Born in rural Virginia in a community that her grandfather, a freed slave had helped found, Edna Lewis became a celebrated New York City restaurant chef. But with this book, originally published in 1976, she made her most lasting contribution to American culinary heritage by returning to the food and culinary philosophy of her childhood.
“Over the years since I left home and lived in different cities,” Lewis wrote,” I have kept thinking about the people that I grew up with and about our way of life. Whenever I go back to visit my sisters and brothers, we relive old times, remembering the past. And when we share again in gathering wild strawberries, canning, rendering lard, finding walnuts, picking persimmons, making fruitcake, I realize how much the bond that held us had to do with food.”
Throughout The Taste of Country Cooking, even as Lewis is providing recipes for sausage cakes, crusty yeast bread, green peas in cream, and braised leg of mutton, she weaves in stories of the people from whom she learned to cook, and the events like hog killing time, Christmas, and Revival Week that triggered community gatherings. It’s an compelling account of a way of life—we know many people who own the book simply to read it—that is hard to envision most Americans enacting today. There are poignant moments as well, such as Lewis’s recollection that her grandmother, forced as a slave to leave her children behind when she went to work as a brickmason, would still, years later, after those children were grown, climb the stairs at night with a kerosene lamp to make sure they were still safe asleep in her home.
This book has a place in any collection of American home cookbooks.
Hardcover. Line drawings.