Aunt Julia’s Cook Book of African American recipes
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    Auction Finds

    Cookbooks: How I found Julia Child & Abby Fisher

    juliacookbook300I’m one of the tons of people who saw the movie “Julia & Julie” in August and then went home to make the signature dish “Boeuf à la Bourguignonne (Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms).”

    The dish turned out very well – minus the thousands of pots and pans I used and the mess I made. But I learned that you really have to love “full-bodied” red wine to really appreciate the dish.

    I usually go to the web for recipes that are not in any of my cookbooks. I didn’t have to do that for Julia’s recipe. I got it from the source:

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. Seventeenth Printing, August 1967.

    juliabookinside200I had picked up this edition with its original dust jacket at one of my auction houses a couple weeks before the movie came out. It’s in very good condition. The pages are clean, with a little wear but not much. I copied the recipe from the book on a sheet of paper to make sure I didn’t get wine or olive oil on it.

    I almost didn’t get the book. It was in a stack among a group of books on an outside table. While I was inside checking out the other auction items, the books were sold. I was so-o-o disappointed.

    Later, as I headed outside to put some items in my car, I saw it was still there, tossed to the side among other wayward books. The buyer had apparently taken all he/she wanted and left those behind. Could I be that lucky? I grabbed up the book and stood for a few minutes, waiting and hoping that the buyer wouldn’t come back and snatch this one from my hands. No one returned, and Julia came home with me.

    150Another of my most recent finds is not the actual cookbook but news of it, by a woman named Abby Fisher. She’s considered the first black woman to publish a cookbook, called What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. It was published in 1881 by the Women’s Co-Operative Printing Office in San Francisco. Fisher was born a slave and moved to San Francisco with her husband after the Civil War. She worked as a cook and caterer. In the preface to the cookbook, she talks about how it came about.

    The cookbook was reprinted in 1995. Recently, I met a woman at the African American Art auction at Swann Auction Galleries in New York who told me that she had bought one of the reprints. She went on to say that Swann had sold an original copy of Fisher’s book at an auction a couple years ago. Boy, did I miss that one!

    Now, I’m on the hunt for an original.  Especially so, since I’m a Southerner.

    I always comb through boxes of books at auctions, and cookbooks are among my favorites. I’ve come across paperback pamphlets distributed by food companies: Recipes for a Happy Marriage, Gulden’s mustard, and Brer Rabbit’s New Orleans Molasses Recipes (1948). From electric companies: Delicious Health-Defending Dishes, Philadelphia Electric Co.  From named chefs: Famous Italian Dishes, by Chef Hector Boiardi, as in the famous Chef Boy-ar-dee.


    One paperback suggests ways to serve Dolly Madison Ice Cream. In researching the pamphlet, I came across this bit of history of ice cream on the site What’s Cooking America. :

    “1813 – Mrs. Jeremiah Shadd (known as Aunt Sallie Shadd), a freed black slave, achieved legendary status among Wilmington’s free black population as the inventor of ice cream. She’d opened a catering business with family members and created a new dessert sensation made from frozen cream, sugar, and fruit.

    Dolly Madison (1768-1849), wife of President James Madison who was the fourth President of the United States, heard about the new dessert, went to Wilmington (Del.)  to try it. Mrs. Madison enjoyed Sallie’s ice cream so much it became part of the menu at her husband’s Second Inauguration Ball in 1813, as well as the official dessert of White House dinners. Her White House dinners became renowned for their strawberry “bombe glacee” centerpiece desserts.”

    Maybe the ice cream and cookbook should be called “Aunt Sally Shadd Ice Cream.”

    southerncookbook2One of my valued cookbooks is Southern Cook Book (15 cents, 1935) with a nice graphic of a black woman on the cover, and other illustrations inside. She’s a bit pudgy, but is not the traditional stereotypical black cook. It was published by Culinary Arts Press in Reading, PA.

    To read more about food and cooking, check out Fatimah Ali’s Healthy Southern Comfort blog.

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