“One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been that I have never stopped learning about good cooking and good food.” ~ Edna Lewis
A group of African American family members and friends gathered outdoors around a long, white-clothed table covered with “warm fried chicken, thin slices of boiled Virginia ham, green beans cooked in pork stock, turnip greens picked that morning, potato salad with a boiled dressing, pickles, preserves, and yeast bread.”
For dessert? Mincemeat, lemon meringue and fried apple pies, along with coconut and black walnut cakes. Don’t forget the watermelon and cantaloupe, the freshly ground coffee to be drunk out of bowls.
This is the kind of homemade, homegrown food beloved chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis grew up with. Her advocacy of this simple style of cooking using only the freshest in-season ingredients anticipated the natural foods, slow food, and farm-to-table movements, essentially changing the way average Americans viewed Southern cuisine.
In Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis (Cameron Kids, 2032), Melvina Noel and Cozbi A. Cabrera trace Edna’s life from her childhood on a Virginia farm, to her early days as a working single, then finally to her prominence as a restaurant co-owner and chef-de-cuisine in NYC.
Essentially, what Edna first learned about cooking and everything associated with it – family, friends, love, community, cultural heritage – established her identity and defined her life’s work, as she remained committed to preserving traditional Southern foodways while showcasing the seminal role African Americans played in the origins of this regional cuisine.
It all began on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, an African American community founded by Edna’s grandfather and two other freed slaves. From an early age, Edna participated in all aspects of farm life: milking cows, chasing chickens, picking wild greens and gathering berries. Edna especially loved cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.Continue reading