I think often of Miss Edna Lewis.
I still read the opening to every seasonal section in her book, The Taste of Country Cooking, as we are about to enter into the next phase of the year. The picture book about Miss Lewis’s childhood life of harvesting and preserving food, Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie, is still one of Lucy’s favorite books. Soon, it might be Desmond’s too. Miss Lewis is an important person around here.
If you don’t know about the extraordinary words and food of Miss Edna Lewis — the granddaughter of slaves who grew up in the seasonal bounty of Freetown, Virginia, a chef in New York after a friend hired her to make the home cooking of her Southern youth in his restaurant kitchen, a cookbook author who paid attention to the details of nature and family, community and ripeness in her gentle voice— I highly recommend you take the 20 minutes to watch this small film, Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie.
“We lived in the country, so the first thing the women would do — they would go out in the early mornings and cut the greens or the cabbages, and pick the beans with the dew still on them. And then they would bring them into the house. We had to participate in all the farm work: feed the chickens, pull the roots from the garden. When the corn was ripe, we had to harvest it. My first memory of who I was? It was food. I didn’t cook yet but I lived among a group of women who were all good cooks…No one taught me how to cook it. I just saw it. Cooking was simply part of my life.”
This is, of course, the basic story of most Americans before the 20th century. Before the convenience of plastic-wrapped food, Americans in the countryside ate what they grew and put up the rest for winter. The idea of “farm to table” eating wasn’t a trend for Ma and Pa in the Little House in the Prairie books. There was no other choice. American food feels like a celebration of making do with what we have, when we have it. And when it was good, we passed it onto family and friends.
All recipes are stories, really. They may be written like a formula — list of ingredients and methods of preparation beneath it — but a good recipe is a story. It’s the story of how some kind of need became a food. We have too many zucchini. We have to eat it all week. There’s nothing but flour and salt and lard and water. What do we make? It’s chicken killing time. How are we going to eat them? It’s the story of a good cook, paying attention, using up everything she had to make food for the family. And it’s the story of how that recipe came to be written down and passed along to another generation.
Those are the stories we tell in our next cookbook, American Classics Reinvented. You won’t find any stories about us and our lives in this book. This isn’t chef food. These aren’t seasonal vegetable dishes. These aren’t crockpot dinners with fewer than 5 ingredients that take only 20 minutes to make. The food in this book is American comfort food, made gluten-free.
That means the dishes in this book, requested by hundreds and hundreds of people like you, are celebration food. This is the food of family reunions. harvest dinners, July parties that last outside all day, birthday parties, and church potlucks. The comfort food in American Classics Reinvented is just that — comfort. There is no food in this book that will help you “detox” or “cleanse” or lose weight. This is a book filled with Amish chicken and noodle, Cuban pork sandwiches, New York bagels, sweet potato pie, fried hush puppies, date shake coffee cake, and pigs in a blanket.
This is the food so many of you have been missing. There’s no need to miss your favorite foods. We’ve made them for you.
Because, here’s the thing. Having to go without gluten? We shouldn’t have to apologize or convince a family member that we’re eating gluten-free because it’s considered a trend. (That part will go away soon.) Having to adapt a recipe, make it without a key ingredient, using what we have instead of longing for something else? Being resilient and adaptable enough to use the recipes from our grandmothers and make them our own? That’s pretty darned American.
Good comfort food takes time to make. It took us 2 years to create American Classics Reinvented. It’s available for pre-order now. (If you do pre-order, save the email you receive. We’ll have a gift for you soon.)
Still, we don’t want to make you wait for September until you can start cooking the food from American Classics Reinvented. We’re excited to share some of the book with you now.
Our publishers graciously put together a PDF of the three most-requested recipes for this book. Cherry pie. Red velvet cake. And fried chicken.
When we thought of that fried chicken, we knew we had to make Edna Lewis’ fried chicken, but without gluten. It’s treat food, to be sure, more than worth the wait. (You can see it on the cover of the book.)
In the PDF, you’ll also get the formula for our all-purpose flour and our grain-free flour, which we have not made available until today. You can use both those flours interchangeably in every recipe in the book.
Click on this link to go right to the PDF of recipes and download them today. If you make some, we’d love to hear about it. Tag photos of it on social media with the hashtag #GFGAmerica, so we can find you.
Enjoy that pie. Enjoy that red velvet cake. And in the spirit of Miss Edna Lewis, have a celebration with that fried chicken.
“And when we share again in gathering wild strawberries, canning, rendering lard, finding walnuts, picking persimmons, making fruitcake, I realize how much the bond that held us together had to do with food.” — Edna Lewis