"A common refrain in historic cookbooks about rather than by black cooks is that these cooks made delicious food through some kind of mystical power, an innate talent, rather than through honed skills and hard work. It’s a stereotype that, while on the surface complimentary, only served to pigeonhole and limit black cooks by declaring them inscrutable and denying them their earned wisdom and abilities to adapt, learn, and create." (p. 128).
“With so much knowledge and experience in the community, it’s no surprise that black inventors developed ways to turn out perfect loaves, rolls, muffins, and cakes without all the strenuous and time-consuming effort. In 1875, Alexander P. Ashbourne devised a spring-loaded die cutter that cut biscuits into a variety of thin, uniform shapes. Two years later, Joseph Lee, known as the ‘bread specialist,’ designed a bread crumb machine to reuse stale bread. In 1884, Willis Johnson of Cincinnati patented an improved mechanical egg beater with two chambers that allowed a cook to beat eggs in one section and mix batter in the other, and Judy Reed patented a hand-operated dough kneader and roller. And in the mid-twentieth century, Lucille Bishop Smith, a chef, home economist, entrepreneur, and author, developed and sold the first packaged hot roll mix—a commercial product that was a boon to housewives. ...“Distinctively endowed. Professionally grounded. Supremely industrious. The recipes in this chapter memorialize these innovators as role models, equipped as they were with an inheritance from ancestors who fashioned flatware from oyster shells, carved mortars and pestles from tree logs, sewed baskets for winnowing rice using bones and sweetgrass, burned corncobs to make baking soda, and distilled salt from the soil under a smokehouse.” (p. 83)
Besides the fascinating documentation of this history, the recipes look scrumptious. Along with her own, modernized recipes, the author provides old recipes in their original format, to allow you to compare and judge what the historic version would have been like -- or to cook the original, if you wish. In addition, the illustrations are beautiful. Here is an example: Rice Muffins, a recipe belonging to the rice-growing tradition of South Carolina, from the chapter on bread and baked goods:
|Rice Muffins, inspired by Plantation Recipes by|
Leslie Bowers, published 1959. (p. 106)
"Service workers who had fought for social status during the post–Civil War years by continuing to work in 'every day' careers gradually moved into the privileged class. Culinary arts helped them resist illiterate servant stereotypes, such as Mammy and Aunt Jemima, the way that the creative, visual, musical, theatrical, and cultural arts promoted notions of the 'New Negro' during the Harlem Renaissance." (p. 122).
"And while the pain of enslavement reverberates for centuries, and through the centuries, too, black bakers have used their skills and savvy to create wealth, self-sufficiency, and generations of protégés to carry on their legacy and to build their own economic power." (p. 263).
Finally, I want to emphasize the appeal of the recipes in this book! I have not made any yet, but I love some of the ideas like the Savanah pickled shrimp, sweet potato salad, bread pudding, okra dishes, jambalaya, and many more. I'll end with a very intriguing tradition that I am sure I'll never have the nerve to try:
“Bake a sweet potato pie, a coconut pie, a custard pie, a mincemeat pie, and an apple pie. After removing from pie plate, stack each pie on top of each other. Press the stack gently, then cut into thin wedges so that everyone gets a taste of each pie.” (p. 303, quoted from author Charlemae Rollinsee)
Book review © 2021 mae sander.