I'll be the first to admit that when my native-born Okaloosa County husband first used the term "potlikker" before we were married 40 years ago, I didn't have the foggiest idea what he was talking about! Potlikker is a food metaphor referring to the liquid that remains after you boil down a big pot of greens or beans (and incidentally it's very nutritious).
In his new book, "The Potlikker Papers: a Food History of the Modern South," food historian John T. Edge, who directs the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, traces the evolution of Southern identity through its food culture.
Many fascinating people and stories fill the book such as Georgia Gilmore. She had worked as a cook, a waiter, and for the railroad all her life, but then she fuels the Montgomery Bus Boycott with cooking she did in her house.
But the story of Stephen Gaskin really inspired Edge to pursue writing a full-length book. (His earlier pieces for the "Oxford American" and "Garden & Gun" magazines also served as investigative research.)
In the late 1960s and 1970s (when it was in vogue to quit the South), Gaskin, an outsider from California, starts a farm in Tennessee and brings with him a bunch of Haight-Ashbury kids tripping on LSD. They grow their own food and marijuana, and Gaskin and the others reinvigorate the South and Southern food with the products they sold to local companies. (As an interesting footnote, it was Gaskin's wife, Ina May, who wrote "Spiritual Midwifery" and inspired a whole new generation toward natural childbirth.)
Edge narrates the gentrification that gained traction in the restaurants of the 1980s and the artisanal renaissance that began to reconnect farmers and cooks in the 1990s. He reports on the newer South that came into focus in the 2000s and 2010s, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Mexico to Vietnam and many points in between.
"The Potlikker Papers" is a people's history of the modern South, told through its food. It is well worth a read, whether you were born in the South or not!
Sandra Dreaden is the Crestview Public Library's reference librarian.