Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks
Last year I heard an interview with this author on NPR and she was fascinating. The book sounded really interesting, but I never did get around to looking at it.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the Florida Library Association’s annual conference this year. The opening keynote speaker was Toni Tipton-Martin, and once again, she was completely mesmerizing. I didn’t want to put this on the back burner again so as soon as I got back to the library, I checked out her book.
When someone researches then writes a book that they are passionate about, it shows on every page, as is the case here. Martin has a collected hundreds of African American cookbooks over a number of years, and puts that collection to good use, sharing info from 150 cookbooks, dating back to 1827. The New York Times review stated,
“The Jemima Code” is no ordinary book. It’s a heaping helping, a long overdue acknowledgment of African-Americans who have toiled in this field since the country’s beginnings.
All I can add is that it is truly inspiring and despite the sometimes scholastic tone, very readable and interesting. I kept this book for four weeks, taking my time going through it. There is a lot of information to digest here, and there are some interesting recipes as well. It is laid out chronologically, starting with Nineteenth Century Cookbooks including Mrs. Malina Russell’s “A Domestic Cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen” (1866) then moving through about twenty-five years in each chapter. Some of the cookbooks included:
How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption, by George W. Carver (1925)
Cookbook “Work and Serve the Home,” compiled by Mamie Cook, chairman of Ways and Means Department, New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (1928)
A Date with a Dish: A Cook Book of American Negro Recipes by Freda De Knight (1948)
Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook: From Chicken n’ Ribs to Buttermilk Biscuits and Blackeyed Peas – A Mouth-Watering Treasury of Afro-American Recipes from Manhattan’s Most Spirited Chef, by Princess Pamela (1969)
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis* (1976)
*Top Chef, season 14, started out in Charleston, SC. This was the first time I ever heard of Edna Lewis, who was called the “Julia Child” of Southern cooking.
The Presley Family Cookbook by Vester Presley (Elvis’s uncle) and Nancy Rooks (Presley family maid and cook since 1967) (1980)
From the publisher:
Winner, James Beard Foundation Book Award, 2016
Art of Eating Prize, 2015
BCALA Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 2016
Women of African descent have contributed to America’s food culture for centuries, but their rich and varied involvement is still overshadowed by the demeaning stereotype of an illiterate “Aunt Jemima” who cooked mostly by natural instinct. To discover the true role of black women in the creation of American, and especially Southern, cuisine, Toni Tipton-Martin has spent years amassing one of the world’s largest private collections of cookbooks published by African American authors, looking for evidence of their impact on American food, families, and communities and for ways we might use that knowledge to inspire community wellness of every kind.
The Jemima Code presents more than 150 black cookbooks that range from a rare 1827 house servant’s manual, the first book published by an African American in the trade, to modern classics by authors such as Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor. The books are arranged chronologically and illustrated with photos of their covers; many also display selected interior pages, including recipes. Tipton-Martin provides notes on the authors and their contributions and the significance of each book, while her chapter introductions summarize the cultural history reflected in the books that follow. These cookbooks offer firsthand evidence that African Americans cooked creative masterpieces from meager provisions, educated young chefs, operated food businesses, and nourished the African American community through the long struggle for human rights. The Jemima Code transforms America’s most maligned kitchen servant into an inspirational and powerful model of culinary wisdom and cultural authority.
6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE JEMIMA CODE by Toni Tipton-Martin. University of Texas Press (September 15, 2015). ISBN 978-0292745483. 264p.