The African American Experience: Food Culture

The African American Experience blog photo

Discover new recipes from Black celebrity chefs and pioneers who elevated regional cooking, particularly southern foodways, and uncover the deep relationship between food and African American culture with these cookbooks, memoirs, and culinary history titles available at JMRL.

 

Cookbooks

Jubilee : Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin

Soul : A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards

Carla Hall’s Soul Food : Everyday and Celebration by Carla Hall

Between Harlem and Heaven : Afro Asian American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, & Every Day by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

Sweetie Pie’s Cookbook : Soulful Southern Recipes, from My Family to Yours by Miss Robbie

Ideas for entertaining from the African-American kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis

The African-American Kitchen : Cooking From Our Heritage by Angela Shelf Medearis

The New African-American Kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis

An African American Cookbook : Traditional and Other Favorite Recipes by Phoebe Bailey

A Real Southern Cook : In Her Savannah Kitchen by Dora Charles

Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook : From Hemingway, South Carolina to Harlem by Sylvia Woods

Neo Soul : Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘nutha Level by Lindsey Williams

Delilah’s Everyday Soul : Southern Cooking with Style by Delilah Winder

Soul Food : Recipes and Reflections from African-American Churches by Joyce White

Melba’s American Comfort : 100 Recipes from My Heart to Your Kitchen by Melba Wilson

 

Culinary History

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris

Acclaimed cookbook author Jessica B. Harris weaves an utterly engaging history of African American cuisine, taking the reader on a harrowing journey from Africa across the Atlantic to America, and tracking the trials that the people and the food have undergone along the way. From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form an important part of African American culture, history, and identity. Although the story of African cuisine in America begins with slavery, High on the Hog ultimately chronicles a thrilling history of triumph and survival. 

The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of African Americans Who Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas by Adrian Miller 

As African American women left the plantation economy behind, many entered domestic service in southern cities and towns. Cooking was one of the primary jobs they performed, feeding generations of white families and, in the process, profoundly shaping southern foodways and culture. In Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, Rebecca Sharpless argues that, in the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions. Through letters, autobiography, and oral history, Sharpless evokes African American women’s voices from slavery to the open economy, examining their lives at work and at home.

Grits : A Cultural and Culinary Journey through the South by Erin Byers Murray

Goes behind the scenes of grits cultivation, visiting local growers, millers, and cooks to better understand the South’s obsession with grits.

The Edible South : The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region by Marcie Cohen Ferris

Presents food as a new way to chronicle the American South’s larger history. Ferris tells a richly illustrated story of southern food and the struggles of whites, blacks, Native Americans, and other people of the region to control the nourishment of their bodies and minds, livelihoods, lands, and citizenship. The experience of food serves as an evocative lens onto colonial settlements and antebellum plantations, New South cities and Civil Rights-era lunch counters, chronic hunger and agricultural reform, counterculture communes and iconic restaurants as Ferris reveals how food–as cuisine and as commodity–has expressed and shaped southern identity to the present day.

Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens : Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960 by Rebecca Sharpless

As African American women left the plantation economy behind, many entered domestic service in southern cities and towns. Cooking was one of the primary jobs they performed, feeding generations of white families and, in the process, profoundly shaping southern foodways and culture. In Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, Rebecca Sharpless argues that, in the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions. Through letters, autobiography, and oral history, Sharpless evokes African American women’s voices from slavery to the open economy, examining their lives at work and at home.

The Potlikker Papers : A Food History of the Modern South by John T. Edge

A people’s history of Southern food that reveals how the region came to be at the forefront of American culinary culture and how issues of race have shaped Southern cuisine over the last six decades.

Soul Food : The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller

In this insightful and eclectic history, Adrian Miller delves into the influences, ingredients, and innovations that make up the soul food tradition. Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish–such as fried chicken, catfish, chitlins, greens, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, hot sauce, banana pudding, peach cobbler, pound cake, sweet potato pie, and “red drinks”–Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity.

The People’s Place: Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences from the Civil Rights Era to Today by Dave Hoekstra

Following the “soul food corridor” from the South through northern industrial cities, The People’s Place gives voice to the remarkable chefs, workers, and small business owners who provided sustenance and a safe haven for civil rights pioneers, not to mention presidents and politicians; music, film, and sports legends; and countless everyday, working-class people. Featuring photographs, recipes, and ruminations from notable regulars–including Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957; former congressman and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young; jazz legend Ramsey Lewis; James Meredith, the first African American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi; and many others–The People’s Place is an unprecedented celebration of soul food and community.

 

Biographies and Memoirs

My Soul Looks Back : A Memoir by Jessica B. Harris

Memoir by cookbook author and food historian Jessica B. Harris, particularly describing on her life and friendships with major black writers like James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison in New York City in the 1970s.

Edna Lewis : at the table with an American original by Sara B. Franklin

Edna Lewis (1916-2006) wrote some of America’s most resonant, evocative, and significant cookbooks ever, including the now classic The Taste of Country Cooking. Lewis cooked and wrote first as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, a community originally founded by freed black families. Later, she wrote to commemorate and document the seasonal richness of southern foodways. She moved from the rural South to New York City, where she became a chef and a political activist, and eventually returned to the South. Her reputation as a trailblazer in the revival of regional cooking and as a progenitor of the farm-to-table movement only continues to burgeon.

Notes From a Young Black chef : A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi

By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had sold drugs in New York and been shipped off to rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars made from selling candy on the subway and starred on Top Chef. Through it all, Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant, even when, as a young chef, he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the food world can be for people of color. In this inspirational memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age; a powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest account of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected.

Yes, Chef : A Memoir by Marcus Samelsson

It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Yes, Chef chronicles Samuelsson’s journey, from his grandmother’s kitchen to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. Although not an African American experience per se, Samuelsson’s memoir describes his experiences as a high-profile Black chef and and working in kitchens where he was often the only person of color. 

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Use What Do I Read Next? to receive personal recommendations from JMRL librarians.

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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