In celebration of our centennial year, we’ve asked our authors to write some guest blog posts to help celebrate with us! We’re kicking off our centennial blog post series with a post from Adrian Miller, author of award-winning book Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. In Black Smoke, Miller chronicles how Black barbecuers, pitmasters, and restauranteurs helped develop this cornerstone of American foodways and how they are coming into their own today. It’s a smoke-filled story of Black perseverance, culinary innovation, and entrepreneurship. Though often pushed to the margins, African Americans have enriched a barbecue culture that has come to be embraced by all. Miller celebrates and restores the faces and stories of the men and women who have influenced this American cuisine. This beautifully illustrated chronicle also features 22 barbecue recipes collected just for this book.
For a century, the University of North Carolina Press (“UNC Press”) set the standard for publishing books that deepen one’s understanding of the American South. The UNC Press catalogue is full of books that explore previously unresearched and lightly researched topics, and it gives voice to authors who have not been adequately represented in publishing. Given my passion for African American culinary traditions, I’ve naturally gravitated to the UNC Press books that focus on food. Here’s why the following, listed alphabetically, are my favorites.
EDITED BY STEPHEN A. MCLEOD
While researching my own UNC Press book on the history of soul food, I discovered the stories of a few African Americans who cooked for U.S. presidents. Hercules, a longtime chef for George and Martha Washington, was one of those people. Unfortunately, so much of the available information on Hercules and other cooks was either scattershot or of dubious validity. This essay-laden cookbook brings much-needed, top-notch scholarship to a neglected aspect of culinary history.
BY NEWBELL NILES PUCKETT
A cuisine is much more than its food. One needs to appreciate the cooks who prepare the food and the culture that surrounds it. Puckett’s book helped me investigate the folkloric aspects of soul food and sort out what African Americans culturally retained from West Africa and borrowed from European and indigenous cultures in the Americas. I hungered for this information as I was figuring out why southerners, Black and White, eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
BY JOHN SHELTON REED AND DALE VOLBERG REED
North Carolina barbecue doesn’t get much love outside of the Carolinas, even though it’s one of the country’s oldest barbecue regions. The Reeds detailed study provides one of the best descriptions of barbecue’s early history by helpfully sorting out fact from fiction. The Reeds provocatively show the evolution of regional barbecue styles within North Carolina along with fun profiles of some of the state’s most interesting barbecue personalities.
BY RICKY MOORE
Seafood is a vibrant aspect of African American cuisine, but few Black-authored seafood cookbooks exist. I was thrilled that Chef Ricky Moore birthed this book. I met Chef Moore several years ago under some interesting circumstances. I was in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the event finished early enough for me to think that I had a chance to make to Chef Moore’s food trailer in Durham. By the time I got there, Chef Moore had already sold out for the day. Remarkably, Chef Moore spent a considerable amount of time talking to me about the seafood industry and the philosophy behind what he does. I left that day with an empty stomach and a full heart and mind. I’m thrilled that, through this book, Chef Moore is sharing his gift with others.
BY JOHN EGERTON
This is the book that launched my food writing career. I had just finished a stint in the Clinton White House, and I was trying to get back to Colorado to jumpstart my political career. Unfortunately, the job market was slow at the time, so I was unemployed and staying in Washington, D.C. much longer than I thought, and watching a lot of daytime television. In the depth of my depravity, I said to myself “I should read something.” I went to a local bookstore and made a beeline to the cookbook section because I’d always loved to cook. I spied this book on the shelves and was instantly intrigued. I had never seen a culinary history book. Egerton impressed me with the way he put southern food and recipes in historical and social context. Early in this book, Egerton wrote: “But the comprehensive history of black achievement in American cookery still waits to be written.” That’s the sentence that changed my life, and propelled me to write a soul food history.
Adrian Miller is a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge and recipient of a James Beard Foundation Book Award for Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. A consultant on Netflix’s Chef’s Table BBQ, Miller’s most recent book is The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas.