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What We’re Reading: Three New Cookbooks Making their Mark on Southern Food

What We’re Reading: Three New Cookbooks Making their Mark on Southern Food
Written by Erin Byers Murray

Michael W. Twitty, Rodney Scott, and Deborah VanTrece all release delicious, and powerful, reads this month

As American cookbook release seasons go, this one is shaping up to be a picture of what the book landscape should resemble: titles by a diverse range of authors whose voices share a true representation of the country’s foodways. The South, in particular, shows up with three important releases this month, penned by Black experts in their respective fields.

 

Rice: A Savor the South Cookbook

By Michael W. Twitty
University of North Carolina Press

As per the Savor the South book model, Rice is packed with recipes, research, personal anecdotes, and lore, but culinary historian Michael W. Twitty also lays the facts bare—in between praising this powerful grain, its potent nostalgic properties, and its connections to a vast number of cultures Twitty writes plainly: “Rice, for all the joy and nourishment it has given, was part of a system that created inequality for generations.” The acknowledgement plays a significant role in the grain’s story, which Twitty rounds out with his own personal narrative about where rice has filled his meals and that of his forebearers, while exploring rice’s versatility, geography, and multiple languages. For the fifty-plus recipes, he delivers traditional dishes, from Liberian rice bread and the West African jollof while also turning to past and modern-day experts for their versions of dishes that allow rice to “dance” with so many other flavors. Look for stand-outs like Edna Lewis’s wild rice, shrimp rice from Gullah chef BJ Dennis, and Twitty’s own groundut stew.

 

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ

By Rodney Scott & Lolis Eric Elie
Clarkson Potter

The thing that Rodney Scott knows better than the back of his hand is how to barbecue whole hogs. Since age eleven, he’s been chopping wood, tending fires, flipping pigs, and pulling meat with a craft-master’s eye toward continuing perfection. But Scott’s story, which takes him from small-town pit cook to big-city barbecue chef, reveals layers of learning and growth, along with a saddening account of his familial strife. In his debut cookbook, the first by a Black pitmaster, Scott and co-author Lolis Eric Elie take readers from his days cutting tobacco, watching Soul Train, and growing his family’s Hemingway, South Carolina, business to standing on stage to accept the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast. As for the recipes, he does give a very thorough and specific set of instructions for your next July Fourth whole hog roast at home, but also shares recipes from his restaurant and his friends, like King Street corn rolled in pork skins, Rodney’s quick-fried wings, and a smoked chicken salad inspired by his wife

 

The Twisted Soul Cookbook

By Deborah VanTrece
Rizzoli

Deborah VanTrece puts boursin in her grits, wraps her meatloaf in puff pastry, and adds foie gras to her dirty rice. To say that the chef and restaurateur is reconsidering soul food is an understatement. In her first cookbook, VanTrece offers up an argument for evolution. Having grown up on chitlins and other soul food staples, VanTrece later traveled the world as both a flight attendant and a trailing spouse. She ate her way through home kitchens from Argentina to Switzerland, soaking up the cultural similarities and examining shared ingredients. When she turned her career toward cooking and catering, her instinct became: take what you know and add to it—which she does by putting twists, spins, and flourishes on the most familiar of foods while continuing to honor their roots. “I work to bring soul food into our 21st-century’s flavor-forward culture,” she writes. That’s why avocado shows up as the base to her hoecake recipe and rice noodles, softened and chopped, bind her shrimp and crab fritters. This important cookbook’s broad range of recipes conveys VanTrece’s distinct point of view—and marches one of the country’s most time-honored cuisines directly into the future.

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