I impulse purchased the Up South Cookbook during a dive into online black food personalities, writers, and chefs while attempting to find my way to both learn and contribute to the ongoing cultural conversation as a white lady food blogger. I woke up during the protests about George Floyd’s murder and saw I had only one cookbook by a black chef on my shelf. I’ve more than once treated myself to cookbooks by Asian writers, but this is a place where my collection is lacking.
I made this impulse purchase at the height of BLM activity on twitter at the beginning of June. It’s now July. I made some attempt at it, but given the financial constraints upon my husband and I while unemployment wasn’t coming through the door, I couldn’t give the book its proper dues and cook it right. Now that I am working, however, it’s time to just call this book what it is. It’s our July Cookbook of the Month.
Nicole A. Taylor, the writer of this cookbook, came up in my research as a James Beard Award nominee, podcaster, and cookbook author. Her Up South Cookbook showed up beside her recipe in The Way We Ate as ways for me to begin educating myself on the cuisine of African Americans in my own country. While my means are limited during the pandemic, I could afford the about ten dollars each book was on sale for on Amazon at the time, so I clicked.
Nicole’s online writing already impressed me, as it has impressed the James Beard Committee enough for nomination in the past. It seemed like a fine gamble to make to order her cookbook and continue my education of African American cooking through her lens. I’m glad I did.
I had to educate myself on some of the ingredients that are part of the fabric of cuisine in my own country. I didn’t know what rice grits was (broken up bits of rice leftover during processing that can make something of a grits consistency when cooked), and I didn’t know what fatback was, though I had an idea based on the context. We are so hyped up on gochujang and turmeric that we don’t even know what we have under our own noses.
Granted, sourcing some of these ingredients is a little difficult in the Northern Midwest. I was surprised that I couldn’t find fatback since we have more pigs than people around here, but where this ingredient appears in the Up South Cookbook, thick cut bacon is an acceptable substitution. We had that. The rice grits, however, I could order off of Amazon when I couldn’t find them in the store. Now that I’m back to work, it’s time to do this cookbook properly.
These foreign and yet incredible domestic ingredients ought to be known more widely in American kitchens. I have kombu and sambal oelek and shoyu tare all in my pantry as staple ingredients, yet I didn’t know what the hell rice grits are? I owe it to myself to give these ingredients their due, so for the rest of July, we’ll be tackling this cookbook honestly.
The writer is still an active voice in the food community. Her twitter has been a strong source of knowledge and inspiration for me these last few weeks while I educate myself on the contributions of Black Americans to our cuisine. If you haven’t already, please give her a follow @foodculturist.