BERTHA TURNER & TIGER WOODS: EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

BERTHA TURNER & TIGER WOODS: EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

With Tiger Woods back in the news this week, my thoughts immediately turned to Fuzzy Zoeller’s yakity yak urging Woods not to “order fried chicken or collard greens…or whatever the hell they serve” at the 1997 Masters golf tournament champions dinner. Zoeller might have been one of golf’s most notable players, but he obviously missed the memo on African American culinary tradition.

For generations, African American cooks living outside of the South have enjoyed confident, creative culinary expression, preferring to be known for their artistry, rather than the narrow outlook that limits the African American cook’s repertoire to the poverty ingredients and methods of plantation cabin cookery.

In 1910, while the domestic scientists were analyzing their food, “draining it of taste and texture, packaging it, and decorating it” to accommodate their shifting emphasis to domestic efficiency, Bertha Turner, a State Superintendent of Domestic Science and private caterer published a remarkable cookbook to preserve black culinary identity.

The Federation Cookbook: A Collection of Tested Recipes Compiled by the Colored Women of the State of California, assembled delicious recipes from the noted cooks living in and around Pasadena. The book exemplified a type of culinary professional who survived blatant discrimination and achieved fame and success.

By coincidence or Divine Order, Turner’s kitchen priorities and caterer’s virtues of uniformity, familiarity, and predictability perfectly aligned with the domestic science movement’s institutional ambitions of standardization and technical know-how. She was also a very good cook, according to the obituary published in a 1938 local newspaper, which also carried this photo of her, dressed elegantly and draped in fur.

She lived prosperously, flourishing in the rich ethnic culture of the Pasadena foothills, and didn’t appear stifled by the Jim Crow ideology strangling her race elsewhere. In fact, her Federation Cookbook set off confidently – perhaps because it epitomized a resolute gathering of out-going, successful women dedicated to social uplift.

Unlike Abby Fisher and Malinda Russell who began their books apologetically, Turner  gracefully promised in her Preface to deliver “tested cooking of tried proportions, kindly given by our women.” She boldly suggested that readers purchase the book to thank those “helpful, trusty” women whom she memorialized in every recipe.

“Take it to your friends and neighbors,” she urged. “May it prove a blessing to you.”

Turner probably was obviously a compassionate woman, too. The Federation Cookbook began with a cheerful poem composed by a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, to shore up young cooks. She shared more than 200 recipes for simple, as well as elegant cookery, including numerous ways with lettuce, gelatin, and molds – the “dainty” delights popular among domestic goddesses at the time.

Interestingly, the only Southern dishes to survive the trip West with this regal, Kentucky-born patron were croquettes, okra, and cornbread.

Does that answer your question about what we serve, Mr. Zoeller?

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In Bertha Turner’s day, homemade salad dressings, including mayonnaise were evidence of a cook’s proficiency. The mix is simple: eggs, good quality oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. With today’s rush through the kitchen, you can achieve potato salad with the same creamy results using  commercial mayo and a splash of  prepared mustard.

In Her Kitchen

Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 8 new potatoes
  • 5 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • Salt, pepper
  • Paprika

Instructions

  1. Cook bacon in a hot skillet over medium heat until crisp. Cool and crumble. Set aside. Scrub the potatoes and boil in their jackets until just done. Cool, peel and dice. Place in a large bowl with eggs, onions, celery, and pickle relish. Stir in mayonnaise and mustard, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with paprika before serving.

Number of servings: 8

In Her Kitchen
FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN AUTHORS: CELEBRITY CHEFS PART II

FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN AUTHORS: CELEBRITY CHEFS PART II

Kick me for not straight out calling the women in my last post top chef-styled celebrities, and for not telling you that you can and should own copies of their work — the first black cookbooks published in this country.

It’s just that I lost my webmaster and I was going a little crazy at post time. I don’t make a dime off of sales of these books. I just think they are valuable additions to anyone’s cookbook collection. And, if you aren’t collecting books yet these are a great place to start. Indulge me, as I fuss over them a little while longer.

At the end of the 20th century, cookbooks were called household manuals. They emphasized domestic economy and food science, and included “tested” receipts, the old-school word for recipes.

The most popular texts encouraged young housewives to “get rid of the false sentiment that grades different ranks of work as more or less respectable,” and reminded them that “cooking “possesses the dignity of an art, of science, and of philosophy.”

At the same time, most authors of these books claimed that black cooks were too ignorant to be able to translate the recipes from their heads to the written page. If the cook was credited, her recipe was written in illiterate language meant to demean.

But Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher dispute this image. Their little books reveal cooks who truly understood technique, whether they shared that information with the mistress or not. They might not have understood the hydrogen ION concentration and pH of some common foods, but both women were counted among those sensible and experienced cooks of their communities. Each one shared the love of good food and cooking with friends.

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The limited-edition facsimile reprint of Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cook Book: Containing Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, (printed in 1866), is available from the University of Michigan. The booklet was edited by Jan Longone and costs $25.

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, published in 1881 by Abby Fisher, may be purchased through Amazon.

Malinda Russell’s Elizabeth Lemon Cake is a lovely springtime pound cake, which I make even more special for family and friends by drizzling with a a sweet-tart glaze of Meyer lemon juice and powdered sugar.

In Her Kitchen

Elizabeth’s Lemon Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup grated lemon zest
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • Tangy Lemon Glaze

Instructions

  1. Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup fluted tube pan or 2 (8×4-inch) loaf pans. Cream together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in a bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, alternately beat in the dry and liquid ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a wood tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar with lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves. When cake is done, use a skewer to poke holes over the entire top. Carefully spoon the lemon syrup over the cake, allowing syrup to soak in before adding more. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Drizzle with Tangy Lemon Glaze.
  2. Tangy Lemon Glaze Combine 2 cups sifted powdered sugar and 3-4 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Spoon over cooled cake.

Number of servings: 12

In Her Kitchen