Sunday, January 17, 2010

Abby Fisher



I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then. ~ Langston Hughes


Abby Fisher, a former slave, established a pickle and condiment business in California with her husband after the Civil War. Their products were prize-winners, and the Fishers became very successful. Mrs. Fisher never learned to read and write; she dictated her recipes to an amanuensis (which explains some of the spelling) and her cookbook was published in San Francisco in 1881. As might be expected, the chapters on pickling and preserving are extensive, but the book includes all of the Southern standards.

Maryland Beaten Biscuit. "Take one quart of flour, add one teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of lard, half tablespoonful of butter. Dry rub the lard and butter into the flour until well creamed; add your water gradually in mixing so as to make dough stiff, then put the dough on pastry board and beat until perfectly moist and light. Have your stove hot and bake quickly. To make more add twice the quantity.”

Breakfast Corn Bread. “One tea-cup of rice boiled nice and soft, to one and a half tea-cupful of corn meal mixed together, then stir the whole until light; one teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of lard or butter, three eggs, half tea-cup of sweet milk. The rice must be mixed into the meal while hot; can be baked either in muffin cups or a pan.”

Ochra Gumbo. “Get a beef shank, have it cracked and put to boil in one gallon of water. Boil to half a gallon, then strain and put back on fire. Cut ochra in small pieces and put in soup; don’t put in any ends of ochra. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Stir it occasionally and keep it from burning . To be sent to table with dry boiled rice. Never stir rice while boiling. Season rice always with salt when it is first put on to cook and do not have too much water in rice while boiling.”

Sweet Potato Pie. “Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.”

Creole Chow Chow. "One gallon of green tomatoes, sliced thin, half dozen silver skin onions, sliced thin, one gallon wine vinegar, two tea-cups of brown sugar, one tablespoonful of cayenne pepper, one tablespoonful black pepper, one tablespoonful of turmerick. Put the onions and tomoatoes together in a keg or jar and sprinkle over them one pint of salt and let it so remain twenty-four hours, then drain all the brine off from them over cullender, then put the vinegar to them and add the seasoning, and put to cook on a slow fire, stir to keep from burning. It will take the whole day to cook; you can make any quantity you want by doubling the quantity of vegetables and seasonings here prescribed, or if you want a less quantity, lessen the proportion, say half the quantity, then you want a half gallon of tomatoes to begin with, and half of everything else needed in this chow chow.”

Jumberlie – A Creole Dish. “Take one chicken and cut it up, separating every joint, and adding to it one pint of cleanly-washed rice. Take about a half a dozen large tomatoes, scalding them well and taking the skins off with a knife. Cut them in small pieces and put them with the chicken in a pot or large porcelain saucepan. Then cut in small pieces to large pieces of sweet ham and add to the rest, seasoning high with pepper and salt. It will cook in twenty-five minutes. Do not put any water on it.”

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, at Michigan State University's Feeding America website (photograph of a plantation cook from George Washington University).

4 comments:

Rochelle R. said...

I checked it at the site, the pie chapter was very interesting. I imagine a coconut was quite exotic back then.

❦TattingChic said...

I love the poetry of Langston Hughs. I have one or two of his poetry books.

Thanks for the nice comment on my blog today about the tatted bookmarks! :)

Packrat said...

Thank you for sharing! You always find the most interesting items. I want to try the cornbread recipe.

Shay said...

I'm intrigued by the cornbread recipe, as well. Rice in cornbread instead of wheat flour, and make sure it's hot...interesting!