Written by Erica Taylor, The Tom Jorner Morning Show Thursday, 02 September 2010 18:00
A woman named Abby Fisher, a former slave from South Carolina, is the author of the first published African-American cookbook and the first cookbook published by a former slave.
Born in 1832, Fisher worked and came to know cooking in the kitchens of the plantations. Freed after the Civil War, Fisher and her husband, Alexander, gathered their 11 children and moved to San Francisco. Her cooking, especially pickles, jellies and preserves, would become an instant success with friends and the upper class. She would be known around town as “Mrs. Abby Fisher, Pickle Manufacturer.”
Mrs. Abby’s recipes were carried to local competitions. In 1879, she was awarded a “diploma” at the Sacramento State Fair, and a year later, she won two medals at the San Francisco Mechanics' Institute Fair - one for best pickles and sauces; the other for best assortment of jellies and preserves. Her recipes included Sweet Watermelon Rind Pickle, Jumble Cake, Green Turtle Soup and Hoe Cake. It is also believed that Fisher was the first to present the recipe for fried chicken and waffles.
Though she could not read or write, Fisher was encouraged by friends to record her award-winning foods to share. In 1881, Fisher published “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.," published by the Women’s Cooperative Printing Office in San Francisco. This is only one of the many businesses that Fisher would win the support of to encourage her cookbooks.
Fisher’s cookbook was known for its unusual spelling of dishes and ingredients that we know today. It was most likely because of her explanation of the recipes that someone recorded. For instance, she would call jambalaya "jumberlie." She refers to a dish called Circuit Hash, which was most likely Succotash, and the Milanaise Sauce used in her recipe for Chicken Salad is mayonnaise.
In 1984, a century after its first publication, a volume of the cookbook was put up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York. The book was purchased by the Schlesinger library at Harvard University.
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