Visit us on...

Email WebMaster

The Jemima Code (VIDEO)

A Presentation by Toni Tipton-Martin, Culinary Journalist, former Staff Writer for the Los Angeles Times and former President of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Cookbooks are one way women assert their individuality, develop their minds and structure their lives, but culinary history has been cruel to African American cooks. Their legacy has been characterized by dim, demoralizing portraits of “noble savages” managing the domestic responsibilities of white mistresses, and of lowly servants toiling endlessly in “big house” kitchens. Despite affirming examples of real, professional empowered, beautiful – slim – black cooks, it is still far too easy to associate African American cooks with the “toothy, grin- and calico-swathed plump face” belonging to the world’s most well recognized black cook: Aunt Jemima. For more than 200 years, the Aunt Jemima image has been powerful shorthand – the embodiment of America’s deepest antipathy for and obsession with the women who fed us. Signs of their talent, heart, and wisdom have always existed, but no one has ever been able to break through the jarring portrait of the south’s “old black Mammy” to find a seat for African American cooks at the long table of southern culinary history.

This presentation examines late nineteenth and early twentieth century cookbooks, recipes, and slave narratives to crack the Jemima code. It explores the small body of manuscripts and texts by African American cooks, which found their way into print between 1800 and the civil rights era, to tell a remarkable history that destroys a myth and reconstructs a new ideal. In this session, a modern cook with modern sensibilities looks beyond ingredient lists and instructions and puts on the aprons of America’s greatest cooks. Their stories reveal culinary competencies. Claim contributions to American cuisine. Make evident the technical, creative, managerial, and organizational skills they share with professionals. And, they introduce gifted and generous women who did far more toward the creation of Southern cuisine than simply kill the chickens, stir the pots, and wield spatulas like weapons.

Comments are closed.