A celebration of African American cooking, recipes

Emily Heil

THE WASHINGTON POST- In her new cookbook, Jubilee, author Toni Tipton-Martin gorgeously shows the nuance and breadth of African American cooking, revealing its multitudes through recipes drawn from two centuries’ worth of cookbooks.

Jubilee mines the forgotten volumes Tipton-Martin unearthed in her 2015 book, The Jemima Code, to present dishes translated for a modern kitchen. Tipton-Martin, a journalist-turned-historian who was the first black food editor of a major daily newspaper, uses the knowledge conveyed by plantation cooks, classically trained chefs, entrepreneurs and butlers to reveal the range of African American cooking.

We talked to her about the book, her own holiday traditions – and her cookbook collection. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

Q: How did Jubilee come about?

A: My goal all along has been to draw attention to the invisible or marginalised African American food professionals who have been in our midst, in plain sight.

Pecan Pie. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Author of Jubilee Toni Tipton-Martin
Chile-Rubbed Roast Turkey. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
ABOVE & BELOW: Chile-Pecan Gravy; andTipton-Martin’s book ‘Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking’.

Sweet Potato Salad With Orange-Maple Dressing

I knew all along it couldn’t be contained in one project, and so we were strategic in planning several books that could help the reader develop the same appreciation that I had for these cooks.

Q: You talk in the introduction about finding within the cookbooks you gathered a “collective culinary IQ”. Tell me a little bit more about that.

A: The idea of a culinary IQ is the dexterity that we can see in these cooks.

They worked in one capacity all day and then they returned to their homes and to society that has marginalised them, and they are nimble enough to navigate both worlds.

The cookbooks prove to us that those professionals believe this food is theirs – it is their intellectual property, even though they prepared it at work and history has portrayed that as “white people food”. It has been misunderstood as not somehow representative of their food.

The example that I give is that we honour celebrity chefs today for the food they prepare at work. We don’t tend to anoint them with celebrity status for home cooking. A lot of what people are known for is their restaurant food or their cookbook food, and so all I’ve asked is that we apply that same standard to African Americans.

Q: So much of how we think about African American cooking through history is enslaved cooking or service cooking. Why is it important for you to talk about the joy?

A: As a food writer, I have had the privilege of listening to modern chefs and food professionals talking nostalgically about their introduction to cooking, maybe about how much they loved the aromas in their grandmother’s kitchen, or about the loveliness that we all as food people understand exists in the kneading of bread, or creating a nice, warm comforting meal. That story line didn’t match the story line that has historically been created for African Americans – at least in the written record.

Plenty of people have had an appreciation for black home cooking, whether they were African American themselves or whether they were the families that had a black cook in their home. They’ve understood, or have felt themselves, the passion I’m describing, but it just hasn’t been conveyed in the written word.

Q: Among all these cookbook writers, was there one you connected with or loved more than the others?

A: Oh, that’s like asking a mother to choose her favourite child! But there’s Freda DeKnight, who was the food editor at Ebony magazine. I think my allegiance to her is obviously the connection as a food editor, but also as a woman who was clearly aware of the environment in which she was publishing. She saw the ways in which African Americans were being excluded from the conversation, and she set out intentionally to tell the story of the black middle class.

Q: How did you turn often antique recipes into ones a modern cook could reproduce in their kitchen?

A: We gave a lot of thought to the best way to translate those recipes, knowing there were often missing measurement amounts or ingredients that were no longer available. But we reproduced the original recipes, too, because I wanted people to have a flavour of what those kitchens were like.

I tested over 500 recipes and chose those that either resonated with me personally or because they could amplify the story in a different way. So anyone who comes to this looking for a through line – like, what is African American-ness? – might be disappointed, because what I’m showing is the huge diversity within the canon.

