Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts

Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks

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Pub Date 23 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 31 May 2024

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A lyrical culinary journey that explores the hidden legacy of Black Appalachians, through powerful storytelling alongside nearly forty comforting recipes, from the former poet laureate of Kentucky.

“With Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, Crystal Wilkinson cements herself as one of the most dynamic book makers in our generation and a literary giant. Utter genius tastes like this.”—Kiese Laymon, author of the Carnegie Medal-winning Heavy

People are always surprised that Black people reside in the hills of Appalachia. Those not surprised that we were there, are surprised that we stayed.

Years ago, when O. Henry Prize-winning writer Crystal Wilkinson was baking a jam cake, she felt her late grandmother’s presence. She soon realized that she was not the only cook in her kitchen; there were her ancestors, too, stirring, measuring, and braising alongside her. These are her kitchen ghosts, five generations of Black women who settled in Appalachia and made a life, a legacy, and a cuisine.

An expert cook, Wilkinson shares nearly forty family recipes rooted deep in the past, full of flavor—delicious favorites including Corn Pudding, Chicken and Dumplings, Granny Christine’s Jam Cake, and Praisesong Biscuits, brought to vivid life through stunning photography. Together, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts honors the mothers who came before, the land that provided for generations of her family, and the untold heritage of Black Appalachia.

As the keeper of her family’s stories and treasured dishes, Wilkinson shares her inheritance in Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts. She found their stories in her apron pockets, floating inside the steam of hot mustard greens and tucked into the sweet scent of clove and cinnamon in her kitchen. Part memoir, part cookbook, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts weaves those stories together with recipes, family photos, and a lyrical imagination to present a culinary portrait of a family that has lived and worked the earth of the mountains for over a century.
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A lyrical culinary journey that explores the hidden legacy of Black Appalachians, through powerful storytelling alongside nearly forty comforting recipes, from the former poet...

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Featured Reviews

Good recipes are most fun if they are shared, and even better if they are heirloom recipes from families. Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks . Crystal Wilkinson (who is a cook and an award winning poet), not only shares recipes from generations of her family who settled in Appalachia, but tells wonderful stories of the ancestors who prepared them. The stories are well-written, historical, and fascinating. Wilkinson has a gift and brings out the personalities of those who developed the recipes, making it seem like we are making recipes from beloved friends and relatives. According to Wilkinson, she feels her ancestors’ presence when she is making the recipes; readers should be so lucky.

The recipes represent southern cooking at the highest (and most delicious) level. The recipes are written in the traditional manner with the ingredients listed, followed by step-by-step instructions. This makes it easy for both beginning and advanced cooks to enjoy preparing and presenting the recipes to those they love to feed.

One of the best parts of this book is that there are beautiful photographs, not only of the people in the stories, but also of the mouthwatering recipes.

This is a book that most readers will want to curl up in a corner and read cover to cover. It is historical, and includes recipes that most of us will want to make. Readers will also fall in love with Wilkinson’s family and wish they were a part of it. Five well-earned stars!

Special thanks to NetGalley for supplying a review copy of this book.

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My mother was the very model of a modern mid-century housewife, cooking for her family using the latest in convenience foods: condensed soups, processed cheese, and boxes of dry casserole helpers. But Thanksgiving and Christmas were two occasions when she went traditional with roasted turkey, real mashed potatoes, the works. When I turned the page and saw Crystal Wilkinson’s recipe for Vegetable Soup with Hamburger, it took me right back to our home on Sussex Drive, my mother standing in front of the stove, “veggie-burger soup” on the stove and cornbread in the oven. It was our Christmas Eve meal. I thought, as a white suburbanite, I would be reading Wilkinson’s words in the abstract, but it turns out I have my own kitchen ghosts.

Crystal Wilkinson is a former Kentucky poet laureate and O Henry award winner and her writing is beautiful and evocative. She starts a few generations in the past, sharing stories of family gatherings, church meetings, survival (while enslaved and during the depression), gardening, and other traditions that led to family recipes. I loved looking at the beautiful photos as much as I enjoyed the poetic writing. I may not make any of the recipes but that’s not the point. Reading this beautiful book, we learn a great deal about a black Appalachian culture that might otherwise be forgotten.

