Beacon Press: If I Can Cook/You Know God Can
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If I Can Cook/You Know God Can

Author: Ntozake Shange

Acclaimed artist Ntozake Shange offers this delightfully eclectic tribute to black cuisine as a food of life that reflects the spirit and history of a people. With recipes such as “Cousin Eddie’s Shark with Breadfruit” and “Collard Greens to Bring You Money,” Shange instructs us in the nuances of a cuisine born on the slave ships of the Middle Passage, spiced by the jazz of Duke Ellington, and shared by all members of the African Diaspora. Rich with personal memories and historical insight, If I Can Cook/You Know God Can is a vivid story of the migration of a people, and the cuisine that marks their living legacy and celebration of taste.
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“Infused with a down-home feel and vernacular rhythms . . . this slim, lively book stimulates and elucidates, and is well worth chewing on.” —Luis H. Francia, The Village Voice

“Shange stirs and simmers the soul and moves the reader/eater/cook to rethink every morsel of Pan-African history, personal celebration, and global pain that enters our lives when we gather around her magical hearth to laugh, to cry—but most indispensably—to eat.” —Edwidge Danticat, author of The Farming of Bones

“This culinary memoir . . . is as valuable for its inspirational and factual nuggets as it is for its unusual recipes. . . . Soul-nourishing.” —Carmela Ciuraru, Entertainment Weekly

“A captivating collection of African-American food memories, meditations and recipes.” —Kathy Martin, Miami Herald

“Shange achieves . . . revolutionary splendor. She wraps history and legend and recipes and folklore around one big roti . . . makes a gumbo out of memories and laughter and recipes and black vernacular . . . throws spicy metaphors into recipes that have traveled from Africa and Brazil and the Caribbean and Brixton, England.” —American Visions

“A fervent, richly impassioned chronicle of African American experience.” —Booklist

This guide was made possible by a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Introduction

Ntozake Shange offers this personal culinary memoir, with dashes of literature and pinches of music, in her rousing tribute to black cuisine as a food of life that reflects the spirit and history of a people. With recipes such as "Collard Greens to Bring You Money," Shange introduces us to 'Afro-Atlantic foodways:' a cuisine born on the slave ships of the Middle Passage, and shared by all members of the African Diaspora. If I Can Cook/You Know God Can is a vivid story of the migration of a people that opens our hearts and minds to what it means for "black folks in the Western Hemisphere to be full." Here's one of Shange's family recipes:

*Daddy's Barbecue Sauce*

Add 1 can tomato paste to 2 cups orange juice with the pulp, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, and 3 tablespoons A-1 sauce. Then simmer over low flame. Get 1/3 cup Black Jack molasses or 1/2 cup brown sugar. Put that in there. Add salt and pepper to taste, 1 medium sautéed onion, 1 large hot pepper or 2 small sweet peppers. Let that sit for a while. Just before you add your meat or pour over your meat (in the case of ribs, shrimp, salmon, chicken, fluke, or bluefish), sling a dash of bourbon, red wine, or a golden tequila in there just for the hell of it. It's important that folks don't feel a need to add something to my sauce. Let the sauce cook with the meat (on it) until it becomes a part of the meat and doesn't slide off or peel off. That's when you can serve it.

About the Author

Award-winning playwright, novelist, and poet Ntozake Shange is author of Liliane; Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo; Betsey Brown, and many other works including the acclaimed choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. She teaches at Prairie View A&M University in Houston, Texas, and Brown University in Providence Rhode Island.

Ideas for Discussion

  1. In the foreword, Vertamae Grosvenor writes: "If I Can Cook/You Know God Can is testimony to the fact that although we may leave home, get rid of our accents, and change our names and diets, the aroma of certain foods will trigger warm memories and fill us with a longing and taste to return home." [p. xii] What are the foods that remind you of home?
     
  2. Vertamae states "For my generation, it was a mark of shame to be like an African." [p.xii] Is that still true today? Why or why not? Can the same be said for other cultures?
     
  3. In Chapter 1, "What'd You People Call That?" Ntozake Shange gives recipes for "Hoppin' John" and "Collard Greens to Give you Money" that when eaten on New Year's Day bring good luck. What are other foods that we eat that are believed to influence our lives in some way?
     
  4. The author asks: "What did L'Ouverature, Petion, and Dessalines share for their victory dinner, realizing they were the first African nationa, slave-free, in the New World? What was the last meal of defiant Inca Atahualpa before the Spaniards made a public spectacle of their defeat?" (p.12) Speculate on what those last meals may have been.
     
  5. In Chapter 6, "Brazil: More African than Africans" Shange looks at the evolution of foods and dances as necessary for survival. She writes, "We eat what they eat, just differently. These recipes have stayed with us for centuries, being improvised here and there, where we found somethin' we were accustomed to in, say, Guinea was not available at the mouth of the Amazon." (p. 37) How was the development of American culture been similarly influenced? Try and trace the cultural line of a food "native" to America, like pizza.
     
  6. Discuss the different ways Americans have experienced"the promise of the West."
     
  7. "If life offers no possibilities that we can discern, we cook heroin, crack, crank, something just for ourselves, that get us away from everybody, let' us be alone, malnourished and quietly dying over our fires. Cooking is a way of insisting on living..."(p.71) Is this the value of cooking?
     
  8. In Chapter 11, Shange talks about how offering her guests food, she was participating in a "...very southern/African tradition of sharing the best I had with visitors, to show our generosity, good faith, and appreciation of their experiences as individuals, for all this breaking of bread was enmeshed with the exchange of travelers' stories, family mythology, gossip, and speculations on the political and economic future of the Negro..." (p.80) Think about the function food plays in your family and culture.
     
  9. "One could also say that racism is toxic, so by metaphorically refusing an all-American diet of meat and potatoes, Yvette and thousands of other refuse to swallow what will, in fact, poison them: self-hatred...We are daring to live, to eat and to live in honor of those who decided to waste away as opposed to becoming who we are." (p.91) Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint? What is the reasoning behind your own diet? Why do you eat what you eat?
     
  10. Which recipe in this book seems the most appealing to you and why?
     
  11. In Chapter 12, "Virtual Realities, Real People, Real Foods" Shange looks at the role of food in proscribed diets among religions like Judaism, Islam, and Candomble. Discuss the relationship between food and religion.
     
  12. Sugar can mean something sweet, and "kisses." In what other ways has the language of good made it's way beyond the description of taste.
     
  13. Does Shange argue the case for cultural connection among the African Diaspora?

Praise for If I Can Cook/You Know God Can

"Just a simple glance at Ntozake Shange's work, If I Can Cook/You Know God Can, enables you to travel miles into the geodesic, tasting, feeling and knowing these homefolk and their culinary/cultural ways."
-Philadelphia New Observer

"This culinary memoir...is as valuable for its inspirational and factual nuggets as it is for its unusual recipes...Soul-nourishing."
—Carmela Ciuraru, Entertainment Weekly

"A captivating collection of African American food memories, meditations and recipes."
—Kathy Martin, Miami Herald

"This slim, lively book stimulates and elucidates, and is well worth chewing on."
—Luis H. Francia, Village Voice

"Sultry, vibrant, bitterly honest, spiritually redemptive: These words describe the work of Ntozake Shange."
Austin Chronicle


If I Can Cook/You Know God Can

ISBN: 978-080707241-7
Publication Date: 1/1/1999
Pages: 128
Size: x 8 Inches (US)
Price:  $15.00
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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