The Jemima Code

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

“When we break the Jemima Code, America’s most maligned kitchen servant, Aunt Jemima is transformed into an inspirational and powerful symbol of culinary wisdom and authority — a role model.”   

-Toni Tipton-Martin

This isn’t a book of recipes, it is a book about books of recipes. It is about the people and the stories behind the books.  And it is a book that leads to more books.  And an outstanding blog.

Toni Tipton-Martin began her cookbook library with a Dover paperback edition of LenaRichard’s The New Orleans CookBook. Nearly three hundred African American cookbooks and many years (and internet bidding wars) later, Tipton-Martin says her “little rays of light organized themselves into the framework” of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, “and revealed an African-American kitchen arsenal, handed down orally between generations by clear headed, thinking cooks.”

Scholarly and eminently readable, The Jemima Code consists of 160 critiques of African American cookbooks published between 1827 and 2011.  That sentence does not come close to doing justice to how wonderful, interesting and visually engaging this book is.

She also wrote and published a blog to accompany her book, wherein she “put on the aprons of these authors, cook their recipes and tinker with the tools they used in search of an answer to the question: What can we learn from Aunt Jemima besides her recipe for really good pancakes?”

Engaging, meticulously researched, funny, charming, and inspiring, The Jemima Code answers that question and many, many, many more.

Also, after reading The Jemima Code, I dare you not to end up searching the internet, the library, or your local bookstore for copies of many of the cookbooks Tipton-Martin talks about. A copy of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl is winging its way to me as I write this.  Also, there’s a book coming out this April about Edna Lewis.  I could go on and on, but I won’t because you have probably already stopped reading this and have gone off to get your own copy of The Jemima Code because it is the best of all books, a book that leads to more books.

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