Many thanks to Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghost
Stories and Recipes From Five Generations of Black Country Cooks
Crystal Wilkinson

Author Crystal Wilkinson grew up on her grandparent’s farm in the hills of Appalachia in Indian Hill, KY. Her grandfather raised. She was born in 1962 in Hamilton, Ohio. Her grandfather was a tobacco farmer; he also raised corn and made homemade sorghum molasses. Her grandmother was a domestic worker for the local schoolteachers.
Crystal shares the history of her family through the recipes in this book. “…food is never just about the present---every dish, every slice, every crumb and kernel also tethers us to the past.” “The recipes in this book were influenced by the matriarchs of the Wilkinson family. Many of the recipes date back to the 1700s.”
The first recipe she shares with readers is Granny Christine’s Jam Cake. Among the recipes in this book the reader will find: Hot Milk Cake, Chicken and Dumplings, Meatless Greens, Sauteed Fiddleheads, Dressed Eggs, Pine Lick Mutton Leg and Gravy, Basket Meeting Green Beans and New Potatoes, Pimento Cheese With A Kick, Classic Benedictine (Cucumber Spread), Wild Berry Lemonade, Gingerbread and Sauce, Sweet Sorghum Cookies, Hearty Vegetable Soup With Hamburger, Indian Creek Chili, Chicken And Noodles, Ron’s Pulled Pork, and Easy Old -Fashioned Popcorn Balls.
I have tried several of the recipes and they are delicious. My husband loves Chicken and Dumplings but I have never been able to get it quite right until I used the recipe in Praisesong For the Kitchen Ghost. While I enjoyed the recipes very much it is the history and stories of author Crystal Wilkinson’s family that truly touched my heart.

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There is something about cookbooks that make cooking personal. I swoon over books like this. Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghost does not come out until Jan but I have pre-ordered it. It is beautifully written from the historical part of Ms. Crystal's family history to the recipes and their history.

I loved this book. I felt part of Ms. Crystal's story and felt extremely honored that she is sharing it with us. It was easy to read and follow.

I cannot wait to add this to my collections.

5 Pickles

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*This book was received as an Advanced Reviewer's Copy from NetGalley.

Let's start with the title on this book. Was there ever a more well-crafted, evocative title? I certainly don't think so. It's what drew me in. Going deeper into the meaning of it, and the framework of the book, you get a combo cookbook, combo memoir, combo history/sociological lesson; and it's really just a well-done mix of topics. I also appreciated the photography and family memories shared as well.

The author, Wilkinson, uses family history, whether through oral storytelling, written down recipes, or others, to tell of the cooks that came before her. Her family crafted foodways in Appalachia and kept traditions strong, caring for their families and trying to show that love with food. I know the first thing you think of when you think Appalachia is not black families, and that is why this book so deeply resonates (and is touched upon by the author as well). The area is rich in history, but it's not just the mountain men you see in popular media. Families eked out a living and learned to use the availability of goods around them.

I can't say I've made any recipes from this book yet, which I normally try to do before writing a review, but that's no fault of the authors. I just haven't had the time/energy. But there are plenty in here that I would like to try. And honestly, just reading about them was enough. I was hit with memories when I came across the popcorn balls recipe. It brought me back to my grandfather, preparing tons of them for a fundraiser for his social club every year, storing them in trash bags in an unused staircase in the house, the air smelling like candy. I recently just hit the anniversary of his death and this first year has been tough; he's one of my kitchen ghosts and the author's messages resonated with me as a result.

We all have our ghosts, but a kitchen ghost is not a bad thing to have.

Review by M. Reynard 2023

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Thank you for giving me access to an arc.

I cannot explain it but this book felt like a warm hug. A mixture between a memoir and recipes, it felt like a conversation with a family member. This felt so incredibly intimate and I felt so lucky to be able to read it. Our food history is so intertwined with our human stories. Food is not just sustenance and we see this in here. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I can’t wait to get a copy of this when it comes out.

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Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this ebook. Crystal Wilkinson takes us on a journey to the past through today. Sharing with us memories of cooking with her family and growing up with the knowledge that food is love. I wasn’t close with my grandmothers and they weren’t people who made delicious food. So the book didn’t resonate with me like it should have. But that’s just because of my family life. I’d never heard of many of the recipes that were made in Crystal’s book. But they sound interesting.

