Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original


Edna Lewis (1916-2006) wrote some of America's most resonant, lyrical, and significant cookbooks, including the now classic The Taste of Country Cooking. Lewis cooked and wrote as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, a community first founded by black families freed from slavery. With such observations as "we would gather wild honey from the hollow of oak trees to go with the hot biscuits and pick wild strawberries to go with the heavy cream," she commemorated the seasonal richness of southern food. After living many years in New York City, where she became a chef and a political activist, she returned to the South and continued to write. Her reputation as a trailblazer in the revival of regional cooking and as a progenitor of the farm-to-table movement continues to grow. In this first-ever critical appreciation of Lewis's work, food-world stars gather to reveal their own encounters with Edna Lewis. Together they penetrate the mythology around Lewis and illuminate her legacy for a new generation.

The essayists are Annemarie Ahearn, Mashama Bailey, Scott Alves Barton, Patricia E. Clark, Nathalie Dupree, John T. Edge, Megan Elias, John T. Hill (who provides iconic photographs of Lewis), Vivian Howard, Lily Kelting, Francis Lam, Jane Lear, Deborah Madison, Kim Severson, Ruth Lewis Smith, Toni Tipton-Martin, Michael W. Twitty, Alice Waters, Kevin West, Susan Rebecca White, Caroline Randall Williams, and Joe Yonan. Editor Sara B. Franklin provides an illuminating introduction to Lewis, and the volume closes graciously with afterwords by Lewis's sister, Ruth Lewis Smith, and niece, Nina Williams-Mbengue.


Kim Severson

Death is the only sure measure of a person’s worth. If you’ve lost somebody, you understand this. There you are at your grandmother’s funeral, and someone you’ve never met before walks over and tells you about the day she stood up to a bully on an elementary school playground. Months after your husband passes, a note arrives in the mail expressing gratitude for the time he covered a friend’s rent without ever asking that the loan be repaid.

Only in hindsight do the bits and pieces of a life get uncovered, the parts coalescing into a new and more powerful whole. the good, strong, and brave aren’t always visible until they don’t walk among us anymore. Then, like the winning numbers on a scratch-off ticket, the worth of a life is revealed. the prize was there all along, just under the surface.

The lens through which a person’s life is viewed shifts with time. Consider Alexander Hamilton. He became a renegade hero to a generation of young people who drank up the Broadway musical in which the dusty story of America’s founding fathers was reimagined with black and Hispanic actors and set to a hip-hop soundtrack.

This is where we find ourselves when we consider with new eyes the life of Edna Lewis, which began on a Virginia farm in a small settlement called Freetown in 1916 and ended when she took her last breath in 2006 in a little apartment in Decatur, Georgia, a few days shy of her ninetieth birthday.

The facts of Miss Lewis’s life haven’t changed since her death. She moved through the world as an African American woman only two generations out of slavery. She was deeply committed to social change. She was an artist and a fashion designer, a writer and a cook whose reach stretched from California to Africa. Her life took her from the soft dirt fields of her beloved rural home, where gathering, growing, and cooking was a form of . . .

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