Ms Edna Lewis was born in Virginia in 1916, in a settlement founded by her grandfather and other freed slaves; Freetown. As Lewis mentions in her books quite often, it was in Freetown where she learnt the value of farming, cooking and sustainable eating practices. She was one of those humans that inherently knew that true contentment comes from making/cooking/baking it yourself, by hand, for the ones you love. Reading through testimonials and reviews, it’s so clear to see why Lewis was known and praised for her strength, generosity and calming warmth; ‘rolling out pie crust with a wooden rolling pin and crimping the pastry with her long, efficient fingers. She knew that real food made by hand means more to both those who make it and those who eat it. And she poured her self into her work because she knew that all you take from this life is what you give away.’ (Alice Waters)
Her books, mentorship to young curious chefs and her journey to her regal culinary status defines her relentless spirit and her quest to demonstrate the beauty of tradition and her great lust for authenticity, accountability, and sustainability. Lewis left Freetown to take part in doing various jobs around New York City (including being a seamstress to Marilyn Monroe), to finally landing a chef position at Cafe Nicholson. The cafe rose to fame for Lewis’s Southern cooking and hospitality - at a time (late ‘40s) where female chefs were few and far between and black female chefs were a rarity.
Individuals and cooks like Edna Lewis are the continuing inspiration too all who strive to protect both biodiversity and cultural diversity (Lewis by arguably being one of the most important black culinarian in the history of American food, championing, chronicling and preserving Southern food traditions.) through cooking within season’s produce and the value of communal eating.
Dear Ms Lewis, you’re kinda a badass, and thank you for being one too.
This butter cookie recipe (I’ve wrote it short hand and simplified) is from her cookbook, ‘The Taste of Country Cooking’. Adaptations that I took (and not mentioned below are, rolling the dough into a nut-sugar mixture, adding ground cinnamon to the dough and 2 tsp of vanilla extract). One thing for sure is when I have a little more time to play around with her recipes, I’ll be sure to write about them!
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 medium sized eggs, beaten
2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp cream or milk
1 cup granulated sugar (or ‘crushed cube sugar’)
cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
add in the beaten eggs, slowly and make sure the mixture is homogenised (if it looks curdled, keep beating, add maybe 2-3 tbsp of flour if it still looks curdled over a minute)
add the flour, ginger, baking powder and salt. mix to combine
add in cream and beat until dough comes together (30 seconds)
roll dough into a log (this is where you can roll the dough in any ‘nuts/sugar mix’ you wanted.) and wrap with foil or plastic. Freeze overnight
preheat oven to 160C. line a large cookie sheet, or two.
slice cookies as 7-8mm thick coins (pictured below) and place on the lined sheets, with space between each cookie
bake for 9-12 minutes. Cookies do not colour as much (don’t be fooled by the colour not changing!) Cookies should be be soft to touch but keeping shape when done.
enjoy your afternoon with a book, five of these, and a bottomless pot of tea