#FoodieFriday: Edna Lewis’ Traditional Southern Cuisine

By: Sydnee Winston, Project Coordinator

African-American chef Edna Lewis spent her lifetime celebrating southern cooking, and she published cookbooks that revived the art of refined Southern cooking while simultaneously offering America a window into African American farm life in the early 20th century.  Ms. Lewis was born  in April of 1916 in a Freetown, Virginia. She spent most of her childhood growing up on her family’s farm that had been granted to her grandfather, a freed slave. There, the family would gather and prepare food using improvised methods including measuring baking powder on coins.

Her cookbook The Taste of Country Cooking is considered a classic study of southern cooking and helped dispel the popular image of southern cooking as unsophisticated. In an interview in 1989 with the New York Times Miss Lewis commented that “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.”

During the 1940s, Miss Lewis left Virginia to relocate to New York. It was there that she became friends with John Nicholson, an antiques dealer, who opened up a restaurant on the East side of Manhattan. Miss Lewis’ cooking delighted the pallets of people who came to eat at Cafe Nicholson and the restaurant quickly became popular among bohemians and artists. Her cheese souffles and roast chicken were especially popular.  She worked at the restaurant until the late 1950s.

In the mid-1970s, she began writing her acclaimed cookbook and in the mid-90s she founded the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food.

Check out this wonderful documentary about Miss Lewis’ mission to preserve  and pass on the rich tradition of southern cooking to future generations.

2 Responses to “#FoodieFriday: Edna Lewis’ Traditional Southern Cuisine”

  1. Charlotte Goodson says:

    I celebrate Southern cooking…except for grits. Not only will it never be flavorful, no matter how many good things you put into it, it isn’t really a Southern dish. The Native Americans were the first to develop grits. (check your history) And you should check out how it’s actually made…corn kernels are soaked in lye to remove the husk, then it’s dried and ground.

  2. Emily says:

    Southern cooking may be the only authentic American cooking tradition. . . grits and all! It developed out of colonial settlement, and it involved the melding of Native American, African, European and other world culinary traditions and practices.

    Grits are kind of like pasta, bread or crackers, Ms. Goodson. Those starchy items without additions are generally lacking in flavor. Grits salted just so with some butter, so tasty! Same with pasta. Grits are just the vehicle and add some texture, creamy and/or grainy.

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