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Jane Brodsky Fitzpatrick

chef and the “Queen of Creole cooking,” was born Leah Lange in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Charles Robert Lange, a caulker in a Madisonville shipyard, and Hortensia (Raymond) Lange. She was the eldest girl in a family of fourteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood. She was raised in the small rural fishing town of Madisonville, about thirty miles north of New Orleans. The family was poor, living mainly on vegetables from her father's garden. Her mother had only a sixth-grade education. In a 2003 interview Chase said that poverty, not segregation, was the most difficult experience of her childhood.

Chase s parents instilled in her a deep religious faith as well as the importance of family and service to the community They were strict and believed strongly in education She started school at age four Her father did not want her to associate with non Catholics so ...

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Marcie Cohen Ferris

businesswoman, chef, restaurateur, and community activist, was born Mildred Edna Cotten in Baldwin Township, Chatham County, North Carolina. The youngest daughter in a family of seven children, she was raised by her father Ed Cotten, a farmer and voice teacher. Council's mother Effie Edwards Cotten, a teacher trained at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, died at age thirty-four when her daughter was twenty-three months old. Mildred Council was nicknamed “Dip” by her brothers and sisters because her long arms allowed her to reach deep into the rain barrel and retrieve a dipper full of water, even when the barrel was low.

Council recalled as a significant moment the day in 1938 when her father asked her to stay home and “fix a little something to eat” while the rest of the family worked in the fields (Mama Dip's Kitchen, 2).

From a young age Council ...

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entrepreneur in the food service and real estate arenas, was born Lillian Harris in the Mississippi Delta. She made a small fortune selling pigs’ feet and other Southern culinary delicacies on the streets of Harlem, first out of an old baby carriage, later out of a steam table attached to a newsstand owned by John Dean, who became her husband. She multiplied this small fortune through shrewd real estate investments and retired comfortably in California, where she died in 1929. According to the journalist Roi Ottley, she arrived in New York in 1901 and first worked as a domestic. She soon began selling pigs’ feet in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan, which was then a large African American neighborhood (before Harlem gained prominence) and later became the site of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Duke Ellington immortalized the rough and tumble San ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

cook and laborer, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, probably in 1862 or 1863. The names of his parents have not been recorded, and it is not known whether or not they were enslaved at the time of their son's birth. Indeed, but for the discovery of a package of letters written to Channing Lewis by Alice Hanley, a white Irish American woman, his life would have been largely lost to history. The letters, enclosed in a black lace stocking, fell from the attic of a house undergoing renovation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in spring 1992. When workmen opened up a hole in the ceiling, the stocking fell. Its contents provide a unique perspective on the southern black migrant experience and on the everyday life of black and white working-class people in New England at the turn of the twentieth century.

The letters also reveal a far from ...

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Donna Tyler Hollie

chef, restaurant owner, author, and teacher, was born in Orange County, Virginia. She was one of eight children, three sons and five daughters, born to Eugene and Daisy Lewis. Her community, called Freetown, was established by her grandfather, Chester Lewis, a farmer, and other freedmen after the Civil War. Her grandfather's home was the site of the community's first school.

Although little is known about Lewis's formal academic education, she learned to cook by observing and assisting her mother and paternal aunt, Jennie These women cooked in the tradition of their African forebearers using seasonal ingredients frying in oil flavoring vegetables with meat improvising and relying on their senses to determine whether food was appropriately seasoned and thoroughly cooked For example whether a cake was done could be determined by listening to the sound made by the cake pan Wonderful dishes were created ...

Article

Robert Maxon

Kenyan herbalist, cook, farmer, and the paternal grandfather of US President Barack Obama, was born in Kanyadhiang near Kendu Bay on Lake Victoria in what is now Rachuonyo District in Kenya’s Nyanza Province. Onyango’s grandfather, Opiyo, had moved to the Kendu Bay region from Alego, north of the Nyanza Gulf, earlier in the nineteenth century in search of more and better land than was available to the family in Alego.

From an early age Onyango was characterized by a seriousness of purpose and a wanderlust His wandering off on his own and desire to learn led to study with specialists to become an herbalist Onyango s curiosity and thirst for knowledge also led him to leave his home for the port town of Kisumu Colonial rule was not established in the Kendu Bay area until some five years after the transfer of Nyanza Province from Uganda to the East Africa ...

Article

Yvonne L. Hughes

restaurant owner and chef, was born Willie Mae Johnson in Hinds County, Mississippi, outside of Crystal Springs, the only child of Zella Moncure and Oscar Johnson, farmers. Seaton grew up immersed in a rich southern tradition of hand-me-down, unwritten recipes and culinary techniques. She described her southern upbringing in an interview with Carol Wilkinson for the Observer Food Monthly in 2006. “I'm a country girl,” she said. “We used to raise a little cotton, corn, peanut, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. We'd get it out and fix it up good and then peddle it in Jackson, the state capital. I learnt to cook in my mother's kitchen and I've been cooking all my life. We had a stove kitchen with a warm-up on top and those old iron pots” (Wilkinson).

At the young age of seventeen, she married L. S. Seaton a Mississippi sharecropper ...

Article

professional cook, singer, and entrepreneur, was born Ernestine Caroline Williams in Nicodemus, Kansas, the seventh of thirteen children of Charles and Elizabeth Williams. The members of the Williams family were descendants of Tom Johnson, a former slave of Vice President Richard M. Johnson of Georgetown, Kentucky. In 1877 the Johnson family migrated and settled in the historic all–African American town of Nicodemus. The tradition of cooks in the Johnson and Williams families dates back to days of slave kitchens, when Vice President Johnson hosted a large barbecue for the French general the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. His slaves prepared over fifteen hundred pounds of barbecue meat for the event.

Ernestine grew up assisting her mother in the kitchen and learned to cook pies in a wood burning stove Her favorite pie to make as well as to eat was lemon meringue The recipe ...

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Psyche Williams-Forson

huckster, vendor, and entrepreneur, was born Isabella Wallace in Louisa County, Virginia, south of the town of Gordonsville, the daughter of McKaylor Wallace and Maria (Coleman) Wallace. Little information about her background is available. She credits her mother with having used business profits to build their first house, which burned in the 1920s. Following this tragedy, Winston's mother built another home farther from the road and spent much of her life caring for her livestock and attending church. Isabella married Douglas Winston—the exact date of her marriage is not known—and was widowed by age thirty-seven with ten children.

As head of household Isabella Winston bore the responsibility for feeding her large family Following a generational tradition she made her living as a waiter carrier as they called themselves meeting local trains and serving the passengers fried chicken and other foods In later years sharing her ...

Article

Marilyn Morgan

chef, restaurateur, and executive, was born Sylvia Pressley in Hemingway, South Carolina, the only child of midwife Julia Pressley and Van Pressley, a World War I veteran who died three days after his daughter's birth. After Sylvia's third birthday her mother placed her in the care of her grandmother while she migrated to Brooklyn, New York, in search of higher-paying work as a laundress. By Sylvia's eighth birthday her mother returned to Hemingway, having saved enough money to purchase a sizable farm and build a small home. Hardworking and determined, her mother and grandmother earned the community's respect, owning over sixty acres and serving as the town's only midwives. Their inspirational examples imbued Woods with “strength, faith and self-sufficiency” (Woods, 36).

In 1937 Sylvia met Herbert Woods and despite their youth he was twelve she was eleven they fell in love and vowed to marry ...