Author event with John T. Edge author of The Potlikker Papers

Parnassus Books welcomes John T. Edge author of The Potlikker Papers: A Food history of the Modern South in conversation with Margaret Renkl.

John T. Edge has devoted his career to the study of Southern food and culture. He has served as director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi since its founding in 1999, and now Edge has written the book he was born to write: The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, an absorbing examination of food, race, and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, Edge narrates the South’s journey from racist backwater to a hotbed of American immigration. In so doing, he traces how the food of the poorest Southerners has become the signature trend of modern American haute cuisine. This is a people’s history of the modern South told through the lens of food. 

Food was a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. Access to food and ownership of culinary tradition was a central part of the long march to racial equality. The book begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fed and supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and it concludes in 2015 as a Newer South came to be, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Lebanon to Vietnam to all points in between.  Along the way, Edge tracks many different evolutions of Southern identity—first in the 1970s, from the back-to-the-land movement that began in the Tennessee hills to the rise of fast and convenience foods modeled on Southern staples. He narrates the gentrification that gained traction in North Carolina and Louisiana restaurants of the 1980s and the artisanal renaissance that reconnected farmers and cooks in the 1990s and in the 2000s. Throughout, some of the most extraordinary and fascinating figures in Southern food, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Colonel Sanders, Edna Lewis, Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne, and Sean Brock, make appearances.

Like many great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, masters ate the greens from the pot and set aside the left-over potlikker broth for their slaves, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient-rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, black and white. In the rapidly gentrifying South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed the dish.

John T. Edge is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a columnist for the Oxford American.  In 2012, he won the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. Edge has written or edited more than a dozen books. He has served as culinary curator for the weekend edition of NPR’s All Things Considered, and he has been a regular columnist at the New York Times. Edge lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his son, Jess, and his wife, Blair Hobbs.

Event date: 
Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 6:30pm
Event address: 
Parnassus Books
3900 Hillsboro Pike Suite 14
Nashville, TN 37215
The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594206559
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Press - May 16th, 2017