And clearly Pamela Strobel could cast a spell.
In their introduction to this reprint edition, Matt Lee and Ted Lee, self-taught scholars of Southern foodways, describe the character of Strobel’s restaurant. Princess’ Southern Touch was an outpost of Southern cooking at 78 East 1st Street in New York City.
It was an unassuming storefront, made even more off-putting by the roll-down door that was usually partially closed. The door was locked, and if you didn’t past muster after you knocked, you were told the restaurant was closed.
But if you could get in the menu offered Smothered Chicken, Corn Meal Waffles, greens and grits in various guises, and pies–sweet potato, peach skillet, molasses pecan, and brown coconut. They were recipes that Strobel learned from her mother, who migrated north to work as a cook, and from her grandmother, who raised her.
Strobel worked hard to create her own space, where she expressed herself in her cooking, but also in her poetry and later, in her jazz singing. She created an environment that people wanted to be part of, treating her customers like guests. He restaurant drew regulars and celebrities like Sidney Lumet, Pearl Bailey, Lee Radziwill, Norman Norell, and Gloria Steinem. New York Times restaurant reviewer Craig Claiborne was a fan.
The Lees parse the book, from its original appearance to its recipes, putting it into historical context. The unattributed preface notes that “one may seek in vain the clear line of demarcation between where Southern cuisine ends and soul food begins,” recognizing the intermingling of technique and culture. But the preface also falls back on cliched images of “bandannaed mammy” and “pickaninny.”
The Lees also suppose that the anonymous editor tamped down the spice and flavor of the original recipes, and they encourage contemporary cooks to spice more liberally. These are not fancy recipes or techniques, and the hand of the cook–princess or no–is what will make them sing.