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Grain and Fire: A History of Baking in the American South

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by Rebecca Sharpless
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Because baked goods are central to ideas about southern food—a cuisine that is impossible to imagine without biscuits, cornbread, cakes, and pies—Rebecca Sharpless believes that it's important to look beyond romanticism to ask questions about how Native American, European, and African traditions came together in that part of the United States and were used to communicate and define the evolving social order.

Sharpless, a professor of history at Texas Christian University, confesses that she is not particularly sentimental about food, and that she brings a "steely eye" to her examination of baking heritage. That often means she reveals unusual details.

Her history is chronological and often singles out particular baked goods as symbolic of the advance of technology—access to refined flour and sugars—as well as economic development. The seemingly humble biscuit, for example, was a status food, signifying that a family could afford to eat more than cornbread, even if biscuits were on the table just once a week.

Class and of course race are significant elements in Sharpless's account, touching everything from who performed the labor of growing and baking, to how particular foods became central to developing identities, Wealthy whites could scorn store-bought bread as low quality, but only because they could employ someone to bake fresh bread in their homes daily. This set them neatly apart from the middle class, to say nothing of the working class or impoverished families, m,mbers of whom might be baking for them

Happily, Sharpless documents her research with endnotes and an extensive bibliography.

Hardcover. Black-and-white photographs throughout.

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