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Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

Overview

In this insightful and eclectic history, Adrian Miller delves into the influences, ingredients, and innovations that make up the soul food tradition. Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish--such as fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens, and "red drinks--Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity.
Miller argues that the story is more complex and surprising than commonly thought. Four ...
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Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

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Overview

In this insightful and eclectic history, Adrian Miller delves into the influences, ingredients, and innovations that make up the soul food tradition. Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish--such as fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens, and "red drinks--Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity.
Miller argues that the story is more complex and surprising than commonly thought. Four centuries in the making, and fusing European, Native American, and West African cuisines, soul food--in all its fried, pork-infused, and sugary glory--is but one aspect of African American culinary heritage. Miller discusses how soul food has become incorporated into American culture and explores its connections to identity politics, bad health raps, and healthier alternatives. This refreshing look at one of America's most celebrated, mythologized, and maligned cuisines is enriched by spirited sidebars, photographs, and 22 recipes.

Winner of the 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference & Scholarship

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
I recommend this book to 'foodies' and to those interested in American history, African American history and preserving good down home soul food cooking.--Tennessee Libraries

Detailed and sprightly. . . . [Miller] adds in-depth chapters that explore more than a dozen soulful dishes--including catfish, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, cornbread and candied yams.--Stanford Magazine

Miller's book is a mouth-watering tome that not only titillates the palate, but feeds the brain with science, geography and history.--Denver Westword

[A] comprehensive and entertaining history of soul food. . . . A lively and thorough account for fans of food literature and of African American history. Recipes included. Highly recommended.--Library Journal

A wonderful combination of sociological examination of African-American culture and identity, travelogue and cookbook. . . . It's exactly this combination of earnest curiosity and an unwillingness to take his topic too seriously that makes Soul Food such a great read. . . . I highly recommend this book!--Nashville Scene

[A] lively, innovative, and carefully researched study of traditional African American food habits.--North Carolina Historical Review

[A] fascinating look at the cuisine known as soul food and its close cousin, southern cuisine. . . . Photographs and recipes add to the allure of this well-researched look at the past and future of soul food.--Booklist Starred Review

Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish--such as fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens and 'red drinks'--Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African-American culture and identity.--The Philadelphia Tribune

Just the book to move readers from one end of the line to the other without getting bogged down. . . . Soul Food is ingenious . . . [and] speaks to the enduring mythological power of its staple dishes.--Michael Twitty, American Prospect

An engaging, tradition-rich look at an often overlooked American cuisine--certainly to be of interest to foodies from all walks of life.--Kirkus starred review

An intelligent review that explores the muddy territory 'where southern food ends and soul food begins.' The journey is as informative as it is entertaining.--Austin Chronicle

Most people don't know soul food the way Miller does. . . . Miller's book studies soul food mainly in terms of its quintessential ingredients or dishes. . . [and] along the way, he dishes up a few surprises.--Winston-Salem Journal

Miller moves way past common notions about soul food to offer a fascinating look at the cuisine and its close cousin, southern cooking.--Booklist Top 10 Food Books of 2013

Miller makes many surprising points and teaches us a great deal about our Southern foodways' relationship to soul food. . . . Along the way, we get some fascinating insights, and a few great recipes and illustrations.--Okra Magazine

Miller knows all about soul food's allure, both as a way of eating and as cultural totem. . . . [His] book is a labor of love.--Denver Post

Examines the roots of a distinctly American tradition.--StarNewsOnline.com

Miller took up the challenge of tracing soul food's history and launching its spirited defense after realizing the story had never really been told in a comprehensive way.--Villager Newspaper

2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award, Reference and Scholarship

Insightful, thoughtful and meticulously researched, Soul Food sets a place for soul food in the American culinary canon. There's no way you won't be craving something sweet and fried and soulful for dinner.--Virginian-Pilot

[Miller] doesn't do anything halfway.--5280

Library Journal
While many aspects of African American culture have been embraced by the mainstream, Miller contends that soul food remains largely ignored, mostly owing to its unhealthy image. In an attempt to revamp its poor reputation, Miller offers up this comprehensive and entertaining history of soul food, tracing its evolution from its beginnings with slavery to the Great Migrations from the rural South. While different slaving systems led to subregional cuisines, such as Lowcountry, Creole, and Cajun, Miller focuses on the Deep South, or Black Belt, as the heart of soul food. Chapters are divided into the dishes most representative of the cuisine, including fried chicken, catfish, chitlins, cornbread, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, Kool-Aid, banana pudding, and sweet potato pie. Consulting historical cookbooks and firsthand accounts of the enslaved and visiting soul food restaurants across the country, Miller discusses the evolution of each dish and explains why it has attained a permanent place in soul food cuisine. VERDICT A lively and thorough account for fans of food literature and of African American history. Recipes included. Highly recommended.—Melissa Stoeger, Deerfield P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469607627
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2013
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 250,509
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Adrian Miller is a writer, attorney, and certified barbecue judge who lives in Denver, CO. He served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, a senior policy analyst for Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., and a Southern Foodways Alliance board member.
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