Edna Lewis, the "Queen of Southern Cooking," was born in Freetown, Virginia on April 13, 1916. There's a wonderful tribute to Edna Lewis by Damon Lee Fowler in the Fall, 2007 issue of Repast a publication of the Culinary Historians Society of Ann Arbor Michigan. (it's a PDF file but well worth the wait:)
Try as I may, I could never pay homage to Edna Lewis appropriately. I leave it to those who knew of her personally:
In 1999 Edna Lewis received the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner from the Southern Foodways Alliance:
...Edna Lewis was one of the first to generate respect and acceptance for southern cooking as true American cuisine. Born in Freetown, Virginia, the granddaughter of freed slaves, she went on to become a celebrated black chef in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s, when there were few, if any, other black or female chefs working in the city...
Chef Joe Randall owner of, Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School mourned the passing of a friend and author Chef Edna Lewis:
...Edna Lewis began her career around the age of 16 as a cook at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, DC. As early as 1948, Ms. Lewis was a popular chef in New York City, serving up her Southern specialties at Café Nicholson for John Nicholson on Manhattan’s East Side, Aschkenasy’s US Steak House, and eventually at Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn. She later taught cooking classes, worked as a caterer and was a visiting consulting restaurant chef at such great places as Fearrington House in Pittsboro, North Carolina and Middletown Place in Charleston, South Carolina... (Continue reading)
From the New York Times:
In 1976, Miss Lewis turned the focused, close-to-nature cooking of her childhood into the
secondfirst of her four books, "The Taste of Country Cooking" (Knopf). The book, considered a classic study of Southern cooking and one that sits on the shelves of America's best chefs, helped put an end to the knee-slapping, cornpone image of Southern food among many American cooks.
Memories of Southern Chef Edna Lewis by Vertamae Grosvenor author of Vibration Cooking, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl ( (another book I hope to share with you one day:)
She honored the taste and the history of true southern cooking. The recipes in her cookbooks are so seductive; they make you go back to putting lard in your pie crusts. Her recipe for Whipped Cornmeal and Okra is so good it will make you fall in love with the slimy vegetable you swore you couldn't stand. She learned to cook, she said, by watching her mother feed their large family, and followed her example. We lived by the seasons, she wrote, in The Taste of Country Cooking. Chapter headings read, An Early Summer Dinner of Veal Scallions and the First Berries; Emancipation Day dinner in the fall, which she described in a 1993 NPR interview.
In Pursuit of Flavor
Before I begin to share notes and recipes from Edna Lewis' book In Pursuit of flavor, I must remind you that today is National Peach Cobbler Day AND, I was lucky enough to find Edna Lewis’ Fresh Peach Cobbler recipe @ ezraoundcake.com. Okay, now that I have recuperated from that "death defying" cobbler, let's take a peek into In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis, © 1988 1st ed.
Long before the mantra of fresh and seasonal captured us all with its born-again, near-evangelical fervor, Lewis's mother, her aunt Jenny Hailstalk, and all the other women of Freetown knew instinctively that in the spring you made skinny wild asparagus and shad; summer brought corn, tomatoes, and every imaginable berry; fall meant game and apples; and winter was the time to bake and cook like crazy in preparation for the biggest feast of all, Christmas. Although Lewis left Freetown at 16 and moved to New York, she never forgot where she came from.(source)
It seems rather befitting that Edna Lewis was born in the Spring. Don't you think? From the jacket cover:
Edna Lewis, whose name has become synonymous with honest American food, simply and lovingly prepared, gives us the secrets of a lifetime in pursuit of flavor...
Following the seasons, Edna Lewis leads us through the chapters of this book-From the Gardens and Orchards, From the Farmyard, From the Lakes, Streams and Oceans, For the Cupboard, From the Bread Oven and Griddle, and The Good Taste of Old Fashioned Desserts-and drawing on her childhood in Freetown, Virginia, a farming community founded by her grandfather and his friends after emancipation, she recreates some of the simple good dishes she grew up on.
...I feel fortunate to have been raised at a time when the vegetables from the garden, the fruit from the orchard, and the meat from the smokehouse were all good and pure, unadulterated by chemicals and long-life packaging...
I have noticed that as people get older, they're apt to complain that food simply does not taste as good as it used to. I don't believe this has to be true...One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been that I have never stopped learning about good cooking and good food. some of the recipes here are old friends, others are new discoveries. All represent a lifetime spent in the pursuit of good flavor.