We have had so many experiences within the American experiment. I’m hoping people understand that we are all free from the burden of expectations, and that we can create our own identities based on what is interesting and delicious to us. That’s not a new cultural practice. All hyphenated American cooking styles, whether it’s Italian-American or German-American or Jewish-American – everyone has had that flexibility, and we haven’t.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: A couple of things, but I’m working on my memoir right now, looking back at my food career: the obstacles, the barriers, the joys. And I’m looking at how similar my experiences have been when compared with my ancestors, despite what people might see as my success and accomplishments. A lot of it is what it was like to exist in the food world at a time when there was no diversity. We weren’t looking at the culture of food as generously as we are today. There was just less curiosity, there were no food-studies majors.

Q: You clearly love cookbooks. How many do you own now?

A: I think there are only two that I don’t have in first edition, and what we know from book dealers is that if those two do become available, it’s just going to be astronomical. After years and years of being a food editor, I can’t even tell you how many cookbooks I have. It’s in the thousands.

I’ve always kept them in different places around the house, but right now, we’re restoring a 1902 rowhouse in Baltimore, and it will be the first time they’ve all been in one place. The parlour is set off with pocket doors, and we’re going to house them there, so there will be an actual cookbook library. And then I’m debating what to do with that. It will be our home, but we’re thinking through how we might be able to make that accessible to the public.

Q: Since you’re renovating, I have to ask – what are you doing to the kitchen?

A: That’s going to be a really interesting adjustment. These homes were created for service: There’s a back stairs, and all the buzzers and bells are still in place. I’m thinking about retaining that concept. It’s contrary to what I’ve experienced, which is the open kitchen, that flowing connection to the family room that you have in new construction. During construction, I’ve taped over the bells and buttons that I want to stay in place. I haven’t yet threatened the lives of the contractors – but I might!

I think it’s going to create some new conversation for me, for friends and colleagues that gather in this house. It will be an extension of the work that I’m doing.

CHILE-RUBBED ROAST TURKEY

10 to 14 servings

Cookbook author Toni Tipton-Martin got this recipe from one of the rarest black cookbooks known to librarians, historians and collectors – a 1929 The Lone Star Cook Book and Meat Special (From the Slaughter Pen to the Dining Room Table) by Ataway Fillmore, a Dallas-based chef – which she got at an auction. Tipton-Martin was drawn to Fillmore’s use of Creole and Southwestern flavours and bold use of spices and herbs.

This is not the bland turkey of yore. Instead, it’s brash, flavourful, unapologetically smoky and spicy. A couple of hours before you plan to roast the turkey, remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

MAKE AHEAD: The chile rub can be made up to one week ahead and stored, tightly covered, in a cool, dark place. Leftover turkey may be refrigerated for up to five days.

INGREDIENTS

For the chile rub

Two tablespoons paprika

One tablespoon chili powder

One tablespoon ground cumin

One tablespoon light brown sugar

One tablespoon kosher salt

Two teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

One and a half teaspoons chipotle chile powder

One and a half teaspoons dried oregano

One and a half teaspoons garlic powder

One and a half teaspoons onion powder

For the turkey

One turkey, at room temperature

One small apple, cored and quartered

One small onion, quartered

Four large cloves garlic, smashed

Two ribs celery, preferably with leaves, halved

Two medium carrots, halved lengthwise

1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter

Two cups no-sodium-added turkey, chicken or vegetable broth

Steps

In a small bowl, whisk together the paprika, chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, chipotle chile powder, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder until combined. You should have about 1/2 cup.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the lower third. Using paper towels, thoroughly pat the turkey dry.

Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and set aside (you will need them for the stock for the Chile-Pecan Gravy; see related recipe). Using string, tie the legs close to the body, and, if necessary, tuck the wings under the bird. Place the turkey, breast side up, in a deep, heavy roasting pan fitted with a rack. (If you don’t have a rack, you can fashion one from aluminum foil: Make a ‘snake’ from a long piece of foil and coil it around in a flat, expanding spiral.) Insert a meat thermometer into the lower part of the thigh, being careful to keep it from touching the bone. Set the thermometer to 161 degrees.

Fill the turkey cavity with the apple, onion, garlic, celery and carrots. Rub the turkey all over with the oil or butter, then, using your hands, rub the turkey all over with the chile rub, making sure to get into all the crevices. Cover the turkey loosely with foil. Add the stock to the pan.

Roast the turkey for about two and a hald hours, basting with pan juices every 30 minutes, until the temperature reaches 161 degrees. (The temperature will continue to rise to 165 degrees while the turkey rests.) Remove the foil during the last 30 minutes to let the turkey brown. Do not baste.

Transfer the turkey to a carving board (or platter) and reserve the pan drippings for the Chile-Pecan Gravy. Let stand for 20 minutes – this is important as it allows for the juices to distribute and not run during carving. Slice the turkey and serve warm with the gravy.

Nutrition

Per serving (based on 12 servings and a 10 lb turkey): 580 calories, 63g protein, 6g carbohydrates, 34g fat, 9g saturated fat, 230mg cholesterol, 870mg sodium, 1g dietary fiber, 1g sugar

CHILE-PECAN GRAVY

10 to 12 servings makes about two cups

We adapted this recipe from Toni Tipton-Martin’s play on Chile-Pecan Sauce. We loved the flavour but missed our traditional gravy, and so a hybrid was born. With pecans, it’s a bit more exciting than you might be used to; the nuts add a sweet, earthy flavour to balance out the assertively seasoned sauce.

MAKE AHEAD: The gravy can be made up to three days ahead and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

INGREDIENTS

Three cups water, or more as needed

Giblets and neck (reserved from a whole turkey)

One small onion, quartered, plus two tablespoons minced onion

One rib celery, quartered

Two garlic cloves (One crushed and one minced or finely grated)

Half teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

Quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

Two tablespoons pan drippings from a roasted turkey

Three tablespoons unsalted butter

Two tablespoons flour

One small Scotch bonnet chile pepper, minced, or more as needed

One tablespoon chili powder

One teaspoon ground cumin

Half a cup pecans, toasted

STEPS

In a large saucepan, combine three cups water, the turkey giblets and neck, the quartered onion, celery, the crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer while the turkey roasts, adding water as necessary to maintain the water level. Remove the stock from the heat when the turkey is done. Strain the stock through a colander and reserve. Discard the solids.

Pour off and discard all but two tablespoons of the pan drippings from the turkey roasting pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat, then add the butter and flour. Whisk to combine. Add the minced onion, minced garlic, and chile, and cook, stirring, until softened, about one minute. Sprinkle in the chili powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for about two minutes. Gradually whisk in two cups of the reserved stock into the pan, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the sauce has thickened, five to eight minutes. Taste and season with more salt and/or pepper, if desired. Then stir in the pecans.

Serve alongside turkey, or refrigerate and reheat over low heat until warm.

NOTE: Toast the pecan halves in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH ORANGE-MAPLE DRESSING

Six servings

Serve this bright and citrusy salad as an antidote to heavier dishes. The acidic dressing keeps the sweetness of the potato in check and livens up the entire meal.

MAKE AHEAD: The salad and dressing can be made up to fourdays ahead, kept covered and refrigerated in separate containers.The salad can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to four days.

INGREDIENTS

Three pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

A quarter teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

Half cup extra-virgin olive oil

Two tablespoons maple syrup

Quarter cup fresh orange juice

Two tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Two tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Quarter teaspoon ground of freshly grated nutmeg

Half cup chopped scallions

Half cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Quarter cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Quarter cup golden raisins

Quarter cup dark raisins

Freshly ground black pepper

STEPS

In a large pot, combine the sweet potatoes and enough lightly salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, orange juice, vinegar, ginger, nutmeg and the quarter teaspoon of salt.

Add the scallions, parsley, pecans and raisins to the sweet potatoes and toss to combine. Gently stir in the dressing, tossing just until combined. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NUTRITION

Per serving: 450 calories,

5g protein, 63g carbohydrates, 22g fat, 3g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium,

8g dietary fiber, 22g sugar

NO-KNEAD ICEBOX ROLLS

24 servings

The dough for these delicious rolls comes together in a flash and, outside of rising time, which takes overnight and a few hours the next day, is simple and straightforward. Baking the rolls in muffin tins ensures a delightful presentation, as the rolls come out looking like small popovers. Serve with softened butter.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be made the night before baking and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It also needs a two- to four-hour rise at room temperature, then a secondary one-hour rise.

