Food by the Book: a complex novel will evoke strong emotions | Lifestyles
Honoree Fanonne Jeffers is a poet and writing professor at the University of Oklahoma. Its most recent release is “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois” (Harper Collins, 2021), an epic tale that moves back and forth in time between the beginnings of our nation’s founding and the South today. Weighing over 700 pages, the length of the novel indicates the complexity of its subject matter.
Apparently, the job is a coming-of-age story. The novel’s protagonist, Ailey Pearl Garfield, doesn’t think much about her family’s past, like any typically unconscious teenager. But beneath the surface, something, or a lot of things, sends a current of sadness that makes Ailey and her sisters numb and disconnected from their peers, school, and most of all, themselves. His sister Lydia becomes a lost soul addicted to crack cocaine. Her sister Coco leaves for college and medical school and never really comes back. Only Ailey continues to spend her summers in Chickasetta, Georgia with her uncle Root, a former college professor who had met influential figures such as WEB Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston.
By all rights and means, this should have been a happy family. This is a well-educated group of highly skilled men and women who have studied at Routledge and Mecca universities, as well as associations in Howard, Harvard and Spelman. Ailey attended an exclusive, mostly white, private high school before pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Her father is a doctor. In other words, these people have it all, and yet a duality in their collective consciousness pulls them towards them.
The cultural use of double consciousness was first described by WEB Du Bois in its seminal work, “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), describing the duality that African Americans can feel because they have one foot in and one foot out of white American society. . Jeffers uses Du Bois’s words at the start of each chapter to present his goal. With stark family themes, explicit child sexual abuse, hideous slavery scenes and drug addiction, the novel itself can become oppressive and one may be tempted to throw it across the room. But, with unwavering poetic skill, Jeffers manages to link the foundational origins of modern South Cove in Georgia to pre-war slavery to modern college life in 2007, where the story ends. Ultimately, it is the story of the maturity of an individual, a race, and a nation. It’s a real magnum opus that will evoke strong emotions, but will be rewarding, if you stick to it until the end.
The pound cake is mentioned several times in the novel. The dean of Southern cooking was Edna Lewis who was a restaurant owner, lecturer at the American Museum of Natural History, and recipient of the James Beard Living Legend Award in 1999. Her cookbook “The Taste of Country Cooking” (Knopf, 1976 ) contains his famous pound cake recipe, which can be found online here: https://www.thekitchn.com/white-pound-cake-edna-lewis-23099601.
You can also try this version.
Traditional pound cake
1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), softened
3 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of almond extract
3 cups of flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 10-inch Bundt cake pan with cooking spray and flour. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add sugar slowly and mix until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract. Combine the flour and butter in another bowl, then slowly fold into the dough. Beat until just blended. Add about 2/3 to the pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes until the cake begins to peel off the sides and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the mold then unmold on a rack and let cool. You can play around with the aromas, perhaps using lemon extract or coconut.