In this posting I´m sharing with you the sucess story of a freed slave who published one of the earliest cookbooks released by an African-American in the US. It happened in 1881. Her name is Abby Fisher. She mastered the art of blending African and American cultures by combining the tastes of the two continents. Her unique dishes are quoted among the best US Southern cookings. After successfully testing her delicious Sweetpotato Pie I’m pleased to share the links to her story and recipe and to my Portuguese translation of it for your delight. Enjoy!
We are still hot on the trail of the year dedicated to African Descendants in the New World, which concluded in December 2011. And in this spirit, I am pleased to introduce my Treat of the Quarter: Ms. Abby Fisher’s Sweet Potato Pie. In preparation for the Month of the Woman, on this very last day of February — Black History Month — I wish to pay honor to this brave freed slave, who was for long time considered by culinary historians the first African-American to publish a cookbook.
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!
Best Regards, Irene de Souza Maputo MOZAMBIQUE
Sources: Site “blAckAmericanweb.com” posting – Black History Month – Abby Fisher Site “kitchen explorers” posting – Abby Fisher’s Corn Egg Bread, by Alice Currah, February 9, 2012. Site Jellypress posting – Beautiful Sweet Potato and Pie for Thanksgiving, by Laura Schenone, November 28, 2008. Site BlackPast.org posting – Fisher, Abby (1832 – ?).