This Saturday, after four years of sharing the message that pie is a perfect food tradition for Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in other people’s churches, I get to celebrate with a Peace Through Pie social and my home congregation. I am thrilled that Round Rock has joined more than two dozen local organizations and schools in Central Texas, and a growing list of PTP hosts nationwide, but it is going to be a very full day.
It all starts with the Women and Food Symposium at the University of Texas – Austin’s Food Lab, where I am on program with several noted women, including award-winning writer and author Laura Shapiro and New York Times writer Kim Severson. Then, I will introduce Peace Through Pie, which is re-kindling the pie social to spark social change, to marchers in the 27th Annual MLK walk and program in Round Rock, Texas. (The march begins at 1:30 at C D Fulkes Middle School and ends at the Allen R. Baca Senior Center.)
The celebration at Faith4Life Church wraps up my evening with music, a pie baking contest, and a recitation to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Pastor Evan Black and his wife Minister Priscilla invited the congregation and neighbors to come together to share sweet and savory world pies to honor Dr. King’s message of unity and “beloved community,” because Pastor Black says, “Community and diversity are my passions.”
Pastor Black was immediately drawn to the idea of mixing food, fellowship and fence-mending. The husband and father of two bi-racial sons grew up in Atlanta in a family dedicated to equality, diversity, and racial reconciliation. Although his grandfather once refused to allow his mother to attend integrated schools, she stood up for her beliefs, joined the Direct Action campaign, and marched with Dr. King, making diversity “important to me,” Pastor Black explains.
“I really want this to be an event that is open to the community. We are a church, but we want to work with, embrace, and help the community. We want to be part in any way we can. Heaven is not going to be all white or all African American or all Hispanic. It’s going to be a mixed; that’s the way the congregation should be.”
With all of this — plus tastebuds that are still sticky from the sweetness of traditional holiday pies like pumpkin, sweet potato and pecan — I needed a simple pie recipe that would go together fast, but taste deliciously different. I turned to “the ladies” of The Jemima Code, of course, and settled on a book that seemed particularly appropriate for the occasion: Colorful Louisiana Cooking in Black and White.
In a hilarious take the authors, Ethel Dixon and Bibby Tate, attempt to resolve for modern audiences the persistent confusion between southern and soul food by putting the letter “W” next to the recipe title for dishes cooked the way white folks do it and a “B” to show how we roll. Interestingly, some clear distinctions were noticeable, such as the addition of water in the “white” version of a recipe and milk on the “black” ingredients list. This book was a joy to read, but I like my friend and cookbook author Nancie McDermott’s solution better.
She ignored it.
Each little narrative in her cookbook, Southern Pies, shares folklore or teaches pie-making techniques. Nancie also attributes the recipes to their source, many of whom are Jemima Code authors, including Minnie C. Fox and her Blue Grass Cook Book, which I brought back to life in 2005. Nancie’s work does not depend upon labels. She offers no categories or stereotypes. The habit of marginalizing the contributions of African Americans simply does not exist here. This is a great collection of diverse recipes that span the southern pie pantheon giving credit where credit is due — without racial borders.
Butterscotch Pie, for example can be traced to the earliest cookbooks by both African American and white cookbook writers, sometimes called Caramel Pie or Brown Sugar Pie. In her 1948 cookbook, A Date With A Dish, Freda DeKnight cooks brown sugar, butter, and eggs with milk and a bit of flour before baking for a light and moderately sweet dessert with a hint of butterscotch flavor. Patty Pinner updates the formula in Sweetie Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, offering two versions. One follows DeKnight’s lead, making butterscotch from scratch. The other one cuts preparation time and effort by eliminating the milk, stirring the ingredients together, then finishing the pie in the oven, taking its carmel notes from butterscotch chips.
With so many choices, I’m still uncertain which one I will share this weekend to honor the birthday of Dr. King. What kind of pie will you bake?
Faith4Life church is located at 1000 McNeil Rd. Round Rock, Texas, 78681. For a complete listing of Peace Through Pie socials visit: peacethroughpie.org
In Her Kitchen
Patty Walker’s Easy Nut and Chips Pie
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
- One (9-inch) unbaked pie crust
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until blended well with an electric mixer. Stir in the pecans, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. Pour the filling into the pie crust. Place in the oven and bake until the crust turns golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving. You can dress up each slice with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
Recipe from Patty Pinner’s Sweetie Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie.
In Her Kitchen
I went to the safe to retrieve a New York-area author from the Jemima Code cookbook collection to be among the black cooks featured in my pop-up art exhibit at the Greenhouse Gallery at James Beard House in Manhattan. I came out with New Orleans chef Lena Richard. More than 70 years ago, the “father of American cuisine” had been Richard’s advocate. Now, she would return to his home to uplift and encourage a whole new generation.
Until recently I had only briefly studied Richard’s life. I read in a resume of her accomplishments in the exhibition guide at Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University, that she was a formally trained culinary student, completing her education at the Fannie Farmer Cooking School in Boston. She ran her own catering company for ten years, operated several restaurants in New Orleans, including a lunch house for laundry workers, cooked at an elite white women’s organization, the Orleans Club, opened a cooking school, and taught night classes while compiling her cookbook.
In 1939, she self-published more than 350 recipes for simple as well as elegant dishes in Lena Richard’s Cook Book. Her smiling face radiates from the kind of ladylike portrait one might expect to find cradled inside a gold locket worn close to the heart. A year later, at the urging of Beard and food editor Clementine Paddleford, Houghton Mifflin published a revised edition of her work. This book, however, contained a new title and preface, and that precious cameo-style photograph was gone.
Through the end of April, visitors to Beard House were welcomed into the sanctuaries of unsung culinary heroes like Richard. Screen-printed images of black women at work in and around the kitchen hearth in slave and sharecropper’s cabins, gardens, and in shotgun houses throughout the south hung on the walls of the Greenhouse. The images in this engaging visual history were taken from my historic reprint of a 1904 classic cookbook, The Blue Grass Cook Book — photographs that document culinary contributions to American cuisine and establish an enduring legacy for the women as modern role models who encourage everyone to cook and share real food.
In these times of Top Chef-styled plates where food is stacked, foamed and streaked, it can seem impossible to be impressed by the simplicity of three-course menus comprised of dishes like avocado cocktail, buttered saltines, broiled steak, petit pois, and watermelon ice cream — but we should try.
So, in celebration of the hard-working, nimble chef who taught culinary students how to make homemade vol-au-vent and calas toud chaud while tutoring her daughter in the entrepreneurial skills of business 101, and as part of my outreach to vulnerable children in Austin, and in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, the University of Texas, the Texas Restaurant Association, and Kikkoman, four high school culinary students cooked for a reception featuring chef Scott Barton, April 1 at the Beard House.
For the past three years, students from Pflugerville’s John B. Connally High and Austin’s Travis High have demonstrated professionalism, self-awareness, and pride in the presence of these art works, the kind of outcomes we can expect when we provide culturally-appropriate experiences that engage and inspire kids toward careers in the food industry — whether those jobs are in food archaeology, anthropology, food service, or public health.
Ryan Johnson, a senior at Connally described the meaning of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this way: “Most people my age have never heard of the James Beard Foundation, or the IACP, but as soon as Chef mentioned those names, I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought. “No way!
“Every night this week, I could hardly sleep because of the anticipation, and thoughts of the different people I’ll meet, and foods I’ll see. My mom always wanted me to be as passionate about food as she is; her wish has come true. I am truly grateful for the wonderful opportunities my passion and hard work have brought me, and I can’t help but think, “I’m actually going to be a chef…”
For information about The Jemima Code exhibit at the James Beard House Greenhouse Gallery, visit:
In Her Kitchen
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg, well beaten
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1/2 cup milk
Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Sift together, three times. Combine sugar and egg; add butter. Add flour, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Knead lightly 2 minutes on lightly-floured board. Roll 1/3-inch thick. Cut with doughnut cutter. Let rise for several minutes. Fry in deep, hot fat until golden brown. Drain on unglazed paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.
