The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro was published in 1958 by the National Council of Negro Women. It was compiled and edited by Sue Bailey Thurman, who also served as the first editor of the organization’s magazine, The Aframerican Woman’s Journal, and founder of the NCNW’s Museum and Archives Department. According to the Council’s longtime president Dorothy Height, Bailey Thurman created the cookbook to promote awareness and appreciation of African American history.
This is no ordinary cookbook though. Rather than group recipes according to recipe type – appetizers, main course, dessert – or ingredient, the cookbook follows a calendar. Beginning with January 1st, “New Years and Emancipation Proclamation Day,” the cookbook progresses through the year highlighting different dates that have a special significance to African Americans. Some of them are commemorative events, like the Stewed Beef for Ghana’s Independence Day on March 6th, and others recognize birthdays of important people like Cantaloupe Pie on September 23rd for Mary Church Terrell. Each of the recipes includes an explanation of who or what the celebrated subject is and why it is significant.
So, we are going to cook through the book. Every other week we are going to choose one dish from the book and attempt to make it as close to the recipe as possible.
We will be providing our immediate thoughts upon reading the recipe, updating you on any unexpected or exciting happenings during the cooking process, and finally the results! Most importantly, we will be telling you all about the remarkable men, women, and institutions that inspired the book’s entries. We are historians by trade, so we will share what is included in the book as well as any additional information that we might know or find out in the course of our research.
New Posts will be made every other Monday. To learn more about our approach to the project and how we came up with the idea, check out our post “Welcome.”
Who are we and what are our qualifications? Well, first and foremost, we like to eat! In fact, we’ve been doing it our entire lives. When setting out on a yearlong cooking adventure, this seems like one of the most important requirements. Beyond that, we are both historians of American history, with specializations in African-American history in the 19th and 20th centuries, and both of us have been students or teachers for the majority of our lives. We will tell you a little bit more about ourselves in the bios below, but we’ll let you know up front that we both love stories from the past and sharing them with anyone who is interested.
Abena Boakyewa-Ansah is a professor at University of North Carolina – Asheville. Her research focuses upon Black American history in the antebellum and Civil War South, with a special interest in women, religion, and the formation of Black freedom during the Civil War. She is also passionate about the development pedagogical excellence in higher education, particularly as pertains to culturally expansive teaching.
Kayleigh is a PhD Candidate at Vanderbilt University studying American history, with an emphasis on religion and social movements. Kayleigh’s dissertation is a study of Sue Bailey Thurman, the editor of the cookbook, so she will be providing insights into the places where Sue Bailey herself comes through in the book and offer some insight into why she may have chosen the figures she did. When she is not working, Kayleigh likes to be outside spending time with her very cute dog named Abigail (who may make a surprise appearance, as she too, loves to eat human food).
We are thankful to our generous sponsors for making Plating the Past possible: