Centenary alumnus publishes critically-acclaimed cookbook
SHREVEPORT, LA — In March 2016, Washington, D.C.-based food writer Thomas Head '64 added a new cookbook, Greens, to the University of North Carolina Press's "Savor the South" cookbook series. Hailed by one reviewer as "an inspiration to cooks in the South and all around the country," Greens provides a culinary and cultural history of greens in southern cooking as well as in other world cultures. Head credits the rigorous liberal arts education he received at Centenary with equipping him for success in his long career as a writer, especially this most recent project.
"At Centenary, the emphasis on writing was so important. I was lucky to have English professors like Lee Morgan and Earle Labor who were severe critics of writing, so I really learned to write," says Head. "I was also lucky that my education at Centenary introduced me to a larger cultural context, because I've always been able to put the food I was eating and writing about into context as well. That's what a liberal arts education can do for you."
Head became aware of the "Savor the South" cookbook series while finishing another cookbook project with UNC Press. He proposed several culinary topics, but ultimately decided to focus on greens as a way to highlight what he considers to be an intriguing feature of Southern cooking: the ability to "make a virtue of necessity" and make ordinary things delicious. As Head explains in the introduction to Greens, "I grew up with turnip greens. Like Sunday school or visits to grandparents, they weren't reserved for special occasions. They were simply part and parcel of a North Louisiana childhood, a culinary and cultural expression of the south."
Head was also aware of the many variations that exist in preparing greens and used the cookbook project to further explore the cultural significance of these differences.
"Greens are very popular in West African, Indian, and Pakistani cuisine, although with different spices than we use," says Head. "Greens came to American by two routes – with the English and with enslaved Africans – and the two traditions really merged. One of the richest areas for 'greens traditions' is South Louisiana where you can really see this merger in action."
Greens provides aspiring cooks with 53 recipes ranging from Southern classics like spicy collard and black-eyed pea soup to new global favorites like Greens Punjabi-Style. The book also includes information on greens festivals around the country and helpful definitions, such as the origin of the term potlikker, the broth left over from cooking greens.
A native of West Monroe, Head graduated from Centenary with a degree in English and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He taught at the University of Colorado and worked for the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. before carving out a career as a freelance food writer and restaurant reviewer for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call and Washingtonian magazine. In addition to Greens, Head is coeditor of The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, also from UNC Press.