- Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identityby Carrie Helms Tippen
Carrie Helms Tippen uses literary analysis to look at the construction of southern identity and authenticity in recipe headnotes—the little narrative snippets that introduce how the author has come to collect or conceive of a recipe in contemporary cookbooks. Tippen's look at this apparently minor genre unfurls a series of fresh insights, justifying her claim that headnotes should be considered part of the literary canon and are worthy objects of analysis for scholars of the U.S. South.
The introduction establishes the corpus under study and looks into the southern "toolbox of strategies" and conventions employed to demonstrate belonging (p. 5). Origin narratives and "useful pasts" have long been used to build southern authenticity (p. 44). However, the emergence of cosmopolitan new southern cuisine in the late twentieth century has meant that the black and white racial binary has been blurred, if not superseded, by a larger recognition of the roles of Native Americans and immigrants in the making of southern cuisine—historically and today. In her understanding of authenticity, Tippen relies heavily on Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann's Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape(New York, 2009). The chosen [End Page 749]criteria for inclusion in Tippen's study mean that most of the books under analysis are thick, glossy cookbooks written by restaurant chefs (or their ghostwriters) and that "soul food" cookbooks, as well as cookbooks on the food of the black diaspora, are excluded unless they explicitly tie these cuisines to the South. Tippen writes thoughtful pages about this choice.
In chapter 1 Brunswick stew is a case study to analyze how authors deploy historical narratives to prove their recipes to be authentically southern. Beyond debates about the geographical origin of the dish (and the use or not of squirrel), headnotes put southern racial contradictions on display. While some describe the stew as a Native American dish reinterpreted by enslaved Africans cooking for their white owners, some altogether erase race and slavery. Other headnotes opt to disconnect the dish from its history, instead considering a recipe authentic because a "real Southern cook" has created, tasted, and shared it (p. 62).
Next Tippen offers a fresh take on recipe analysis by looking at "citation narratives" in headnotes (chap. 2). Recipes are not copyrighted in the United States, as they are considered "'works of utility' or 'facts'" (p. 79). This situation facilitates constant micro innovations, but it also poses ethical issues to writers who, necessarily, build on others' work. They have used the headnote—which, in a nice twist, is itself copyrighted, as it can be considered a literary work—to inscribe themselves within legitimating networks. Family networks are often commandeered for this purpose; the figure of the grandmother is central here. But credibility can also be established by inscribing oneself within a historical network of cooks or within communities centered on blogs and magazines. The recipes might be strikingly similar, but the headnotes fix their meanings and establish the authority of the author.
The third chapter centers on celebrity/restaurant chefs. Here, Tippen dives into the tension between originality, authenticity, and cultural appropriation. She shows how these chefs use personal narratives to establish their southernness via birth and ancestral claims and via formal training, apprenticeship, and relationships with local farmers. This practice allows for southern identity, and southern food, to take a global turn that makes room for a diversity of bodies in the kitchen.
The last chapter looks into the "nonnarrative devices" used to establish authenticity in southern cookbooks: photography, design, forewords, and blurbs (p. 153). Given the key role of these devices in attracting a reader to a cookbook, establishing a general tone, and pushing one to actually cook a recipe, this reviewer wishes that these key elements had been discussed as part of the thematic chapters. Still, this book uses...