Food Writer Toni Tipton-Martin came to my attention when she won a 2016 James Beard award for her book The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks.
In writing about this book for the James Beard Foundation, Maggie Borden praised it as a, “... masterful exploration of the contributions of African-American women to our nation's culinary landscape. Pages after pages of reproduced archival materials and recipes upend the historical stereotype of black women in the kitchen as illiterate ‘Aunt Jemimas,’ proving how instrumental these oft-ignored chefs were to our dinners and diets.”
Toni Tipton-Martin said about her research, "I eventually owned nearly 300 African American cookbooks ..." dating back to 1827. Her work set me on my own search for food writing and cookbooks that would help me better understand the African American contribution to our shared food culture.
Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs
Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs by Psyche A. Williams-Forson examines the roles that chicken, both as the bird and the food, has played in the lives of black women from the past to the present. For some women, chicken led to economic freedom and independence.
This one is not a cookbook but is a fascinating read and, in some ways, connects the others on this list with one food, chicken. This connection with the food lore of the past came to my attention in a contemporary cookbook, Red Rooster by Marcus Samuelsson.
Samuelsson’s cookbook is about far more than recipes, just as his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster is as much about community as it is about food. Each section begins with an essay about some aspect of the multi-dimensional mission that Red Rooster represents to him and his team.
Chicken plays a starring role in his restaurant and his book as he tells of his two year obsession with creating the perfect fried chicken dish that would be worthy of the Harlem chicken tradition.
In an interesting connection to the The Jemima Code, the basement supper club is named Ginny’s after a woman from Harlem who worked for his partner’s family. He wants it to be a place where all the Ginnys would feel welcome.
My first education on foods and foodways of the African Diaspora came from a class that I took with Doctor Jessica Harris. She has authored twelve books on the topic. For the purpose of this list, I would suggest you read two of her books. “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa's Gifts to New World Cooking" and “The Welcome Table: African American Heritage Cooking” comprise a well-researched collection of recipes.
No list on this topic would be complete without a book by chef and food writer Edna Lewis. Her New York Times obituary recalled an earlier interview in which she said, "As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn't think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past." With this in mind, I suggest you read her book, “The Taste of Country Cooking.”
While this column was introduced as a reading list, it is also a cooking list, and I hope you will try some of the recipes and/or menus you come across. All of these books are available from the Boston Public Library.
As a bonus for this online version of this Fresh & Local newspaper column, we have not only linked to the books on Amazon, but also to each author's page, making this a more extensive reading list in case you already know the specific books we selected to feature here.
What's on your Food Lover's shopping list?
Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino adapted for BostonZest from one of our Fresh & Local newspaper columns
Photos: ©2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino