Our Food Editors Share Their Favorite Cookbooks by Black Authors
In praise of classics old and new, plus a forthcoming book we're excited about.
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Asking a cook to pick a favorite cookbook can be like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. How can you expect them to pick just one? When you ask our food editors what their favorite recipe is, they often choose something they've just worked on or just finished shooting. Ask them about the cookbooks they cherish, books they have learned from, or books they refer to again and again, and you'll find the range is wider, which is exactly what we see in this selection of cookbooks and other books about food written by Black authors. Ahead, our food editors share their favorite classic and new books of recipes, food history, and culinary memoir.
The Taste of Country Cooking
Both the recipes and reminiscences are delicious in Edna Lewis' definitive cookbook that celebrates the uniquely American country cooking she grew up with in a small Virginia Piedmont farming community that had been settled by freed slaves. "The book by a masterpiece," says Greg Lofts, deputy food editor. "The original was published in 1976 and is basically impossible to find and wildly expensive because it's a cult classic. It was reissued in the early aughts but even that one can be tricky to find." (Try penguinrandomhouse.com for sources.)
What does he cook from Miss Lewis' most famous book? "The Busy Day Cake is a recipe you will make time and again. It's essentially a dump-and-stir snacking cake scented with nutmeg. No fancy ingredients or equipment needed." And there's more: "Her recipe for Sour Milk Griddle Cakes is exceptional, too. They are like [the original] buttermilk pancake." Greg's admiration for Miss Lewis doesn't end with Taste. He recommends you buy any of her books.
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook
Acclaimed author Toni Tipton-Martin's James Beard Award-winning book Jubliee ($35, penguinrandomhouse.com) is packed with appealing recipes that she adapted from historical texts and rare African-American cookbooks. It's the pick of Sarah Carey, editorial director of food, who bonded with Tipton-Martin at a biscuit festival a couple of years ago. Tipton-Martin's other book, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks ($45, tonitiptonmartin.com), has also won numerous awards. It's a rich and engaging look at how African-American female chefs shaped our culinary heritage.
Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day
Chefs Alexander Smalls and JJ Johnson and co-author Veronica Chambers take us on a culinary journey, starting on the shores of West Africa and embracing Asian influences. From Harlem to Heaven ($23, us.macmillan.com) features inspiring recipes that weave together African, Asian, and American cuisines with delicious, comforting results. Recipes like adzuki bean collard greens, Afro-Asian-American gumbo, brisket egg rolls, and grits with tamarind glazed oxtail attracted associate food editor Riley Wofford to the book. "I saw a lot of food like this where I grew up [in Texas], but never truly realized or appreciated how many different cultures it was coming from."
Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes
Using fresh ingredients, vibrant spices, and clever techniques, food activist and author Bryant Terry shows how to build flavor and texture in vegan cooking. Vegetable Kingdom ($26.99, bryant-terry.com) is a celebration of Black culture and foodways and decolonizes vegan cooking. It's a recent purchase for Riley, and now she has the book she understands why it was on every must-buy list. "I have the hot sauce-soaked cauliflower and spinach and kale grit cakes bookmarked," she says.
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
An illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces Michael W. Twitty's ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom. The Cooking Gene ($26.09, thecookinggene.com) is a favorite of associate digital food editor Kelly Vaughan, and Greg is also a fan, noting, "For anyone interested in understanding the history of food in America, this book will illuminate how much of our culinary identity comes from black cooking and culture."
The Dooky Chase Cookbook
Leah Chase was a force in the kitchen of beloved New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase for over 60 years and a champion of Creole cooking for at least as long. In addition to marvelous recipes from the restaurant and her personal collection, The Dooky Chase Cookbook ($21.55, pelicanpub.com) includes art by African-American artists whose work Mrs. Chase collected. My now slightly dented and lightly dog-eared copy has guided me through shrimp gumbo and red beans and rice as well as other less well-known dishes.
High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America
Culinary scholar Jessica B. Harris' books illuminate different aspects of the food history of the African diaspora. On my bookshelf are High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America ($26, bloomsbury.com) and Tasting Brazil ($36.35, abebooks.com), which is hard to find but well worth seeking out for both recipes from different regions of Brazil and the information and context that Harris provides.