Number of Servings: 12
In Her Kitchen
As a journalist at a bloggers workshop, I was feeling a little bothered while attending South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) this week, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, until I realized that the women who inspire me also lived as if there were four of them.
They published cookbooks. Operated retail food businesses. Invented culinary gadgets. Hawked food products. Taught home economics. Catered lavish events. Sometimes, all at once.
As an author, I loved getting to know Abby Fisher and Malinda Russell, and imagining the kind of intelligent and creative recipes that my ancestors might have published if given the opportunity.
This week, I find muse in Kentucky, looking for the perfect mint julep to serve at a catered event next month, where I will be speaking about and teaching southern food traditions, and maybe making a dish or two.
Who me? Multi-task?
The first artifact is The Blue Grass Cook Book, by Minnie C. Fox.
Although it was not written by a black cook, the University Press of Kentucky and I published the historic reprint of Blue Grass in 2005 because it is the first-known cookbook to offer an honest and revealing picture of the state of culinary affairs in the South at the start of the twentieth century. It features more than 300 recipes and a dozen stunning camera portraits – not caricatures – of African American cooks at work. They are pictured above.
More directly than anyone before them – or after, until mid-century – Minnie, and her novelist brother John, publicly acknowledged the black contribution to Southern foodways, Southern culture, and Southern hospitality in 1904. In what amounts to direct and explicit homage, Minnie applauds the “turbaned mistress of the kitchen” for her dignity, wisdom, and talent.
This picture casts a bold shadow of hope and grace on the Aunt Jemima make-believe.
John Fox’s introduction and the photographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn do for these great cooks what historians, cookbook authors, novelists, advertisers, and manufacturers simply did not: They single out for full recognition and credit the black cook as the near-invisible but indispensable figure who made Southern cuisine famous.
Meanwhile, as housewives produced textbooks that emphasized the technical basics of cooking at the turn of the twentieth century, Effie Waller Smith wrote poetry that made powerful statements about the competencies of her African American sisters in the kitchen.
The authority and observations in her collected works, which were discovered and republished by the Schomburg Library in 1991, include interpretation, so I’ve simply included my favorite poem here for you to enjoy, and hopefully to share.
Maybe next time, I’ll attend a meeting of anthropologists.
APPLE SAUCE AND CHICKEN FRIED
By Effie Waller Smith, 1904
You may talk about the knowledge
Which our farmers’ girls have gained
From cooking-schools and cook-books
(where all modern cooks are trained);
But I would rather know just how,
(Though vainly I have tried)
To prepare, as mother used to,
Apple sauce and chicken fried.
Our modern cooks know how to fix
Their dainty dishes rare.
But, friend, just let me tell you what!–
None of them compare
With what my mother used to fix,
And for which I’ve often cried,
When I was but a little tot,–
Apple sauce and chicken fried.
Chicken a la Francaise,
Served with some new fangled sauce
Is plenty good for me,
Till I get to thinking of the home
Where I used to ‘bide
And where I used to eat, — um, my!
Apple sauce and chicken fried.
We always had it once a week,
Sometimes we had it twice;
And I have even known the time
When we have had it thrice.
Our good, yet jolly pastor,
During his circuit’s ride
With us once each week gave grateful thanks
For apple sauce and chicken fried.
Why, it seems like I can smell it,
And even taste it, too,
And see it with my natural eyes,
Though of course it can’t be true;
And it seems like I’m a child again,
Standing by mother’s side
Pulling at her dress and asking
For apple sauce and chicken fried.
Author’s Note: Use caution if you purchase The Blue Grass Cook Book from Amazon. Applewood Books is offering a reprinted copy that does not include my historical background on the Fox family. If you would like to purchase an autographed copy of The Blue Grass Cook Book, please email me.