This is both a memoir and one of the most beautiful cookbooks ever written. Lewis, who died in 2006, was a great black cook who inspired a generation of southern chefs. She grew up Freetown, Virginia, a settlement established by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. Freetown’s half-dozen families lived by subsistence farming. They slaughtered hogs for country hams, maintained large kitchen gardens, and gathered wild fruits and herbs from the surrounding country. The chapters follow the labors and seasonal celebrations of the farming year. Recipes are arranged in typical menus: a picnic for race week, a wheat-threshing day dinner, and the greatest feast of the year for these grandchildren of slaves: Emancipation Day.
Lewis writes with a quiet dignity, sometimes tinged with wistfulness that nothing tastes as good as it used to. The simple, elegant recipes include definitive versions of southern standards such as spoon bread, coconut layer cake, biscuits, and fried chicken, as well as less common fare such as persimmon pudding, watermelon rind pickles, and hickory nut cookies. Originally published in 1976; Knopf released a nice 30th anniversary edition last year. 2006, 641.5975 LEW, 268 pp.