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“Black Food Matters”

Posted about 3 years ago by Lisa Crisman

Full disclaimer: I borrowed this phrase from Mark Whitaker on CBS Sunday Morning. The show aired Sunday, November 22, 2020. I had been waiting for our library’s copy of Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, The Rise. Perfect timing.

“Delicious, complex, layered” are just a few of the adjectives Samuelsson gives to describe African-American cooking. Titles below, all published within the past ten years, bring Black food into the spotlight. They also place the history of African-American cooking squarely as the underpinning of American food today. Two of my favorite things: food history and delicious recipes in one.

Please visit to place any of these titles on hold for curbside pickup. Click here for current hours at your nearest Richmond Public Library location.

The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food by Marcus Samuelsson, with Osayi Endolyn; photographs by Angie Mosier. (New York: Voracious; Little, Brown and Company, 2020) More than a cookbook, this new title celebrates where Black food is headed and the chefs who are on the cutting edge. There’s a section on the influences adapted from many cultures and another on the impact of the Great Migration on American food. Each recipe honors a chef. Includes a comprehensive pantry of ingredients, techniques and recipes. Wonderfully written and full of beautiful photography.

Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from my African American Kitchen by Alexander Smalls, with Veronica Chambers. (New York: Flatiron Books, 2020) “This book is a curated set of recipes, a playlist, if you will, of essential African American dishes: the very best of what I have eaten, cooked and imagined.” I love to read cookbooks almost as much as I enjoy trying the recipes. Each chapter is headed by a different, musical genre, i.e. Jazz, Gospel, Divas and Jukebox Music. “Jazz” allows for improvising with appetizers. “Gospel” dives into field greens and green things. “Divas” dish up the meat of the menu. Smalls honors the foodways of African America. Check out the chapter playlists at the end of the book or click on his recent dinner party playlist from Food & Wine. Then put on your apron and cook up some good eats.

For an introduction to Miss Lewis’ passion and prose, read her article, “What is Southern” published in Gourmet magazine in 2008, two years after her passing. For additional insight try this blog post by Tracy Crawford, Librarian II, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Next, check out one or both of the titles listed here. The first is a compilation of reflections on Miss Lewis. The second is a reprint of a classic by Miss Lewis, first published in 1988. Edna Lewis: at the Table with an American Original edited by Sara B. Franklin. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2018) Part essays, part culinary, racial, women’s and literary history, this title compiles a wide range of perspectives on Miss Lewis’ life and how she continues to influence Southern and American cooking today. In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis; illustrated by Louisa Jones Waller. (New York: Knopf, 1988; 2019) Edna Lewis was cooking farm-to-table long before it became the movement that exists today. Drawing from her childhood of growing, preserving and preparing foods from their farm, these recipes highlight simple preparations with delicious results. For younger readers, try Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Bake You a Pie: a story about Edna Lewis. Written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley. (New York: Clarion Books, 2009) A picture biography illustrating a year in the life of young Edna Lewis. As each season passes the family gathers and shares the bounty of the farm. Includes several of Miss Lewis’ recipes.

The Cooking Gene: a journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty. (New York: Amistad/Harper Collins, 2017). Michael Twitty is a food writer, independent scholar, and historical interpreter working with African American foodways and the African Diaspora. He is the author of the blog Afroculinaria and a 2014 Smith Fellow with the Southern Foodways Alliance. Bound to the Fire: how Virginia’s enslaved cooks helped invent American Cuisine by Kelley Fanto Deetz. (Lexington, KY: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 2017.) Focusing on enslaved cooks at Monticello and Mount Vernon, Deetz uncovers rich and complex stories and illuminates their role in plantation culture while celebrating their living legacy with recipes passed down to generations. High on the Hog: a culinary journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris; with a foreword by Maya Angelou. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011) “Harris brings a lifetime of knowledge and her masterful storytelling to a narrative history of the foods and foodways that began in Africa, traversed the Atlantic slave routes, and eventually flowered across the American continent.”

Notes from a Young Black Chef: a memoir by Kwame Onwuachi. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) Named a 30 Under 30 honoree and a former Top Chef contestant, Onwuachi’s story follows his journey from New York to Nigeria to Louisiana. This amazing chef opened five restaurants before the age of 30. @bastedmind

And now for the cookbooks!

Soul Food Love: healthy recipes inspired by one hundred years of cooking in a Black family by Alice Randall & Caroline Randall Williams. (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2015)

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook: a mouth-watering treasury of Afro-American Recipes – the beloved classic now back in print after 45 years by Pamela Strobel. (New York: Rizzoli, 2017) Originally published in 1969 by New American Library, Inc.

Sweet Potato Soul: 100 easy vegan recipes for the Southern flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice and Soul by Jenné Claiborne. (New York: Harmony Books, 2018)

Jubilee: recipes from two centuries of African American cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin. (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2019)

Carla Hall’s Soul Food: everyday and celebration by Carla Hall, with Genevieve Ko. (New York: Harper/Wave, 2018)

Black Girl Baking: wholesome recipes inspired by a soulful upbringing by Jerrelle Guy, founder of Chocolate for Basil. (Salem, MA: Page Street Publishing, 2018)

Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook: a celebration of African American Cooking by Albert G. Lukas and Jessica B. Harris, in association with National Museum of African American History and Culture and Restaurant Associates. (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2018)

America I Am: Pass it Down Cookbook: over 130 Soul-filled recipes edited by Chef Jeff Henderson with Ramin Ganeshram. (New York: Smiley Books, 2011)

And just one more, for fun.

The Last O.G. Cookbook: how to get mad culinary skills with an introduction by Tracy Morgan. (New York: Harcourt, 2019)

Lisa Crisman

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