Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now

Southern traditions kept alive in Edna Lewis cookbook

Sharon Thompson McClatchy Newspapers

In 1976, Edna Lewis wrote “The Taste of Country Cooking,” and it became a classic study of Southern cooking. She died in February, but she will always be an inspiration to those who treasure Southern cooking traditions.

The 30th anniversary edition of Lewis’ book has just been released with a foreword by Alice Waters. She said Lewis “had an irresistible generosity and honesty of spirit. She was far more than the doyenne of Southern cooking.

“She was, and she remains, an inspiration to all of us who are striving to protect both biodiversity and cultural diversity by cooking real food in season and honoring our heritage through the ritual of the table. By holding on to her values and expressing them in her life’s work, she set a shining example of how to bring beauty and meaning to everyday life.”

Lewis was born on April 13, 1916, in Freetown, Va., a tiny rural community founded in the late 19th century by three freed slaves, one of whom was Lewis’ grandfather. She left Freetown at age 16 and moved to Washington and eventually to New York City. In 1948, Lewis opened her own restaurant, Cafe Nicholson on East 57th Street in Manhattan, with antiques dealer John Nicholson.

Lewis also lived and worked in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; and Decatur, Ga. She taught cooking classes and in 1989 wrote the “Edna Lewis Cookbook.” “The Taste of Country Cooking,” in 1976, was one of the first cookbooks by a black woman to reach a nationwide audience.

“Taste of Country Cooking” is not so much about learning to cook Southern-style as it is about memories. Her book is sectioned by seasons.

A prepared-ahead summer dinner consisted of steamed chicken in a casserole, wilted lettuce with hot vinegar dressing, thin-sliced cucumbers marinated in sugar and white vinegar, sliced yeast bread, butter, blueberry cake with blueberry sauce, and coffee.

Here’s how Lewis prepared the cucumbers.

“Cucumbers grew abundantly in our garden all summer, and we enjoyed them every day during the season. We always served them in a very sweet and peppery dressing,” Lewis said.

Thin-Sliced Cucumbers with White Vinegar Dressing

3 medium-size tender cucumbers

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon finely cut chervil

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Wash cucumbers, leaving rind on if they have not been sprayed or waxed, and slice very thin with a sharp paring knife. Put the sliced pieces into a deep bowl. Sprinkle them with the salt. Mix a bit, and set a heavy bowl on top of the cucumbers with a weight on it so the cucumbers release their water. Put everything in the refrigerator.

After the cucumbers have been sitting an hour or more, remove them from the refrigerator and drain off the water. Mix the vinegar and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add to the cucumbers, sprinkle with finely cut chervil and return to the refrigerator until needed.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.