Soul Food Redefined: Early African-American Cooks

Soul Food Redefined: Early African-American Cooks

Kojo explores what we've learned from early African-American cookbook authors and how their recipes are changing our perceptions of Southern cooking.

A half century ago, the term "soul food" emerged to describe both African-American and Southern cooking. It's a term that historians and scholars say muddles the long, varied history of a cuisine with roots stretching from Europe to Africa. Now, some of the earliest cookbooks penned by African Americans are shedding light on the lives and struggles of early black chefs, as well as the nuanced recipes they contributed to American cuisine. Kojo explores what we've learned from early black cookbook authors and how their recipes are changing our perceptions of Southern cooking.

Guests

Amanda Moniz

Historian; Assistant Director of the National History Center of the American Historical Association; Author of the culinary blog "History's Just Desserts"

Psyche Williams-Forson

Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Maryland; Author, "Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food and Power"

Related Links

Recipes From Early African-American Cookbook Authors


What Mrs. Fisher Knows

Abby Fisher's Cheese Pudding Recipe

From "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc." by Abby Fisher. Published 1881.

Ingredients and Preparation:

Have mild cheese; grate half pound of cheese and half pound of apples, add to this half pint of sweet milk, beat four eggs very light, and add to the above. Before mixing apples with cheese, put to it one tablespoon of white sugar; stir all well. Season with nutmeg, and pour it into a dish and put to bake, putting one tablespoonful of butter over it in small pieces. Twenty minutes will bake it, and send to the table as a vegetable.

Amanda Moniz's Adaptation

Ingredients:

Butter to grease baking dish
1/2 pound mild cheese, such as mild cheddar
One big apple
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 pint (1 cup) of milk, preferably whole milk or 2%
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs
1 tablespoonful butter, in small pieces


Cheese PuddingPreparation:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Butter a baking dish, such as a 9 x 12” oval baking dish.

Using a box grater, grate cheese. Put in medium bowl.

Peel apples. Using the same side of the box grater as used for the cheese, grate apple all around to the core. Put in a small bowl. Add the sugar and cornstarch and toss together.

Put the grated apple mixture into the bowl with the cheese. Add the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with a fork thoroughly. Add to the cheese mixture.

Pour into the baking dish and dot the top with the butter.

Bake 20-30 minutes until the pudding is nicely browned and set.

Serve as a vegetarian main dish or hearty side dish.

Note from Amanda: The only changes I made were to add a little cornstarch since the apple gives up a lot of liquid and to standardize directions to today’s style.


A Domestic Cook Book

Malinda Russell's Jumbles Cookie Recipe

From "A Domestic Cook Book: A Careful Election of Useful Receipts For the Kitchen" by Malinda Russell. Published 1866.

Ingredients and Preparation:

One lb. flour, 3-4 lb sugar, one half lb butter, five eggs, mace, rose water, and carraway, to your taste.

Amanda Moniz's Adaptation

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons mace
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons rosewater
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

For glaze:

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rosewater


JumblesPreparation:

Preheat the oven to 375° on a convection oven or to 400° on a conventional oven.

Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and mace. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer.

Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Scrape down.

Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just about combined.

Add the rosewater and caraway seeds and mix on low speed just until everything is combined.

This dough is stiff enough to work with right away. Or you can wrap it in plastic wrap to refrigerate for up to a couple days before using. To wrap it, place the dough on plastic wrap. Flatten it into a disk. Wrap fully.)

For balls:

Roll walnut-sized pieces of the dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet. Press each cookie gently with two fingers.

For double-rings:

Roll pieces of the dough (a bit bigger than walnut-sized) into a snake about 10 inches long. Bring the two ends towards each other so the snake now looks like a narrow U. Twist the two strands together and form into a circle. Press the ends together to close the circle.

Bake, rotating once about halfway through baking, until fragrant and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. (If you do balls and rings, just bake them on separate trays because each shape will take a slightly different amount of time to bake.)

While the jumbles are baking, combine the sugar and rosewater for the glaze. (Most of the sugar won’t dissolve.) Have ready a pastry brush.

As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, brush on the glaze. Let cool. Enjoy!

Note from Amanda: Rosewater can be found at some supermarkets, Middle Eastern groceries, and online. (I trust I don’t need to tell you that you want the edible stuff, not the skin toner.)

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The Kojo Nnamdi Show is produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.