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The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro.

The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro by the National Council of Negro Women Beacon Press, October 2000, $18.00, ISBN 0-807-00964-4

Comprehending the food traditions of a people goes a long way toward understanding their journey. It was with that in mind that the National Council of Negro Women undertook its first cookbook in 1958. It was not to explain our varied cuisines to others so much as to teach African Americans about our own history and to help us pass on that knowledge.

In years since, NCNW successfully published the Black Family Reunion cookbook series but left this one to collectors and libraries. Now, the Council and Beacon have brought the book to new generations by reprinting it in its original format. It has a fresh foreword by Dorothy Height, the council chair and president emerita, who helped create the cookbook 42 years ago.

Anne Lieberman Bower, associate professor of English at Ohio State University at Marion, who first researched the book at Radcliffe years earlier, updates the historical context in a new introduction. The latest version concludes with her user's guide, to correct some original errors and adapt some recipes to modern methods or ingredients.

Sue Bailey Thurman, the editor four decades ago, was the wife of Howard Thurman, the noted theologian and spiritual advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Mrs. Thurman, a graduate of Oberlin College, traveled extensively with her husband in the 1930s and in her own right worked with such figures as Mahatma Gandhi and the NCNW founder Mary McLeod Bethune.

Mrs. Thurman's broad vision led her to organize the book, not by foods or culinary categories, but by events, birthdays and anniversaries throughout the calendar year, beginning with January's "Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake" -- a simple coffee cake with blueberries and honey. A note assures us that recipes for that occasion, traditionally celebrated New Year's Day, came from "the oldest files of Negro families" in six regions.

Among other treasures are a half-dozen of George Washington Carver's peanut recipes and another half-dozen of his sweet potato recipes -- some of the hundreds of uses for these commodities that spared many Southerners from economic misery.

The reprinting of long-forgotten delicacies like Mugwamp in a Hole, Delta Jabberwock Ice Cream Cake, Chicken Brunswick Stew, Nat Turner Crackling Bread and Wandering Pilgrim's Stew deepens our knowledge of recipes that were seldom passed down or limited to certain regions.

Most delightful, however, are the little nuggets of history and documents sprinkled throughout the text. They include a letter from George Washington to Phillis Wheatley praising her poetry; an 1833 ad for a boarding school for "little Misses of color;" an essay from an acquaintance of Harriet Tubman; and a poem by the blues composer, W.C. Handy.

Angela Dodson, a BIBR contributing editor, lives in New Jersey.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Dodson, Angela
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2001
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