1986 The Second Best of Granny: Family Recipes was published by Georgia H. Carter. The description of the author and general style involves phrases like “favorite recipes of her friends and family adapted for healthier eating”, “swanky recipe inventory jumps off assertively”, and “fabulous quantity-cooking recipes that take the guesswork out of entertaining and cooking for buffets or church suppers”. The recipe page snapshot is for “Granny’s Season-All” which appears to be an all-purpose seasoning that expects a lot of use (3 cups’ worth). Apparently the pies are also amazing and “really put it down: Chitterling Pie, Sweet Potato Pie in Raisin Crust, Pumpkin Pie in Pecan Crust, and Apple Pie in Cheese Crust. Go, Granny!” Personally, I’d rather like to try that last one (cheese crust with apple pie). The only problem is that the majority of these cookbooks are collectors’ items. That just makes this whole book all the more interesting though.