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A great food memoir makes you feel like you're part of the family, like you've sat at the table and listened to their stories, maybe throwing in a few of your own. And Crustal Wilkinson definitely pulls that off with her fabulously rich and flavorful, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, which gently reaches across time and distance and circumstances to share the memories of her family's kitchen ghosts. And, I love that phrase, btw. Like, Ms Wilkinson, I often feel the guiding presence of matriarchs when I'm cooking for the ones I love.

The narrative is conversational and wide-ranging, moving effortlessly from personal reflection to social history to family stories and back - and is done flawlessly. and then there are the recipes, woven into and yet, at the heart, of each section. Simple food that's rich with Appalachian history and meaning and, thanks to the narrative, all-important context.

Beautifully written and well-researched, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts hit all the right notes for me - as a memoir, as a recipe book, and as a commentary of family and history and the depth of roots. I'll be recommending this book to friends and family members.

Thanks to NetGalley for bringing Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts and Chrystal Wilkinson to my attention.

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Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghost ties recipes, historical snippets, and traditions of an African American family’s history from slavery to the present.

As the author remembers and shares the past, she brings stories and dreams of how people of color survived times of famine and fullness through food, sharing the load and keeping the faith.

The recipes are a tribute and remembrance but at the same time bring to the present legacies from the past and how it impacts the author’s world and thoughts today.

The recipes and the reminiscing about the lives of her ancestors and how she provided for her own children resonates because people of color are still intertwining tradition with tribal remembrances.

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This is more of a heirloom book full of stories, history accented by recipes that warm your heart. The book is from the heart honoring ancestors and their stories as well as the story of the family. The book provides a small look into the past for this family and all those before of us. Done wonderfully like you are hearing the stories of the family while enjoying a meal and being provided someone's history of the past and their steps towards the future. Like you are looking through a family album with a recipe book. Inspires me to write down the recipes and the stories of my past for future generations to understand where they come from so they know where they are going..

Thank you to the author for sharing the story and recipes, Netgalley and the publisher.

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What a gem! Wonderful histories, wonderful food, great research. I loved the ph0t0graphs and got so much out of reading this book.

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This book was really enjoyable and really well balanced. I loved the recipe and the stories! Recipes with history and connection have so much warmth to them.

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I don’t even know where to begin. This was a powerful one. I received this as an ARC and I am counting the days till I can buy it for myself. I am from the western North Carolina part of the Appalachian Mountains. This area is so rich in history and culture but it is often missed out on a legacy that is almost hidden and that is the Black Appalachians. I was so in love with the book. The story telling paired with all the wonderful recipes are absolutely amazing. I love the history of the book, all the old pictures, which are a passion of mine. I loved reading how she grew up and how food became important. I come from the same family history of generations of cooks as the women in our family did whatever they could to make magnificent meals from limited sources. They made everything count and our families were blessed for it. I really loved learning about the history of her Appalachian roots and how they shaped her into who she is. The chicken and dumplings is an all time favorite of mine growing up, along with soup beans, pulled pork and my favorite angel food cake. The recipes were so well written and easy to understand. I loved this book and I keep going back to read it again. I will be buying this as a gift for my daddy whose love of our Appalachian history continues with me. You will love the food, the history and the love in this book. Enjoy.
I highly recommend this to any history buff, any down home cook or any of my Appalachian neighbors to enjoy

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I took my time with this book, savoring the stories and memories tied to each recipe. The narrative brought each recipe to life. I cannot wait to try some of the recipes in my own kitchen.

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In the interest of full disclosure, this review is specifically regarding a DRC copy of the book from Net Galley, so while I imagine this eBook was pretty close to finalized, some details may have been changed between my copy and the official release.

Many thanks to Net Galley for the advance reading copy of this fantastic eBook.

I would recommend this book to people with an interest in a wide variety of cultural foodways or particularly in Black, Appalachian, and/or southern foodways; anyone specifically interested in reading about Appalachian culture with a focus on the diversity of Appalachian experiences; and I would love for well-meaning outsiders who have misconceptions about Appalachian culture as inherently white to read this and widen their understanding. I also think a lot of my fellow white Appalachians need to read books like this, because I’ve seen a lot of people fail to grasp that Black Appalachian folks are not any less Appalachian than we are. I think the strongest aspect of this book is the throughline of grief and connection through cuisine as a distinxt expression of love, memory, and appreciation. On the flipside, I don’t think any aspect of this book is weak. I expected there to be a little more photography than there was, and I think more of it being featured wouldn’t hurt; overall, it’s well-balanced. I’m looking forward to checking out Wilkinson’s fiction oeuvre as part of my endeavor to read more Appalachian literature.

