I recently spoke with authors Alice Randall (A) and Caroline Randall Williams (C) to chat about their new cookbook Soul Food Love, love of peanuts, and a giveaway.
The cookbook is filled with family stories and recipes dating back 100 years.
Tell me about yourself:
We are a mother, Alice Randall, 55, and daughter, Caroline Randall Williams, 27, who set out to write a cookbook that was also a family history. Alice worked primarily on the family history and Caroline worked primarily on the recipes. Soul Food Love is about creating a celebration mood without unhealthy celebration food. Peanuts are a big part of that for us. Sweet potatoes, peanuts, red snapper, sardines, collard greens, turnip greens, home grown pears and apples, wild strawberries, all of these are a part of African-American healthy food ways and these are the foodstuffs you’ll find celebrated in our book.
We are excited to read your newly-released cookbook. Can you tell us more about it? What inspired you all to work together on this? How did you come up with the name “Soul Food Love”?
Soul Food Love is a love letter to our foremothers and forefathers, to all the black women and men, who came before us who worked to create delicious meals, be it a wild Saturday night backyard barbecue or a Sunday supper that sustained families. With one of us, Caroline, being a poet and the other of us, Alice, being a songwriter and a novelist, we’ve always loved words. When it came to giving our cookbook a title we wanted to announce plain and simple what we were serving up at our table and that is soul (spirit with an African inflection) food, and love.
Your book focuses on a collection of family recipes that date back to 100 years. I’m currently in the process of researching my family history and I am curious to know how you were able to collect so many recipes.
“Grandma,” Alberta Bontemps, lived to be ninety-seven years old. That was a help! When Alice was pregnant with Caroline she lived at Grandma Bontemps house spending most of that time on bed rest. We might say Caroline started hearing Grandma Bontemps recipes and stories even before she was born. After she was born Caroline was fortunate to spend time in the kitchen with her great grandmother and her “Nana” Joan Bontemps Williams, directly receiving from her great grandmother and her grandmother kitchen memories going back to slavery time. Alice was in and out of her grandmother “Dear’s” kitchen until Dear died when Alice was a teen. Two long lived great-grandmothers made this book possible.
We noticed you have several peanut and peanut butter recipes in your cookbook. What’s the back story behind those recipes?
A: We love peanuts. They’re tasty, they’re a great source of protein, and they are closely entwined with African-American history. For many enslaved Africans, peanuts were an important taste of cultural connection because they were eaten in Africa and eaten in North America. Our family has an extra layer of connection to the peanut. By marriage we have Tuskegee roots. George Washington Carver was a family friend and is hero of ours. We admire his innovative spirit, his compassion for people on limited budgets, and determination to create a tasty table built around his two favorite southern staples: the sweet potato and the peanut.
What do you like most about soul food?
A: True soul food puts black history and black health on a plate. We don’t like that, we LOVE soul food! And we love the way soul food celebrates African-American creativity and industry. Freshly caught fish baked in an open fire served with wild strawberries or dewberries that’s a two century old soul food feast—that tastes delicious today and ties us to the strengths of the past while leading us to a brighter future. That’s what we like about soul food. We find that same spirit in a spoon full of homemade peanut butter as a quick breakfast before settling down to write.
How has growing up in the South influenced your taste in food?
Well one of us, Alice, “Mama” was born ‘up south’ in Detroit, Michigan but the part of Detroit where everyone was from Alabama. The other of us, Caroline, “Baby Girl” was born ‘down South’ in Tennessee and lives in the ‘deep South’ of Mississippi but one thing all our South’s have in common is a love of all the pot-liquor greens: turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens; dandelion greens, and even kale. And of course there is our love of the sweet potato and peanut.
What do you love about peanuts and peanut butter? Do you have a favorite dish?
C: We’re not big meat eaters so peanuts are particularly important to us as a source of protein. We love how versatile peanuts are. We eat them in different ways throughout the day. In the morning we crave a little creaminess. That’s when we’re most likely to grab spoon and twirl it in some homemade or store bought natural peanut butter and savor it as perfect breakfast lollypop. In the afternoon we crave crunch. And savory. Peanuts pack a punch of protein, much crunch, and can be dusted with spices and spiked with Tabasco into a perfect pitch of savory. At night I like adding peanut butter to my stews to add to the flavor and to make them substantial enough to be a whole meal. Mama loves using peanuts to entertain. Sometimes she gets a giant bag of peanuts in their shells almost as tall as she is and serves that with fresh apples with drinks and invites folks over for cocktails. People love it. We tease and say now we’re on the George Washington Carver diet. It’s working for us. Peanut Chicken Stew is our favorite peanut based dish. But we love many.
A: And for Mommy-ease I love peanut butter on a spoon served as a breakfast lollypop as a quick breakfast when the whole family is late and rushing. I re-live those days with Caroline when I serve peanut butter spoons to my godchildren.
About the Authors:
ALICE RANDALL is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, and Ada’s Rules. Randall teaches the course “Soul Food, in Text, as Text” at Vanderbilt University. Randall has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a Health Champion and is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Nashville Ambassador. Soul Food Love is her second book co-authored with daughter Caroline Randall Williams.
CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS was chosen by Southern Living as one of “50 People Changing the South in 2015” for her healthy soul food remix, Soul Food Love, co-authored with her mother, Alice Randall. The mother daughter duo’s first book, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, won the Phillis Wheatley prize and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. Randall Williams received her MFA in poetry from the University of Mississippi, and owns more than 1,000 cookbooks.
Alice and Caroline are giving away two copies of their new cookbook “Soul Food Love” to our readers.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out the form below and comment on this post. All entries must be submitted by March 4, 2015.
Photo Credits: Clarkson Potter Penguin Random House and Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams.