There is more than one way to burn a book and there are plenty of people running around with matches. ~Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451
#BannedBookWeek continues here at #Macsbooks as I take a look at The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin. While this book has not been “banned,” the contents of the book have been questioned, hidden and lied about for centuries. As Bradbury states in the quote above, you don’t have to literally ban or burn a book in order to suppress the information.That is exactly what has happened to African American cooks, chefs, Nannies and Mammies over the years.
In The Jemima Code – which is NOT a cookbook, by the way – Tipton-Martin has compiled and curated the stories, histories and covers of many lost African-American cookbooks. The books were “lost” to us for the simple fact that they are authored or written by or about African American cooks. It was long held as a “fact” that southern cooking came from the white homes in the southern part of the US. It was also believed that the African Americans who cooked in these homes were “uncreative” and merely copied the recipes that they were taught. Furthermore, we are told that these recipes are unhealthy, lead to obesity, and should not be replicated in today’s “healthier” homes. Yeah, right.
I was raised in the south and love southern food. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that white southern women did none of their cooking well into the latter part of the 20th century. Our grandmothers, great aunts, great grandmothers had “help,” if not outright slaves who did their cooking and cleaning for them. As a result, nearly all of the recipes that today are considered “southern” by cooks in the south, actually originated by African slaves and Creoles living in the south. Cornbread, fried fish, waffles, grits, black-eyed peas, “southern” fried chicken and biscuits – all were originated by African Americans. Furthermore, in order for white southerners to take credit for these recipes and fine cooking, they suppressed the cookbooks that these African American chefs had printed.
Interestingly, I was raised in Arkansas, home to Bill Clinton. While governor there, he boasted about the great food that was served at the Governor’s Mansion. For years, it was assumed that the chef at the mansion was a world renown chef. It turns out that for nearly a half century the food was prepared by a marvelous chef name Eliza Ashley. She had cooked for presidents, the Rockefellers, dignitaries and movie stars but until the 1980s, she received no credit as being the chef behind the delectable food. The Jemima Code is filled with similar stories and it is tragic. To completely “white-wash” the contributions made by these cooks is egregious. Thanks to Tipton-Martin, we now are able to see just how pervasive this cover up was.
I highly recommend reading The Jemima Code for its historical contribution to our heritage.
Thank you to @ToniTipton Martin, #Netgalley and the University of Texas Press for my copy of this fabulous book! And now I am off to put on a pot of black eyed peas and bake up a pan of cornbread. Yummy!