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Swapping recipes: popular community cookbooks keep African American culinary traditions alive.

How did we first learn how to cook? For most of us, our earliest memories of preparing meals come from sitting at the feet of our mothers and grandmothers. The recipes we grew to know and love were passed down through the generations, rarely written down and often improvised and adapted over the years.

That tradition of sharing recipes orally evolved into the swapping of recipe cards, and then, community cookbooks. What often began as crudely fashioned collections intended to keep the memory and traditions of family cuisine alive expanded to include recipes shared by neighbors, friends, and members of church groups and civic organizations. Along the way, these cookbooks also became an important source of revenue for nonprofit organizations, family reunions and other social events.

Part of the fun of community cookbooks is that you would be hard-pressed to find most of them in bookstores; many have to be ordered directly from the source. They're worth the extra effort. What sets them apart from mass-produced culinary tomes is their hometown charm and history. In most, you not only get an impressive collection of recipes, you also get a glimpse into the lives of the people who make their books not only tun to cook from but fun to read as well. The following cookbooks represent the most well-known and recent offerings.

Charleston Receipts by The Junior League of Charleston, Inc. Favorite Recipes Press, March 2002 $19.95, ISBN 0-960-78542-6

Perhaps the most successful of all community cookbooks, Charleston Receipts was originally published in 1950. Distinguished as the oldest Junior League cookbook in print and filled with low-country cuisine pioneered by local Gullah cooks of African descent, it has since been reprinted and spawned a sequel, Charleston Receipts Repeats (Favorite Recipes Press, 1986, $19.95, ISBN 0-960-78545-0) and an update of the original, Charleston Party Receipts (Workman Publishing Co., October 1993, $13.95, ISBN 0-945-57584-X). Many of the 750 historic low country recipes in Charleston Receipts, such as Jellied Chicken Loaf and Baked Calf's Head, will raise a few eyebrows among modern chefs, but the cookbook as a whole is an enjoyable and entertaining culinary resource. Two to try: Likker Pudding, Chicken Country Captain.

(To purchase: contact the Junior League of Charleston, Inc., 51 Folly Road, Charleston, SC, 29407, or call 843-763-5284.)

Help Yourself! There's a God's Mighty Plenty: A Treasury of Recipes From the Cauthorne and Brooks Families by the Cauthorne-Brooks Family Association Fundcraft Publishing, August 2000 $19.00, ISBN 0-970-83250-8

This collection of recipes covers 150 years of cooking by the Cauthorne and Brooks families of Essex County, Virginia. Introduced by a detailed family history and a family tree, many of the recipes are preceded by stories about contributors, food memories, and helpful preparation and serving tips. Recognized in 2000 as a Special Merit Award Winner in the Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards Competition, Help Yourself! is filled with versions of many recipes you're likely to be familiar with and several surprising entries as well. Two to try: French Toast Stuffed with Ricotta Cheese, Autumn Medley Stew.

(To purchase: Send check payable to Canthorne-Brooks Family Association to P.O. Box 6009, Richmond, VA, 23222. Add $4 shipping and handling for one copy, $2 more for each additional copy.)

A Taste of Health: Dedicated to the North Nashville Community by the Nashville REACH 2010 Project Nashville REACH 2010 September 2003, $10.00

The easy, family fare submitted by North Nashville residents is designed to fit within the dietary needs of diabetics and people with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. All of the recipes feature nutritional information and substitute light and fat-free ingredients for their traditional counterparts.

While the number of recipes is not as extensive as many other community cookbooks, the tabbed index makes it easy to add your own recipes to the binder. Two to try: Heart Healthy Chili, Smothered Greens.

(To purchase: contact Tunu Kinebrew, Nashville REACH 2010 Project, 615-327-9400 ext. 334 or

Culinary Charms by the Atlanta Chapter of Charms, Incorporated, Morris Press May 2004, $18.00

The well-written recipes are easy to follow, and the book as a whole offers a wide variety of foods, from appetizers to main dishes and casseroles and desserts. A portion of the proceeds from the book sales is donated to the United Negro College Fund.

