Mother and daughter writers, Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams, respectively, have written a family history as told through food and cooking. Caroline Randall Williams has rewritten traditional soul food recipes so that the dishes are healthier, and in some cases even tastier. Their family history is based on "five kitchens and three generations of women who came to weighing more than two hundred pounds, and a fourth generation that absolutely refused ever to weigh two hundred pounds. It is the story of a hundred years of cooking and eating in one black American family." The family’s history goes back to slavery, and the original matriarchs, Nancy Johnson (born enslaved in 1858) and Lucy Hill (born circa 1872). The genealogical tree is called "Our Kitchen Family Tree", and traces daughters born to the two matriarchs. The first two generations of women do not cite any male ancestors, and it is not until the twentieth century that the tree cites marriages. The tree is a proclamation about women held as slaves, who were raped by their owners. There is a gaping hole of specific identity for two generations. Last year Caroline Randall Williams addressed this history of women slaves, their children and descendants in: “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument”. In the first five chapters of the book, in rich, bold narrtives, the two writers tell us about those who cooked and why, and what they cooked and why. These cooking histories of women and men speak volumes about slavery and discrimination, and provide revelations about causes and effects. Those first 77 pages are so evocative with truth-telling that celebrates families and descendants, and those who endured and realized full lives despite slavery and oppression. There is a recognition of Southern traditions that Caroline Randall Williams values and those she does not. She is one of the funniest writers in being candid about her own preconceptions and how they got punctured, and turned around. One example comes from her teaching experience in 2010 in the Delta, where she discovers in that place at that time, " ... almost without exception, the best groceries--the only groceries--come from Walmart ... they're often locally sourced--and the consistency isn't matched anywhere else in the region." Caroline Randall Williams surprises herself and us with other ways to look at all parts of our lives, and not to be afraid to change our minds about our past and our present. The storytelling writing styles of both women have a full-bodied cadence and abundance that comes from their own lives, their families and their past.
The recipes are in chapters and each one has an introduction, where readers learn more specifics about family history and Black history. Reasons are given for not including certain recipes, such as, "On the soul food table, "salad" can also mean fruit suspended in Jell-O and molded into a Bundt pan. We don't play that. Here are two healthier options ..." Not just healthy, but scrumptious. All recipes are on a two-page spread, and most have full-page color photographs that feature the finished dish.
For more cookbooks celebrating African American History Month, check here.