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The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

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Winner, James Beard Foundation Book Award, 2016
Art of Eating Prize, 2015
BCALA Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 2016

Women of African descent have contributed to America’s food culture for centuries, but their rich and varied involvement is still overshadowed by the demeaning stereotype of an illiterate “Aunt Jemima” who cooked mostly by natural instinct. To discover the true role of black women in the creation of American, and especially southern, cuisine, Toni Tipton-Martin has spent years amassing one of the world’s largest private collections of cookbooks published by African American authors, looking for evidence of their impact on American food, families, and communities and for ways we might use that knowledge to inspire community wellness of every kind.

The Jemima Code presents more than 150 black cookbooks that range from a rare 1827 house servant’s manual, the first book published by an African American in the trade, to modern classics by authors such as Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor. The books are arranged chronologically and illustrated with photos of their covers; many also display selected interior pages, including recipes. Tipton-Martin provides notes on the authors and their contributions and the significance of each book, while her chapter introductions summarize the cultural history reflected in the books that follow. These cookbooks offer firsthand evidence that African Americans cooked creative masterpieces from meager provisions, educated young chefs, operated food businesses, and nourished the African American community through the long struggle for human rights. The Jemima Code transforms America’s most maligned kitchen servant into an inspirational and powerful model of culinary wisdom and cultural authority.

ISBN-13: 9780292745483

Publisher: University of Texas Press

Publication Date: 09-20-2015

Pages: 264

Product Dimensions: 9.40(w) x 11.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Toni Tipton-Martin is a culinary journalist and author of several books, including Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking. She was the first African American food editor of a major daily newspaper—the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Her collection of more than three hundred African American cookbooks was exhibited at the James Beard House and she was recognized twice by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House for her community service work. Tipton-Martin is a cofounder and former president of both the Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

What People are Saying About This

Marcus Samuelsson

The history of food might be one of the richest stories in America’s history. Up until this point, however, some of the originators have been overlooked. The Jemima Code digs deep to unearth treasures and histories of black cooks, their books, and their recipes. We should all thank Toni Tipton-Martin for this incredible book.

Tamar Adler

In this beautiful compendium of two hundred years of nearly invisible work by African American cooks, Toni Tipton-Martin changes the American culinary narrative. She reveals the Jemima Code as what it is: a systemic denial of the culinary contribution of the community that largely shaped the American appetite. I feel lucky to have this book on my shelf.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword: A Gallery of Great Cooks, by John Egerton
  • Foreword: Why Cookbooks Matter, by Barbara Haber
  • Introduction
  • Nineteenth-Century Cookbooks: Breaking a Stereotype
  • 1900–1925. Surviving Mammyism: Cooking Lessons for Work and Home
  • 1926–1950. The Servant Problem: Dual Messages
  • 1951–1960. Lifting as We Climb: Tea Cakes, Finger Sandwiches, Community Service, and Civil Rights
  • 1961–1970. Soul Food: Mama's Cooking Leaves Home for the City
  • 1971–1980. Simple Pleasures: A Soul Food Revival
  • 1981–1990. Mammy's Makeover: The Ever-Useful Life
  • 1991–2011. Sweet to the Soul: The Hope of Jemima
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index