Telling Stories, Changing the Conversation

Representation matters: food books by African American authors

in Culinary Traditions & Food Ways by

More than a culinary manual, African American cookbooks serve as critical texts in understanding history, culture and power.

Written between formulas are often stories of liberation, family and enterprise.

The first cookbook written by a black woman in the United States was published in 1866. Malinda Russell was a freed woman who owned and operated a pastry shop in Tennessee.

Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen

After her home was robbed by white men, and having moved to Michigan to regroup and seek protection, Russell self-published, A Domestic Cook Book. Proceeds from the book were to help her rebuild her life and revive her pastry shop. In the space of less than 40 pages, Russell tells us about her life between the European-inspired recipes she shares. Continuing in her vain are four food books published in the last year that defy stereotypes, tell hard truths, and provide recipes common and uncommon to the black experience in the United States.

Read Black Women, Food & Power: 5 Women Evangelizing Food Entrepreneurship

Veteran food journalist and historian Toni Tipton-Martin delicately and efficiently curates over 200 years of cookbooks by African Americans in The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (University of Texas Press 2015). The coffee table book is as much art as it is history. Tipton-Martin 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.

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