What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking


I have always been fascinated by food history and, in particular, Southern food history. There is something about knowing where your food comes from that excites me, as if I have been let in on a special secret. I’m not talking about just what farm on which your vegetables were grown or how your pork was raised, but really knowing how the dishes you prepare each night, the old family recipe kept locked away in a decaying book, the one dish that defines your entire childhood came into being.  There’s a story behind it all; a beginning, a middle and a never-ending. But nowhere can you find more history, a chance to glimpse at the daily life of yesteryear, than a vintage cookbook. These books to me are the Old Testament of food, filled with poetic preludes, kitchen law and folklore, nearly extinct ingredients and antiquated cooking methods. The pages call out to the reader, enticing, tantalizing, waiting for someone to recreate a dish or learn a forgotten technique modern kitchen appliances have made obsolete.

Most vintage Southern cookbooks were written by former matriarchs of large plantation families, while others by women of humbler means like those on the farms that covered the varied landscape of the South, and still others by the many city slicker Leagues of Atlanta, New Orleans or Charleston. However, for me, the most fascinating cookbooks are those by African American women living prior to 1940. Pages upon pages of dishes and recollections which followed their families through slavery and into the almost as cruel Jim Crow era.  It is in these books that we learn of their daily diet, the various plants and animals grown on their tiny plots of land, how they survived on little yet always seemed to perform the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes regularly.  You can almost hear them speaking to you as you read aloud the recipes written in their distinct vernacular. A history lesson wrapped in food, etymology, seasons and culture.

I recently stumbled upon the cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking through a friend of mine after discussing our mutual love of Southern food in an historical context. As we nerded out over our affinity for vintage African American recipes, it became apparent that I needed to add this lovely to my growing collection. Yes, I am becoming the crazy cookbook lady.

Abby Fisher is said to be the first ex-slave to write a cookbook. She had moved to San Francisco from Mobile, AL after the war with her husband and began to cook and cater for the various wealthy families of the city. With the help of the Women’s Co-operative Printing Office of San Francisco, Mrs. Fisher published her many recipes in 1881 which included dishes like Ochra Gumbo, Corn Fritters and Chow Chow. It is likely she had the recipes transcribed for her as it is said she was mostly illiterate.  Her story is now a part of Southern history and the food she cooked preserved forever in print for the next generation. 

And just like that, Amazon has notfied me that my copy of What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking has shipped.

Awaiting your arrival, Mrs Fisher. In a mere two days, my kitchen will soon be yours.



Attention Southern Writers and Journalists! Submission Call!

From Managing Editor of Twisted South Magazine:

“Twisted South is currently accepting submissions for previously unpublished short fiction, nonfiction, flash pieces/vignettes, book/album and music reviews, and historical essays. All work must exemplify an eccentric aspect of contemporary or historical Southern culture. Please limit your work to 2500 words except for flash fiction and book reviews which should be limited to 500 words. Book reviews should be on a book that showcases eccentric Southern culture or a Southern author. We like Barry Hannah, Rick Bragg, Flannery O’Connor, and Larry Brown, to name a few.

We’re looking for pieces that exemplify Southern culture whether it’s the sinister underbelly tales of obscure juke-joints to the cufflink charm of high-class aristocracy. We want pieces that speak to our readers in a voice that exemplifies the South’s hardships, triumphs, social attitudes, labors, humor and truths. If it’s eccentrically Southern, we want to read it.

Send submissions to: twistedsouthlit@gmail.com. Please include a brief bio of no more than 250 words with your submissions. Also, include the type of work you’re submitting in the subject line (short, flash, etc.). Simultaneous submissions are welcome provided you notify us as soon as the work is accepted elsewhere. Please allow 3-6 weeks for reply.”

Nutritious Secrets

My CSA was full of color this past week as we begin to transition from the cold of Winter to the rebirth of the land as Spring approaches. There is so much beauty in the vegetables and fruits grown on the farm, but the vibrant colors hold nutritious secrets. Secrets that gift us with life, longevity and in some cases, a healing touch.
photo (85)Speckled Butter Beans
Rich in protein, good carbs and fiber as well as iron, copper, folate, phosphorus, thiamin and magnesium.

Those with sulfite sensitivities found in processed foods will find that eating molybdenum-rich foods like butter beans may help counteract the effects of sulfites and decrease side effects like dizziness and headaches.

Sweet Potato 

A super food, rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C due to its dense, orange flesh.

The pretty color of this root veggie carries with it many health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, lowering of blood sugar levels and in a recent discovery, has proven to possess anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties as well.

photo (84)Green Squash
Rich in vitamin C, B6 and fiber due to the lovely green skin.

Although a starchy veggie, the green squash is full of antioxidants with links to blood sugar regulation. Leave the skin on to receive the most benefit opting to steam or sauté it instead.


This week’s box also included local winter greens, oranges and tangerines as well as mushrooms and beets. But these are three of my most favorite vegetables to eat during this transitional period between Winter and Spring.