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Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis
Did you know?

A broken leg, which kept her from her work in a restaurant kitchen, inspired Miss Lewis to write her first cookbook. She wrote down her recipes and that hand-written collection eventually became her first cookbook.

Edna Lewis
Edna's Featured Recipe
Rhubarb Pie

Click here for recipe

Edna Lewis had a long and rich life that spanned most of the 20th Century, into the 21st Century. She was born in Freetown, Virginia, in 1916, a small farming community founded by her great grandfather and two other freed slaves. She and the other children in Freetown were educated in her grandfather’s living room, while Edna learned to cook alongside her mother and aunts. The food they cooked was always fresh from the gardens, fields, woodlands, rivers, and lakes nearby. It was simple fare but made with such care and devotion that these early lessons stood Edna in good stead for the rest of her life. She went on to become one of the best known Southern cooks of her generation and someone who cared deeply about preserving her heritage and that of all Southern cooking.

 

Edna left Freetown to pursue a broader life and eventually ended up in New York City, where she married Steve Kingston, a retired merchant seaman and Communist, and  where she became involved in political causes. She has said her work to help FDR get elected was one of her proudest achievements. 

 

She met John Nicholson, an antiques dealer, and in 1949 the two decided to open Café Nicholson on the East Side of Manhattan. During her five years as the chef, Edna’s cooking attracted homesick Southerners such as Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote as well as New York personalities such as Amy Vanderbilt, Richard Avedon, and Diana Vreeland.

 

Miss Lewis, as she was almost always called, went on to cook elsewhere and in the early 1970s published her first book, The Edna Lewis Cookbook. Edna and her book caught the attention of legendary Knopf editor, Judith Jones, who published The Taste of Country Cooking, the book that put Miss Lewis firmly on the culinary map. Her next book, also with Judith Jones, was In Pursuit of Flavor.

 

During her career, Miss Lewis lived and worked in both North and South Carolina as well as New York. She always returned to Manhattan, where she lived, and her last chef job was with Brooklyn’s Gage and Tollner restaurant, where she worked for five years before retiring in 1992. Around the same time, she and a group of friends started the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food.

 

When Miss Lewis met Scott Peacock, who at the time was the chef at Georgia’s governor’s mansion, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. She spent the final years of her life in Decatur, Georgia, where she and Scott worked and learned together, eventually writing The Gift of Southern Cooking, which was nominated for both James Beard and IACP awards.

 

Edna Lewis died on February 13, 2006, in Decatur at the age of 89.

Latest Recipes

Three-Layer Carrot Cake

If you are someone who loves their carrot cake, here is a great recipe for one that is easy and delicious. This recipe is exceptional with its ease and excellence. This particular cake comes out extra moist due to the use of peanut oil as the shortening. This is a secret of the Deep South, where they love to use peanut oil instead of shortening. Additionally, this recipe includes large amounts of pecans and some cocoa, which both aid in making the cake more flavorful with a broader texture to it. The frosting tops off this dessert. Don't worry if you feel there is too much frosting. It usually all gets used.

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Rhubarb Pie

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Spoon Bread

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Biscuits

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Boiled Virginia Ham

It is said that pigs were brought to Virginia from England during the 1600’s, and the meat developed soon became one of the most popular...

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Fresh Peach Cobbler with Nutmeg Sauce

Traditionally in Freetown, we always made a lattice top, rather than a regular top crust for peach cobbler. It was the great hot fruit d...

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Parker House Rolls

The cooks of Freetown loved making yeast bread. Rolls were particularly good for sopping up sauces or gravies from the braised rabbits, ...

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Cranberries with Orange Zest and Port

This unusual method for cooking cranberries produces a not-too-sweet sauce with chunky whole berries. The flavorings are very English and...

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Puree of Pumpkin Soup

When I was a child, the big orange pumpkins sold around Hartford were just for carving jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween. I knew pumpkin was ...

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Chicken Stock

A good stock is meant to support—not overwhelm—the flavor of a soup’s primary ingredient, especially a delicate one like English peas or ...

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Braised Beef Short Ribs

Miss Lewis was quoted once as saying, “I figured out a long time ago that beef has no flavor.” And while it’s true that she rarely cooks ...

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An Assembly of Southern Greens Cooked in Pork Stock

Miss Lewis grew up with a tradition of cooking many types of greens in the same pot. In Alabama, I am sad to say, we were “segregationist...

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Smoked Pork Stock

The authentic flavor of cured smoked pork is essential to Southern cooking. This rich stock is one of the best ways to bring that rich fl...

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Sweet Potato Casserole

This is a real Deep South sweet-potato dish. To Yankees it may seem more like a dessert, but the sweetness is a good foil to a salty ham ...

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Butter Beans in Cream with Country Ham and Chives

In the South, butter beans are a popular variety of fresh shelled bean— sort of like fresh limas, but in my opinion better! If you can’t ...

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Hush Puppies

Hush puppies, an essential component of fried-fish plates, are made from a cornmeal batter similar to the fritters, including eggs and ba...

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Homemade Baking Powder

Distressed by the chemical additives and aftertaste of commercial “double-acting” powders, Miss Lewis years ago started making her own ba...

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Corn Pone

Corn pone was a delicious equivalent of the ash cake and is legendary in our history. A beautiful poem was written by one of our early g...

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Cookbooks, etc

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