The Jemima Code Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks


Women of African descent have contributed to America’s food culture for centuries, but their rich and varied involvement is still overshadowed by the demeaning stereotype of an illiterate “Aunt Jemima” who cooked mostly by natural instinct. To discover the true role of black women in the creation of American, and especially southern, cuisine, Toni Tipton-Martin has spent years amassing one of the world’s largest private collections of cookbooks published by African American authors, looking for evidence of their impact on American food, families, and communities and for ways we might use that knowledge to inspire community wellness of every kind.

The Jemima Code presents more than 150 black cookbooks that range from a rare 1827 house servant’s manual, the first book published by an African American in the trade, to modern classics by authors such as Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor. The books are arranged chronologically and illustrated with photos of their covers; many also display selected interior pages, including recipes. Tipton-Martin provides notes on the authors and their contributions and the significance of each book, while her chapter introductions summarize the cultural history reflected in the books that follow. These cookbooks offer firsthand evidence that African Americans cooked creative masterpieces from meager provisions, educated young chefs, operated food businesses, and nourished the African American community through the long struggle for human rights. The Jemima Code transforms America’s most maligned kitchen servant into an inspirational and powerful model of culinary wisdom and cultural authority.

 

Tipton-Martin is a culinary journalist and community activist, a coauthor of A Taste of Heritage: The New African American Cuisine, contributor to Culinaria: The United States, and editor of a new edition of The Blue Grass Cook Book by Minnie C. Fox. Her collection of over 300 African American cookbooks has been exhibited at the James Beard House, and she has twice been invited to the White House to participate in First Lady Michelle Obama’s programs to raise a healthier generation of kids. Tipton-Martin is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas.

“The history of food might be one of the richest stories in America’s history. Up until this point, however, some of the originators have been overlooked. The Jemima Code digs deep to unearth treasures and histories of black cooks, their books, and their recipes. We should all thank Toni Tipton-Martin for this incredible book.” —Marcus Samuelsson is the author of Yes, Chef as well as chef-owner of Red Rooster Harlem and Streetbird Rotisserie

“In this beautiful compendium of two hundred years of nearly invisible work by African American cooks, Toni Tipton-Martin changes the American culinary narrative. She reveals the Jemima Code as what it is: a systemic denial of the culinary contribution of the community that largely shaped the American appetite. I feel lucky to have this book on my shelf.” —Tamar Adler, New York Times Magazine, and author of An Everlasting Meal

“Toni has gleaned a complicated and nuanced story of African American accomplishment. By gathering African American cookbook writers under one set of covers, Toni has framed their labor, their vision, their worldview.” —Gravy

“Intended to shine ‘a spotlight on America’s invisible black cooks,’ many of whom were skilled project managers, entrepreneurs, and creative masterminds. . . . An appetizing new book, bursting with illustrations, how-tos, jingles, and rare archival photographs.” —Mother Jones