I recently started watching HBO’s Lovecraft Country and there’s a moment in the first episode where the main characters walk into a restaurant that they thought was Black-owned and were met with white people trying to cause physical harm to them as they pushed them out of town. At this moment, I turned to my boyfriend with a puzzled look.
“Why are they doing that? They clearly just wanted some food.”
“Because they are Black.”
“That’s it?! Just because they are Black?”
“Yes, that was what it was like in America back then.”
As a wave of shock hit my brain, I realized that I still had some work to do. I grew up in Singapore and while prejudice still exists over there, everything I learned about Black American history was from a textbook, and there wasn’t very much written about it in those textbooks. In the back of my brain, I knew that the Black diaspora in America is riddled with these types of experiences, but seeing that scene showed what was lacking in my formal education.
Those characters were looking for refuge in a restaurant that they knew would serve them. They sought comfort in food made and served by one of their own. Food is often used as a way for everyone to sit at the table, and for me, it can be about understanding and experiencing a different culture. But food has also almost always been political. People eat what is affordable to their socioeconomic status, and that often can mean large differences in what food is available to them. This can often lead to racial stereotyping based on food.
This is why I tend to explore food and recipes that aren’t in my own culture so often. With that, here are some Black-authored cookbooks that have featured spots in my kitchen.
The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson is a favorite amongst Festival staff, as he was a part of the 2016 Texas Book Festival with his restaurant cookbook, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. This new cookbook goes through so much food history as well as stunning recipes that highlight new Black chefs and their creations. I am a big fan of the Steak Afrique with Yassa sauce as well as the injera recipe, which I never thought I would make until I got this book. Follow Marcus Samuelsson: @marcuscooks
Black Girl Baking by Jerrelle Guy
While I am a relatively great cook, I am just an alright baker. I just have very little patience with the precision of baking since I grew up in a “throw some of this in and try it” upbringing. This does not stop me from buying several baking cookbooks each year and one of them has recently been Black Girl Baking. I find the flavor combinations in here just fascinating it and it has made me pull out my kitchen aid more often than normal. Also, the index includes gluten-free recipes, dairy-free recipes, and vegan recipes, which I really appreciate. I love the Lemongrass Meringue with Gingerbread Crust and Lumpia Bananas Foster, but one day I will make the Maque Choux Strada. Follow Jerrelle Guy: @chocolateforbasil
Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails by Shannon Mustipher
I love everything about tiki cocktails, including amassing several tiki mugs. I often think that I missed the time period in which tiki was all the fashion and I have deep envy when I look at photographs of those days. It also feels like everything bright and fun that I am missing in quarantine, which is why this book is my perfect cocktail companion right now. I’ve been in a Caipirinha kick recently, but I also really love the Royal Dock Cooler. One day I will make the No Woman No Cry, but I just need to get the right bitters for it. Follow Shannon Mustipher: @shannonmustipher
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin
This book is 1 part Black American food culture and history and 1 part recipes. Toni Tipton-Martin’s previous title, The Jemima Code, was a 2015 TBF title and this cookbook is a natural follow up. Jubilee features food and recipes that feel like a hug to your taste palate. I often make her version of sorrel (hibiscus) tea and as an avid lover of meat pies, her curried meat pie is absolutely spectacular. Follow Toni Tipton-Martin: @tonitiptonmartin
In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis
It would be Black authored cookbook blasphemy if I did not include a book by Edna Lewis, the renowned chef that helped define Southern cooking and seasonal food. Miss Lewis’s recipes are the epitome of cooking with love and have an abundance of flavor, as advertised in the title. I’m a big fan of this version of Potato and Leek Soup and Beef Tenderloin with Bearnaise Sauce as well as the Apple Brown Betty. It also has a great section about canning and preserving food, which is something that I am learning a lot about these days to stretch my food. Here is info about the Edna Lewis Foundation.