black cookbooks and memoirs

6/4/20 A few people messaged me this week asking for black cookbook and food memoir suggestions. So, I went to my bookshelves and I pulled out several — plus a few more I don’t have or have lent out but highly recommend — to share here, plus a little about each. Note: I originally shared it on Smitten Kitchen’s Instagram Stories and several people asked if I could put it at a more permanent url here. This is definitely not an exhaustive list of black cookbook authors, nor does this list every book from these authors. It’s merely what’s on my shelves and a few that currently aren’t that I’ve enjoyed over the years. I am linking to Amazon here because I know many of us begin our book searches there, but at the end I have a plethora of other bookstore resources, black-owned and/or independent.

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook (Toni Tipton-Martin)

This incredible book — it won a James Beard award last week — is a look at and celebration of African-American cooking beyond soul and Southern cooking to all of the foods of the African diaspora. I’ve made the biscuits, the Collard Greens with Cornmeal Cornmeal Dumplings (more on these soon), and I’m pretty sure the Rum Punch will be next on this hot, sticky week’s agenda. I bought it last November when it came out — I get sent a lot of cookbooks, but they’re rarely the ones I keep forever; the ones I buy on my own volition almost always are.

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (Toni Tipton-Martin)

Also by Tipton-Martin, she spent years amassing one of the largest private collections of cookbooks by African American authors. This book collects 150 of them. There’s a rare 1827 house servant’s manual but also more modern classics from authors like Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor, annotated with historical details hoping to give us a view of African-American cooking beyond the “Aunt Jemima” stereotype.

The Taste of Country Cooking (Edna Lewis)

First published in 1976, I know you will love this book. Lewis was a chef and writer who chronicled classic Southern cooking, and her writing is absolutely poetic. Her Busy-Day Cake is both delicious and one of the best cake names out there. Her Pan-Fried Sweet Potatoes are excellent; her Cheese Straws, legendary.

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir (Jessica B. Harris)

I’ve had the luck to hear Jessica Harris, an orator and culinary historian, speak twice now — first at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee in 2017, and last fall at an event with Les Dames d’Escoffier — and I want you to know if you ever have a chance to hear her speak anywhere, you should buy a ticket immediately because you will leave utterly inspired. Her memoir isn’t specifically food-focused but she talks about growing up in NYC in the 60s when her social circle included (nbd!) Maya Angelou and James Baldwin. You won’t want to put it down.

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America (Jessica B. Harris)

Also by Jessica Harris, this book celebrates “the foods of the African American experience” — chitlins, ham hocks, and vegan re cipes too. There’s a great vegetable gumbo in here, watermelon pickles (my husband loves these), and also her mother’s fried chicken recipe.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (Bryant Terry)

A newer (February of this year) plant-based cookbook with a focus on real food (no “powders or meat substitutes”) with Afro-Asian flavors. I’ve been reading, not cooking from it so far, but I’ve got the Roasted Sweet Potato and Asparagus Po’Boy, Barbecue Carrots with Slow-Cooked White Beans, and the Berbere-Spiced Red Lentils with Creamy Cauliflower bookmarked, how could I not. This is not Terry’s first book (see also: Afro Vegan and more) but it came to my attention after reading an in-depth interview with Terry in a recent newsletter from Alicia Kennedy, who writes about the intersection of food and culture. You can read the interview here and subscribe for more.

Cooking Solo (Klancy Miller)

I’m including this book for two reasons. One, there are not enough solo cooking cookbooks and this is a great one. The other reason is that I think Klancy Miller is a great person to follow, if you do not already. She recently founded For the Culture: A magazine celebrating Black women in food and wine, a crowdfunded project I was happy to contribute to, and which you still can on the website — they’re currently accepting submissions for the first issue. Back to Cooking Solo, I haven’t cooked much from it because I’d be forced to share, but in pulling it back down from the shelves, it was clearly a mistake. I’m making myself lamb chops this week and I’m not sharing with anyone, mwahaha.

Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing (Jerelle Guy)

Guy is the food blogger behind Chocolate For Basil and a NYT Cooking contributor. I’ve enjoyed the stories behind the recipes and the bits of memories she inserts throughout — she writes in a such an evocative, poetic way. Don’t miss the Pecan Pie Rugelach, Pop Biscuits (yeasted!), and Griddled Cornbread Muffins.

Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir (Kwame Onwuachi)

I zipped through this book in a few days last summer because I absolutely couldn’t put it down. I haven’t had Onwauchi’s cooking — although the memoir has a very well edited selection of recipes — but it’s pretty clear he could just write for the rest of his life and have a fantastic career. I hear they’re making this into a movie? Starring Lakeith Stanfield from Atlanta? [Fans self]

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (Michael W. Twitty)

The is an epic James Beard award-winning memoir by culinary history and educator Michael W. Twitty, whose site is Aforculinaria. He traces his ancestry, both black and white, through food from Africa to America, in slavery and freedom, and he adds real insight into the idea of who “owns” barbecue, soul, and Southern food. It’s fascinating and in-depth.

Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories

Adams is the blogger behind the popular Grandbaby Cakes and I have yet to find a cake in this book I don’t want to bake. I mean! Pineapple Upside-Down Hummingbird Cake! Kentucky Brown Butter Cake! Key Lime Pie Cake! Nana Pudding Tiramisu Cake! German Chocolate Pound Cake! Marble Texas Sheet Cake. Yes, you need to buy this.

Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

I don’t need to tell you who Carla Hall is — we’ve been following her all the way since Top Chef — but I know sometimes when people become big enough celebrities, we forget that they might also be amazing writers and cooks. This book should remove any misplaced doubt. Cracked Shrimp with Comeback Sauce. Tomato Pie with Garlic Bread Crust. Poured Caramel Cake. And she’s pretty famous, to say the least, for her Nashville Hot Chicken.

Sweet Home Café Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking

This is a collection of recipes from the cafe at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC (which features prominently in Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir as well) and I haven’t cooked from it yet (my loss) but I hear the mac-and-cheese is not to be missed. You don’t have to tell me twice.

Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine (Kelley Fanto Deetz)

Deetz uses cookbooks, plantations records, and even folkore to take a nunaced look at the lives of enslaved planation cooks before and after emancipation, as well as the foods they created from — from oyster stew, gumbo, and fried fish — that were credit to their white owners. This specifically focuses on Virginia plantations — Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon which is very 👀 and I love it.

The New Way to Cake: Simple Recipes with Exceptional Flavor (Benjamina Ebuehi)

This is a ridiculous story but here we go: This book from the Great British Bake-Off semifinalist was actually pulled down from the stack by my daughter on Mother’s Day. She’s been learning how to write and my mother’s day card read — I couldn’t make this up if I tried — “I LOVE YOU MOMMY NEW WAY TO CAKE BENAJMINA EBUEHI” I guess she was copying a message my husband had shown her how to write and started copying nearby words and it got a little jumbled up and I’m saving it forever. She’s selected the Elderflower and Roasted Strawberry Cake (it’s pink) for my birthday but I am intrigued by the Caramelized Plantain Upside-Down Cake, the Date & Rooibos Loaf (a reader favorite), and the Plum and Black Pepper Cake. Do I have to choose?

New World Sourdough: Artisan Techniques for Creative Homemade Fermented Breads (Bryan Ford)

Sorry to tease but this won’t be out until June 16th of this year. (However, preorders are a very important way. to support books.) It caught my attention via this recent article on Taste, “New World Sourdough is Hardly New.” I love that it looks beyond the sourdough as a crusty, adored loaf at a local sandwich shop and reminds us that, technically speaking, “any fermented bread made between roughly 3,700 BC and the invention of commercial yeast in the 1800s could be considered sourdough too.”

In Bibi’s Kitchen (Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen)

This book also isn’t out yet but I know it will be worth the wait until October. (And I repeat, preorders are a very integral part of a book’s success) I’m looking looking forward to this collection of recipes from grandmothers in eight eastern African nations which were considered the backbone of the spice trade (think: black pepper and vanilla, so central to SK cooking). Also, I’m Team Grandma Cooking, always.

6/19/20: Plus, a few great ones I missed:

  • B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style (Barbara Smith)
  • The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook (Cheryl Day and Griffin Day)
  • Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day (Alexander Smalls, JJ Johnson, and Veronica Chambers)
  • Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland (Tanya Holland
  • Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen (Alexander Smalls and Veronica Chambers)
  • The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks (Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock)
  • Joy The Baker (Joy Wilson): 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes (see: Carrot Cake Pancakes), Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats, Over Easy: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days (see: Cornbread Waffles),
  • Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family (Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams)
  • Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul (Jenné Claiborne)
  • Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City: A Cookbook (Kristina Gill and Katie Parla)
  • More places to shop for books: (which can either direct you to a local independent bookstore to directly support or, if you order through the site, will pool profits with every associated independent bookstore) (will also direct you to a local independent bookstore to shop from)

    Black-Owned Bookstores
    Black Pearl Books (Austin, TX)
    Brave and Kind Books (Kids books) (Decatur, GA)
    Cafe Con Libros. (Brooklyn, NY)
    The Dock (Fort Worth, TX)
    Eso Won Books (Los Angeles, CA)
    Eye See Me (St. Louis, MO)
    Frugal Bookstore (Boston, MA)
    Fulton Street Books (Tulsa, OK)
    Grassrootz Bookstore (Phoenix, AZ)
    Harriet’s Bookshop (Philadelphia, PA)
    The Lit Bar (Bronx, NY)
    Loyalty Books (Washington DC & Silver Spring, MD)
    Mahogany Books (Washington DC)
    Malik Books (Los Angeles, CA)
    Marcus Books (Oakland, CA)
    Pyramid Books (Boyton Beach, FL)
    The Schomburg Shop (Harlem, NY)
    Semicolon (Chicago, IL)
    Shop at Matter (Denver, CO)
    Sister’s Uptown (New York, NY)
    Source Booksellers (Detroit, MI)
    Third Eye Books, Accessories, and Gifts (Portland, OR)
    Turning Page Bookshop (Goose Creek, SC)
    Uncle Bobbies (Philadelphia, PA)
    Wild Fig Books (Lexington, KY)

    Please note: Even if these stores aren’t open right now due to the Coronavirus, they are usually happy to take orders on the phone or online; most will ship and many will do curbside pickup. Support the businesses you want to see in your neighborhood, always.