Abby Fisher's cookbook

February is Black History Month – a month-long celebration to acknowledge the historic struggles and accomplishments of African-American people.  Today, I would like to recognize Abby Fisher and Malinda Russell – the first known African-American cookbook authors.

Up until 2001, culinary historians have attributed Abby Fisher, a former slave, as the first African-American to publish a soul food cookbook in 1881.  Born in 1832, Fisher learned to cook in the kitchens of the plantations.  By the end of the Civil War, she, her husband, and their 11 children gained their freedom and moved to San Francisco.  She became a successful caterer to the upper class for her award winning cooking, which enabled them to open up their family business: Mrs. Abby Fisher & Company.

Fisher’s cooking specialties were pickles, jellies, and preserves which earned her praise and two first place medals at the 1880 San Francisco Mechanic’s Institute Fair for best pickles and sauces, and for best assortment of jellies and preserves.

Although she could not read or write, she authored the cookbook,What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.,” published in 1881 by the Women’s Cooperative Printing Office in San Francisco.

Malinda Russell's cookbook

However, in 2001, an older collection of recipes by another African-American woman surfaced that predated Mrs. Fishers cookbook.  Malinda Russell’s, “Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen,” was published in 1866.  Inspired by European cuisine, Russell self published a 39 page recipe booklet in Paw Paw, Michigan hoping it would earn enough money from its sale for her to move back to her home town.

Not much is known about Malinda Russell.  She was born a free woman in 1812, was a single hard-working mother of a crippled son, and owned and ran a pastry shop.  She learned how to cook as an apprentice of Fanny Steward, an African-American cook living in Virginia.  In 2007, the William L. Clements Library in Ann Arbor accepted and credited Malinda Russell’s cookbook as the first known cookbook by an African-American.

Today I would like to share Abby Fisher’s Corn Egg Bread recipe from her cookbook.  The original recipe was written as:

“Two eggs, one pint of meal, half pint of sour milk, one teaspoonful of soda, – beat eggs very light, – one tablespoonful of melted lard or butter, mix all together, well stirred or beaten.  Bake in an ordinary pan.”

I’ve adapted the recipe using modern measurements and instructions.  When I baked the bread early this afternoon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by how comforting and simple the bread was.  Bite after bite I couldn’t help but feel connected to Abby Fisher in a reverent way.  I hope you enjoy this historical recipe as much as I did.

References:

New York Times -A 19-th century cookbook gives a new twist to ‘soul food’.
Black PastFisher, Abby (1832- ?)
Black America WebLittle-Known Black History Fact: Abby Fisher
In the Kitchen - The First Known Cookbook by an African American Woman: History Speaks

Abby Fisher's Corn Egg Bread

Recipe: Abby Fisher's Corn Egg Bread

  • Prep Time: 5 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 15 min(s)
  • Total Time: 20 min(s)

A historical corn egg bread recipe by Abby Fisher.

Ingredients

    • 1 cup + 2 teaspoons sour milk (vinegar and milk combined)
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • 1 tablespoon melted butter
    • 2 cup corn meal
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

    • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
    • To make sour milk, add 2 teaspoons vinegar to 1 cup milk. Set the sour milk aside for a few minutes.
    • Combine and stir all the ingredients with a wooden spoon in a bowl until well mixed.
    • Generously spray an 8x8 square baking dish with non-stick spray.
    • Pour the batter into the baking dish. Bake for 15-17 minutes until the bread is set and does not jiggle in the center.

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  • http://www.thescramble.com Aviva Goldfarb

    What a cool slice of history, Alice! I’ll bet the cornbread would also be really good baked in a cast iron skillet. So glad to learn about these foremothers of ours.

  • Jessica Patterson

    Great article, Alice :) Very interesting AND it includes a soul food recipe. I wonder if any of Malinda Russell’s ancestors would be able to fill in some of the blank pieces of her history. It would be neat to find out more about her.

    • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

      Hi Jessica,
      You might want to read the NY Times article I linked in the references to learn more about Malinda Russell. I would love to know more about her – and it would appear historians would love to know more, too.