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Michigan State University

Cookbooks and Food History: African American cookbooks

Cookbooks are a valuable resource for studying social history, ethnic traditions, folk medicine, and gender studies - and of course, culinary history!

African American cookbooks

Earliest African American cookbooks

Between 1800 and 1900, four cookbooks are known to have been written by African Americans. We have all four in our collection:

African American cookbooks 1900-1960

Some early books with the subject heading "African American cooking" were actually written by white authors who included recipes they had learned from African American cooks. It can be difficult to spot these just from the citation (and there were no dust jackets with author photos during most of this period.)

Doris Witt's book Black Hunger: Soul Food and America has a Chronological Bibliography of Cookbooks by African Americans covering 1800 to 1998. You'll need your MSUnet ID and password to read this e-book if you're connecting from off campus.

Then search the MSU library catalog by author or title. Note that "cookbook" was almost always written as two words ("cook book") up to the 1950s and sometimes later.

Black Restauranteurs

Leah Chase (Dooky Chase's, New Orleans)

Mildred Council (Mama Dip's Country Kitchen, Chapel Hill, NC)

Buster Holmes (Buster Holmes' Restaurant, New Orleans)

Sylvia Woods (Sylvia's Soul Food, New York City)

African American cookbooks 1960-present

We have more than 200 African American cookbooks published since 1960. Unlike the earlier time periods, you can safely assume that a book on African American cooking written after the civil rights movement is by an African American author.

Search the MSU library catalog.

  • Limit to Special Collections.
  • Keyword search african american cooking.
  • Sort your results by date

(Note that your results will include a few recent reprints of older works.)

Edna Lewis

Screenshot of New York Times article on Edna Lewis

We have all four of Edna Lewis's cookbooks in Special Collections.

She also appears briefly in a video cookbook by B. Smith.

Read the New York Times article featured above.