I've chosen some recipes that I either didn't find available online or were very scarce. Here's a very simple recipe for Morels in Oil with commentary from Edna Lewis:
I think this is my favorite way to serve wild mushrooms. The flavor is heightened by the garlic and oil. I cook only morels this way because I do not think the texture of other mushrooms would hold up in the oil. They are a wonderful garnish with cold chicken, game, or veal, or a Bibb or Romaine lettuce salad.
|1-1/2 cups cold water|
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large blond or gray morels
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
|In a 1-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil, and add the salt. Add in the morels and cook briskly, covered, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the burner. (Save the liquid for a sauce or stew.) Place the morels in a deep dish. Add in the garliv and enough olive oil to cover. cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It is best to let marinate for a few days.|
How's this for ingenuity?
I often cook a pork roast or chicken on top of the stove because I find this way of cooking produces good flavor and tenderness that is different from oven cooking. Cooked in the oven, this same cut of meat would be crispy on the outside and have a very definite oven-roasted flavor. It would taste delicious, but I prefer the flavor when cooked on the stove. I add peanut butter, which blends so nicely with the garlic as well as the pork, and it tastes so much better than water alone. Its flavor is a pleasant surprise.
|3 pounds boneless pork roast, trimmed and tied|
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage leaves
2 tablespoons butter
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
2 tablespoons water
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted peanut butter
|Cover the prepared meat with a mixture of salt, pepper, ginger and sage leaves. Heat a 2-quart oval pot over medium-high heat and warm the butter in the pot until it foams. Add the pork roast and cook it, turning constantly, so that the meat is well browned all over.|
Lift up the meat and place the garlic cloves on the bottom of the pot. Put the meat back on top and lower the heat so that the pork will cook without burning. Partially cover the pot so steam can escape and the meat will not stew. Adjust the heat as necessary. Cook the pork for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced.
Remove meat from the pot and set aside in a warm place. Skim the fat from the pot, and remove and discard the garlic. Add the water and stir to dislodge the residue that developed during cooking. Cook over low heat, adding a few more drops of water as necessary. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to thicken the sauce and to add flavor. Season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Strain the sauce and serve with the pork. Serves 4 or 5
IMHO, There's nothing like the fragrance of yeast baked coffee cake. I just may put gloves on for this one!!!
"This coffee cake is rich but has a light texture. I think of it more as a brunch cake than a breakfast bread, and although it "takes a lot doing" to make, it's worth it.
|4 teaspoons active dry yeast|
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2/3 cup very soft unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup superfine sugar
2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
1 cup raspberry preserves
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup seedless raisins, cut in half
1 tablespoon melted butter
|Mix together the yeast, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the flour in a deep mixing bowl. Stir in the milk. Set the bowl in a warm, draft-fee place for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture becomes bubbly. Add the eggs and the remainder of the flour, mixing well until the batter is smooth. Add the softened butter and stir for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Turn the dough into a shallow bowl, cover loosely and chill in the refrigerator overnight.|
To prepare the filling: Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Have the beaten egg whites, preserves and chopped nuts and raisins in hand. Spread out 2 sheets of wax paper, about 22 inches long, so that the sheet nearest you overlaps the second sheet by several inches. dust both generously with flour (about 1/2 cup). work swiftly with the dough as it is very fragile. With a cake spatula, pry the dough out of the dish in which it was chilled. Turn it onto the floured wax paper and start to roll it out, using a chilled rolling pin well dusted with flour. After each roll. pick up the dough and give it a quarter turn. If it begins to stick, dust the sticky spot with flour. Roll the dough out into a rectangular shape, about 18 by 12 inches and 1/4 inch or more thick.
Brush the beaten egg whites over the dough to within 2 inches of the edges. Quickly sprinkle the nuts, raisins, cinnamon sugar and 10 to 12 teaspoons of raspberry preserves over the dough. Now roll the dough up in jelly roll fashion. To do this, lift up the edge of the wax paper closest to you and give it a quick flip away from you to start the dough rolling. Turn the dough about 3 times and then flip the far edge of the paper toward you to finish the roll. Grasping each end of the paper, lift the rolled dough, bend it gently into a horseshoe, and slide it into a 10-inch tube pan, 3 inches deep. Join the ends of the horseshoe by tilting the pan and shaking it gently. With a rubber spatula, lightly press down the dough so that the ring settles evenly on the bottom of the pan. Brush the dough ring with the melted butter. Put the pan in a warm, draft-free place (about 80 degrees F), cover loosely with a cloth, and leave until the dough has risen to within an inch of the top of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees for 15 minutes, and bake the cake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack to cool for about 12 minutes. before turning out onto a serving plate. Serves 8 to 10
Edna Lewis' mother, eager for the Virginia spring, would line up eggshells on her kitchen window and put a bean in each, along with a teaspoon of water. The arrival of April's first day of spring was a day of triumph when Mrs. Lewis could transfer the sprouted beans into the soil of her kitchen garden."Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine by Joseph E. Dabney)