Two to try: Black Walnut Cake, Red Snapper or Shrimp Creole

(To purchase: Make check payable to: Atlanta Chapter, Charms Incorporated and mail to: Atlanta Chapter, Charms Incorporated, Attn: Cheryl Smith, 215 Pebblecreek Place, Atlanta, GA 30331-8069.)

Celebrating Our Mothers' Kitchens: Treasured Memories and Tested Recipes by The National Council of Negro Women Wimmer Cookbooks, August 1994 $15.95, ISBN 1-879-95823-6

This is a charming collection of recipes submitted by council members from across the country. Many of the recipes come complete with motherly advice and recollections from famous council members, such as Patti LaBelle, Alexis M. Herman, and Rosa Parks. Two to try: Rita's Potato Rolls, Mississippi Mud Nut Rolls.

(To purchase: Call Wimmer Distribution at 800-727-1034.)

Also from the National Council of Negro Women is The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro (Beacon Press, $20.00, ISBN 0-807-00964-4) Reprinted in 2000, this cookbook, originally published in 1958, is a fascinating collection of traditional African American recipes. Many of the recipes are written in a manner that assumes experience, but most are easy to follow. Two to try: Honey-Orange Bread for the Poet, A Glorified Roast.

(To purchase: check your local bookstore; also available at Melissa Ewey Johnson is a food writer and editor in New York City.

More Community Cookbooks

Deep Down in My Soul Cookbook by the Office of Black Ministry Archdiocese of New York November 2003, $15.00

Since 1976. The Office of BIack Ministry has sponsored events, programs and services that address the cultural, social and spiritual needs of black Catholics, as well as people in the black community. This simple cookbook contains some 200 recipes donated from cooks representing various churches, as well as some flora professional chefs and caterers in the community. To order, call 212-371-1011, ext. 2681.

Occasions to Savor: Our Meals, Menus, and Memories by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2004 $40.00, ISBN 0-399-15203-2

More than 250 recipes compiled by the sorority members offer suggested menus for an array of occasions, such as wedding receptions, book club meetings, Juneteenth celebrations, and prayer breakfast.

Other Noteworthy Titles

Cornbread Nation 2: The United States of Barbecue Edited by Lolls Eric Elie The University of North Carolina Press October 2004, $17.95 ISBN 0-807-85556-1

Published in association with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), this book takes a "serious" look at the traditions of barbecue, Elie, a food writer and a founding member d the SFA, assembled a wide range of writers and essays. As famed food historian Jessica B. Harris writes in her essay about barbecue and its Caribbean connection, "The only thing left to do is savor and smile."

Fried Chicken: An American Story by John T. Edge G.P. Putnam's Sons October 2004, $18,95 ISBN 0-399-15183-4

Edge, an award winning food writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University d Mississippi, spent a year traveling across the COuntry sampling fried chicken.

Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes From My Southern Revival by Alexander Smalls Harlem Moon/Broadway Books November 2004, $17.95 ISBN 0-767-91847-9

Originally published in 1997, this book by former chef of Cafe Beulah and owner of Smalls & Co. caterers includes a few of his favorite, celebrated recipes.

Hallelujah! The Welcome Table; A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes by Maya Angelou, Random House September 2004, $29.95 ISBN 0-767-91847-9-400-06289-6

Angelou shares several poignant memories and then delivers recipes that helped to make those times so unforgettable and special.

A Cookbook of Your Own

Interested in putting together your own community cookbook? Help is just a mouse click away. Several WeD sites provide services from design to production and distribution.

Favorite Recipes Press: Morris Press Cookbooks: Waiter's Cookbooks: Wimmer Cookbooks:
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Title Annotation:the welcome table
Author:Johnson, Melissa Ewey
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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