"Brown Sugar - Soul Food Desserts From Family and Friends" by Joyce White

297 pages; A few black and white photographs.  Hardcover

Harper Collins, New York, 2003

Reviewed by Kadomi Yonezaki for Good Cooking, Spring/Summer 2004

This book is a collection of deserts made of brown sugar. The author denotes that brown sugar is very warm and memorable. I agree with this. In fact I feel a kind of sentimentality in its rich flavor, which is not found in granulated sugar or white sugar.
The desserts in this book are not elegant or delicate like French desserts at all, but very tasty. Most of soul food desserts contain spices, such as nuts, sesame, coconut, coriander, allspice, nutmeg and ginger, with carefully harmonized flavor. I see it makes the desserts very special.  Although they were not colorful and a little bit dull-looking to my eye, I guess this is a characteristic of soul food desserts.
I tried two recipes from this book. One is a rum raisin oatmeal cookie and the other is a banana cake. The cookie is very moist and I feel something is missing. I wonder if it might be better to add more flour. Although I dipped raisins into dark rum as directed in the recipe, it seemed to need more time to take the rum's flavor into the raisins, as I found the rum flavor had gone from the raisins after baking in the oven.
About the banana cake: I am interested that it uses peanut oil. Furthermore, the recipe adds orange juice and orange peel, instead of lemon juice, into the cake. The author directs that the bananas should be mashed, not pureed. These instructions are new to me and I find them interesting, too. Soon after putting the cake into the oven, the kitchen was filled with a flavor of peanut oil. Unfortunately, I felt the strong nutty flavor overwhelmed the whole flavor of the cake.

Joyce White the Author

There is a note that says, "Lard and molasses were used instead of butter and sugar." I am wondering how these desserts tasted in the past. Were they delicate and more flavorful than the ones we have today?
The author also writes about a black nut from Africa. It is very hard to crush but it has much more flavor than other walnuts. I was looking for it in several markets but I could not find it. It seems to be difficult to get now, and so we may use other walnuts as a substitution. In Japan, sesame is in a similar situation. We have three kinds of sesames. white, black and golden. The golden sesame is completely different from the others in its flavor and taste, but it is hard to get. I sometimes have to use white sesame instead of golden.
Nothing can remain the same. A traditional recipe has been changed by interaction with new culture time after time. Nevertheless, `the soul' in the recipe is kept in baked desserts. I believe this is not the special case for soul food, but we can see in each family, in every country, it's universal.