For this year’s Black History Month, I wanted to serve up some not only tasty but also enlightening reads that explore and celebrate African American Cooks and Cuisine.
The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin
Although African Americans have added many great dishes, techniques, and ingredients to the food culture of America, often their contributions have not been fully recognized and appreciated. Tipton-Martin moves beyond soul food staples and looks back at a variety of cookbooks by African American starting in the time of slavery and moving into the 21st century including examples of illustrations from the books themselves. This shows a fascinating progression of not only food, but the changing ethos of this country. The book won a James Beard Foundation Book Award, 2016; Art of Eating Prize, 2015; and a BCALA Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation, 2016. If you find this book fascinating you might also want to check out Psyche A. Williams-Forson’s scholarly Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, which explores and goes beyond the stereotypical association of chicken with African Americans to look at issues of race, gender, and class and examines the way African American and also women’s cooking has often been marginalized by the larger American Culture.
Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley
Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie is Robbin Gourley’s, author of the cookbook Cakewalk, first picture book. Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie tells the fictionalized story of Edna Lewis during her childhood as she helps to garden, pick, and prepare fresh produce with her family. Lewis was the granddaughter of emancipated slaves and her focus on fresh simple ingredients was a forerunner to the current local fresh food movement today. I’m planning to check this one out to read with my son who should enjoy the bright vibrant watercolor illustrations, and being a budding chef I’m sure will want to pick out one of the five kid friendly recipes included to help make. For adults wanting to recreate some of Lewis’s delicious recipes you can check out The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great Southern Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis with Mary Goodbody, and The Taste of Country Cooking available from BCCLS libraries. In 2014, Lewis was one of five chefs to be honored on United States Forever Stamps; “forever” to me is the perfect way to describe her lasting legacy.
Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson is a James Beard Award Winning chef and author of several autobiographies and cookbooks. In 2009, Samuelsson had the honor of being invited to be the guest chef for the first state dinner of Barack Obama’s presidency (and Obama and his guests had the honor of eating Samuelsson’s delicious food). Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and was adopted along with his sister by a Swedish family. He spent time cooking in France before coming to America. This diverse history informs his life and food. At Red Rooster he sought to synthesize the many stories of Harlem, where his restaurant is based, including those of the many generations of African Americans who have lived there along with other immigrant communities, which creates a compelling fusion cuisine. If you are curious to learn more about Samuelsson check out from HPL his biography Yes, Chef, which was also adapted for teens into Make it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life. Or for Samuelsson’s recipes borrow his cookbooks Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, The New American Table, and Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine.
BCCLS libraries have a variety of modern African-American cookbooks to borrow including Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry, The New African-American Kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis, and Low-Fat Soul by Jonell Nash. Your little chef and budding historian can enjoy Addy’s Cookbook: A Peek at Dining in the Past with Meals You can Cook Today written by Rebecca Sample Bernstein, which features authentic recipes inspired by the popular fictional American Girl character Addy, who in the book series escaped slavery along with her mother.
-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference