John T. Edge

What makes The Potlikker Papers a good choice for Nashville Reads 2018?

Told over six decades from 1955 forward, The Potlikker Papers uses time in the fields, before stoves, and at tables to frame the South as a dynamic place. Yes, progress has been fitful. But it has been made. Over that same period, Nashville has proved itself a dynamic city. During the 1960s, Nashville was a place where Civil Rights Movement leaders devised strategies to foment a revolution. In the 2010s, Nashville has actively embraced new immigrants, offering a model for a nation now struggling to embrace its demographic destiny. Nashville is the ideal place to puzzle through the ideas that animate my book.

Tell us about the influence that the late John Egerton of Nashville has had on your career and on this book in particular.

You can read Egerton’s influence on every page of my book. From A Mind to Stay Here to Southern Food his books were sources for The Potlikker Papers, cited in the endnotes. More important, his attitude about the South informed my work. In ways small and large and generous, John showed us that, to love the South fully, we have to be critical of this place, its history, and its present. I did my damndest to bring that attitude to bear.

In the book, you talk about how pitmasters, many African-American, are really just now getting widespread recognition for their talents. Are there pit masters in Tennessee you feel should be better recognized?

Helen Turner of Brownsville, Tennessee, a onetime cotton shipment center southwest of Nashville, is one of the most talented and enterprising and engaging pitmasters in the nation. Six days a week, she steps into the smoke to shovel hardwood coals, chop pork shoulders, and feed regulars her peerless slaw-crowned and hot sauce-sluiced sandwiches. If we now recognize barbecue cookery as a craft worthy of veneration, then it’s time we recognize that pitmasters like her are national folk heroes.

What do you want readers who have never heard of it to know about the Southern Foodways Alliance?

Using food as our focus, we tell new stories about the changing South. Though our biweekly Gravy podcast and our quarterly Gravy journal we complicate narratives about this region. At our four annual symposia, we lead conversations about identity. Through our books, oral histories, and films, we cultivate progress.

Where do you tell people to eat when they come to Nashville?

I eat often across Nashville. For my Garden & Gun column, I recently wrote about Greko, the Greek street food café in East Nashville, and Hugh Baby’s, the new wave fast food spot in West Nashville. When friends ask for touts, I invariably talk about Silver Sands Cafe, a 50-plus-year-old meat-and three institution, famous for hotwater cornbread and smothered pork chops. At her tables, proprietor Sophia Vaughn curates a beloved community.