In the antebellum South, “potlikker” referred to the broth that was left over from a pot of greens. The masters ate the greens; slaves got the broth. Today, writes John T. Edge in The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South (Penguin Press, 2017), locavore chefs use potlikker to give dishes such as poached mountain trout an authentic Southern umami.
It turns out potlikker is just one of many foods that form a through line connecting everything from racial equity and cultural appropriation to immigration and food trends. Take the 1955 bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, during which people used their own cars to transport African American laborers to work. Drivers needed money for insurance, gas, and tires, but many riders were too hard-pressed to contribute. Cook and midwife Georgia Gilmore organized a club to raise the money by selling home-cooked fried fish and fluted pound cakes. The club inspired more cooks, and together they helped keep cars on the road until the successful end of the 13-month strike.
[Appeared in Sierra Magazine]