I am really proud to be part of this project! Wednesday I went down to the National Geographic Explorer’s Hall to meet Chef Jeff Henderson at a booksigning for the Pass it Down Cookbook. The book has over 130 great recipes from across the nation representing a diversity of approaches to African-based cuisine in the United States—African, Afri-Creole, Southern, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin, Afro-Brazilian, vegetarian, meat-atairian, traditional, contemporary, comfort based and health conscious recipes.
The cookbook is the culinary wing of a larger exhibit conceived in part by my hero Tavis Smiley to answer W.E.B. Du Bois’ question, “What would America be without her Negro people?” The exhibit–where I spent about two hours, was a succinct treatment of 500 years of African American history. It was intelligently broken down into themes–cultural, economic, socio-political, spiritual, intellectual–showing the impact and cultural force of people of African descent in the making of the American story.
As I walked through the exhibit I was immediately drawn in by the effort made in creating an interpretive mood that fit the different historical periods depicted. It went from a dim African past, full of glories and triumphs, but removed from our own time, to a dark and somber mood in slavery, to an ever lightening and brilliant future–I don’t know if lighting was part of the plan–but I certainly felt light and happy and proud of my people on exiting through the bookstore. I was shocked to see one of the wooden troughs I’ve often talked about being used to feed enslaved children, brought from a Louisiana plantation to sit in the exhibit cases. It was sobering to come face to face with something I’ve quoted but never really seen. From that trough to clothing worn by Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, to comprehensive short films on the Black religious experience and military service, to a recorded reading by Dr. King from his Letter From a Birmingham Jail to Etta James’ red dress and Prince’s purple guitar to Tupac’s poetry in his own hand and the typewriter on which Alex Haley wrote Roots; it was hard not to shed tears, laugh, and say some prayers while in that space. Thanks to everyone involved. No child–especially–especially-especially those of African descent—should fail to see this exhibit while it is in the Washington D.C. area. Please get the word out—this is not to be missed.
Chef Jeff seems larger than life but he was a down to earth, warm brother who encouraged me to sign a few books while I was there, so I initialed my essays and recipes in the text. He has a beautiful introduction to the work, and his “California-French” meets traditional Southern/African American cuisine inspired recipes are present throughout the book. Ramin Ganeshram co-edited the work reaching out to home cooks, chefs, civil rights leaders, culinary historians, food writers and up and coming youth in the culinary field. She reached out to me and I contributed an essay on being Jewish and being an African American living history interpreter and culinary historian entitled, “Finding My Way Home,” as well as a recipe for Okra Soup. (pp. 15-17) I also contributed an essay on the history and legacy of our kitchen gardens from slavery to freedom, “Plotting the Past and Future” (pp. 127-128) and a recipe for Antebellum Barbecue sauce based on my interpretation of a WPA narrative recorded in the 1930’s from South Carolina. (pp. 235)
A couple of people to look out for–scholar and chef Scott Alves Barton, the Duo Dishes blog crew of Chrystal Baker and Amir Thomas, Chaz Foster-Khyser’s piece on Community Gardens, Michele Washington’s mini history of Black food image icons, Ramin Ganeshram’s piece about her father’s immigration story, and Dr. Kenneth Willhoite’s unmatched recipes 🙂
top ten favorite recipes in the book:
Donna Daniel’s Sumac Roast Chicken
Catawba Cobbler (its a drink not a dessert)
Chef Jeff’s Slow Braised Oxtails
Thyme Sweet Potato Fries
Soul Food Museum Holiday Pecan Pie
New Orleans Style Friday Night Fish Fry
Patricia Lynch’s Buttermilk Cornbread
Ron Duprat’s Jicama Slaw
Antebellum Barbecue Sauce—(sorry I slammed it–see earlier post :))
For More Information: Check out these links…
• Pass It Down Cookbook’s official website – www.passitdowncookbook.com
• America I AM: The African American Imprint website – www.americaiam.org
• Chef Jeff Henderson, editor of the America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook, – www.chefjeffcooked.com
• Facebook: America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook
• Twitter: @passitdowncook
• www.amazon.com keyword: America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook