Honoring Black History and the Month of the Woman
Irene de Souza
Independent Consultant, now working for the Uniersity of Florida
In fact the earliest cookery book published by an African American appeared in 1866, wrote and self-published by Malinda Russell, herself a freed slave, too.
Abby Fisher was born in South Carolina in 1832 and learned to cook in the farmer’s kitchens. She was married and had 11 children. After obtaining her freedom, the family moved to San Francisco and Abby became a successful cater and award-winning cook. The Fishers managed to open a family business, the ‘Mrs. Abby Fisher & Company’, a big achievement as a person and as a woman.
Despite being illiterate, Abby dictated her recipe book to an amanuensis and had it published in 1881 under the name “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.,” by the Women’s Cooperative Printing Office, in San Francisco.
I was doing one of my searches for recipes using Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes and ran across this amazing story behind an ancestral recipe. The site dedicated to ‘Old Recipes Modern Life’run by Laura Schenone and Nancy Ring published Abby Fisher’s story and a modern version of the 1881 original Sweet Potato Pie recipe.
I fell touched by the story because I am Brazilian-born of African descendant. I share a past similar to Abby’s, replicated in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. I always wanted to publish my Mother recipes and planned to work with her because she suffered from dyslexia. She came from Brazil´s central state of Minas Gerais, where her Grandmother benefitted from the Free Womb Law in 1871 that freed unborn slaves. Like Abby, the women of my family also learned to cook in the big farm kitchens. They passed on their recipes through oral tradition. Unfortunately, my Mother passed away in 2005, before we could work on the recipe cookbook project.
By disseminating Abby’s story and preparing a sweet potato pie from her recipe, I feel like paying honor to those hard-working and creative slaves who made a difference in their time and left us a precious and delicious heritage: ‘Soul Food’, dishes with a flavor of Africa.
Enjoy Abby Fisher’s Sweet Potato Pie!
- English version available at Jellypress – Old Recipes Modern Life
- Laura Schenone’s reading of Abby’s recipe I adapted, translated into Portuguese and tested is available for download in this folder
My attempt went very well. Please check it out!
Irene de Souza
Site “blAckAmericanweb.com” posting – Black History Month - Abby Fisher