The construction of the text guides us through personal and familial anecdotes, as well as the context in which the foods came to be what they are, before showing us the recipes featured in those memories. Photography spreads of meals at hand accompanies the recipes, and photographs of Wilkinson’s family and ancestors are peppered throughout the book. The exposition through anecdotes is masterful, gorgeous—it’s incredibly evocative, effective at painting an image of memories for the reader, so intimate that it feels like our own. Every morsel of this book was impactful to me; half of this book resonated deeply in my soul as an Appalachian and the other half conveyed to me new dimensions of Black Appalachian history and culture. On just as many levels as I can’t relate to Wilkinson, I relate to her deeply. I get the impression that she chose what to include in this book very deliberately, and she did a wonderful job at that.

There’s a powerful throughline here of finding one’s ancestral path and identity through cuisine, of grief and love, of survival and homage. The recurring theme of connecting with family, alive and dead, over shared experiences and illuminating the dark corners of memory, with cuisine as a conduit, is staggeringly poignant and squeezes my heart. Wilkinson’s writing style is absolutely stunning. Syntax and phrasing is distinct and fresh, conveying meaning and intention clearly without recycling played-out cliches. The grammar is solid and consistent, not jumping out at me or distracting me from the reading experience at all, just how I like it. The use of description, memory, and metaphor in storytelling here are incredibly evocative and there’s a distinctly Appalachian rhythm to the writing in this book. Her words have a way of cutting right to the heart of something, and this book made me tear up every time I sat down to read it.

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Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks (Hardcover)
by Crystal Wilkinson
Note worthy book for personal history, recipes, and black history in the mountains of Kentucky.
The history shows the difficulty of black land owners in the Appalachian region. The family survived slavery, Jim crow laws, and the great depression. The family problems affect her entire life, from being raised by her grand mother, to the poverty and financial struggles. She is inspiring that she does not blame the family history for their struggles but social inequity and prejudices.
The recipes are introduced not only in the historical concepts but a modern recipes. As you read the story you want to try the recipes for the wonderous descriptions tingle your appetite.

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The recipes are so awesome. I can hardly wait to make the biscuits. I loved your stories that went with each section. I do not have many recipes that evoke those type of memories for me, but I love that you do. This is such a special cookbook. I will be getting a copy for my own kitchen. Thank you for allowing me to preview this book.

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Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, by Crystal Wilkinson is a feast for the heart and the table. It's a beautiful tribute to the women who came before by sharing the comfort food they made. As long as you are remembered you will live forever. The recipes look delicious, and I'm looking forward to making Granny Christine's Jam Cake with caramel frosting. This book brought back wonderful memories of the women who came before me.

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Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review! Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts was a glorious book that included recipes and photographs to paint a colorful memoir. Wilkinson used her family history to educate readers about black Appalachia and shared anecdotes about the cuisine that kept them going. This book was a fascinating read, filled with mouth-watering recipes I can't wait to make. There isn't anything about this cookbook that I was not impressed by. I can't wait to purchase my copy and gift it to others!

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Loved this book! The recipes are great and the addition of stories from the author made this book intriguing and fun to read. By the end of this book I felt very connected to the author and their family.

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This book was just lovely. I identified so much with the author's strong pull towards her ancestors, and how the very cells in her being are echoes of the strong women in time. I have ancestors in Casey Co, KY and have heard some of the stories of her African American ancestors. How very exciting to insight into the lives of women who put their heart and soul in nourishing the bodies with food. Awesome recipes! Highly recommend! #praisesongforthekitchenghosts #crystalwilkinson #netgalley #goodreads

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Crystal Wilkinson's "Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts" is a delectable journey through generations of Black Appalachian cooks, where recipes and stories intertwine to evoke a legacy of resilience, love, and soul-nourishing food. This is more than a cookbook; it's a poignant homage to heritage, passed down through flavors and memories, whispering tales of strength and survival.

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