Ingredients

Quarter cup shortening

Two tablespoons sugar or honey

Two teaspoons kosher salt

240 millilitres boiling water

One package active dry yeast

60 millilitres warm water

One large egg, lightly beaten

500 grammes flour, plus more for your work surface

57 grammes unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the tins

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Steps

In a large bowl, combine the shortening, sugar (or honey) and salt. Pour the boiling water over and stir until the shortening is melted. Set aside to cool until lukewarm.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and whisk until dissolved. Let stand five minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the yeast into the shortening mixture until thoroughly mixed.

Stir in the egg, mixing well. Add the flour 125 grammes at a time, stirring after each addition until well blended. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set aside in a warm place. Cover loosely with a damp, clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, two to four hours.

Butter two muffin tins. Divide the dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two (12-inch) logs. Divide each log into 12 equal pieces. (This is easiest to do by dividing each log in half, dividing each half in half again, and eyeballing three equal pieces per quarter.) Roll each piece into a ball, then place in the muffin tins. Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Cover loosely with clean kitchen towels and let rise in a warm place until the dough balls reach the top of the pan, about one hour.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven.

Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes, swapping the tins from top to bottom and rotating them front to back, until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter immediately. Let cool about 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition

Per roll: 130 calories, 3g protein, 20g carbohydrates, 5g fat,

2g saturated fat, 15mg cholesterol, 95mg sodium, 0g dietary fiber,

1g sugar

PECAN PIE

Eight to 10 servings

A splash of vanilla extract adds a surprising and delicious flavour to this seasonal favorite pie and tames the sweetness while amplifying pecans’ earthy nuttiness.

MAKE AHEAD: The pie crust can be made up to three months ahead and frozen, tightly wrapped. The pie crust can be made three days ahead and stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. This recipe makes two crusts. You will use one for this pie; save the other for a future pie.

INGREDIENTS

For the crust

375 gramms flour, plus more for rolling

Three quarters teaspoon kosher salt

One and a half sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

Six tablespoons lard or shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled (can substitute more butter)

12 to 15 tablespoons ice water

For the pie

One and a half cups chopped toasted pecans, plus three quarters cup pecan halves

Two tablespoons vanilla extract

Six tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

One cup packed dark brown sugar

180 millilitres dark brown corn syrup

Three large eggs, beaten

Quarter teaspoon kosher salt

STEPS

MAKE THE PIE CRUST: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Sprinkle half of the butter and lard over the flour and use your fingertips, a pastry blender or two knives to cut and mix until the mixture resembles large peas. Sprinkle in the remaining butter and lard and cut and mix until you’re left with coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the dough with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and use a fork to lightly mix until the dough just comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the ball in half. Press into two 1-inch-thick disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling, or freeze for later use. You will use 1 for this pie; save the other for a future pie.

MAKE THE PIE: Place the chopped, toasted pecans in a small bowl and toss with the whiskey or rum until coated. Let stand 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle.

Over a generously floured counter, roll the disk of dough out to roughly a 13-inch circle. (As you are rolling out the dough, give it a quarter turn every so often and flip the crust onto the other side. Continue doing so until you reach your desired crust shape/size.) Transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan, then trim and tuck excess crust and crimp as you like.

Using a hand mixer on medium, beat the butter and brown sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Mix in the corn syrup, eggs, salt and vanilla. Stir in the whiskey-soaked pecans. Pour into the pie shell, and arrange the pecan halves on top in an attractive pattern.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes, until the filling is set but still has a slight jiggle in the middle. (While baking, check to see that the edges of the crust or the pecan halves aren’t browning too quickly; cover them with foil if they are.) Cool the pie slightly, then serve warm or at room temperature.

NOTE: Toast the pecan halves in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

NUTRITION

Per serving (based on 10): 750 calories, 8g protein, 74g carbohydrates, 48g fat, 18g saturated fat, 120mg cholesterol, 170mg sodium, 3g dietary fiber, 4g sugar