Wednesday, April 13, 2016


They’ve called her The Julia Child of the South, but in my book – and I do have several of hers, she is in a class by herself. I’ve many of Julia’s books too, but I see the difference in them as Julia being classically Cordon Bleu trained, and Edna being classically home trained. More aptly, she was called The Grande Dame of Southern Cooking. I’ve written about Edna Lewis and my other favorite cooks and their books in one of my blogs. My favorite Edna Lewis book is In Pursuit of Flavor, and isn’t flavor the bottom line in cooking and eating?

Edna Lewis was born on April 13, 1916, in Freetown, Virginia, a community founded by eight families of freed slaves, including her grandparents. She believed in the basic connection of food to the farm, where everyday life revolved around the raising of food and its seasons, from the chickens and pigs to the fields and forest. Like many cooks of her generation, she learned how to cook in measurements of coffee cups, soup spoons, tea spoons, and the amount that would fit on a nickel or a dime. She learned to know what was available and fresh at the moment. This knowledge of what’s readily available has developed in to the current “locavore” trend in which chefs create the day’s menu from what meat and produce they can get close to home. As it was in the days before speedy, refrigerated transportation when Edna Lewis was learning to cook, this is usually means it is from within a hundred miles, and has been raised sustainably.

Lewis left Virginia when she was just sixteen. She wound up in New York where she worked as a seamstress, another skill learned in Virginia and carried on for her own wardrobe throughout her life. She became known for her wonderful food, and in the late 40’s she became the cook, and an instant success, at the Café Nicholson. When she broke her leg and had to give up cooking professionally for a while in the late 60’s, she was persuaded to turn her handwritten notes into what became The Edna Lewis Cookbook. The book has been called, by Craig Claiborne, no less, “the most entertaining regional cookbook in America” The rest, several cookbooks, many awards, and a U.S. Forever stamp later, is American culinary history.

One of Edna Lewis’ best loved recipes is the one for Yellow Vanilla Pound Cake. You can find the recipe on line at the Saveur website. Any readers familiar with Jan Karon’s Mitford series of books will remember Esther Bolick’s secret recipe for Orange Marmalade Cake. In the books, the controversial, perennially award-willing cake almost became a character itself. Working with Edna Lewis and her apprentice, Scott Peacock, Karon developed a recipe for the Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader. Thus fiction became a delicious fact.

An Edna Lewis Pound Cake  Wonderful!

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