“There is no such thing as a new idea,” Mark Twain famously said. The same goes for recipes: Change an ingredient here and tweak a method there, and it’s yours. Toni Tipton-Martin was under no legal obligation to credit anyone else for the Lamb Curry in her new cookbook, “Jubilee: Recipes From 200 Years of African American Cooking.” Yet in introducing it, she tells how she blended elements of several different cookbooks to arrive at her own interpretation.
She starts with the requisite sauteed onions, tomatoes and complex spices for a traditional South African curry, tosses in diced green apples for a surprising layer of sweetness, and finishes with a splash of lime juice and rum as suggested in Dunstan Harris’ “Island Cooking: Recipes From the Caribbean.” That context prompted me to give it a try, and the friends I served it to can verify that the results lived up to the expectations. I’m hungry to try more.
In this beautiful follow-up to her 2015 James Beard Award-winning masterpiece, “The Jemima Code,” Tipton-Martin continues her lifelong quest to tell a deeply nuanced story of African American food that pushes beyond caricatures and stereotypes. She turns to her collection of some 400 black cookbooks, some dating back centuries, reflecting not only the ingenuity of impoverished field hands, but that of “the working class, the middle class, and the elite.” Her own culinary heritage defies the “Southern” and “soul” labels, having grown up in a Los Angeles neighborhood known as the “Black Beverly Hills” where her mom made healthy meals from a vast urban garden and Mexican fare was as commonplace as biscuits.
In “Jubilee,” Tipton-Martin dives deep into familiar hallmarks of African American cooking like cornbread and fried chicken. But she also weaves in techniques and ingredients associated with the African diaspora, and exposure to new cultures that came with The Great Migration — from Corn and Potato Chowder with Crab to Sweet Potato-Mango Cake.
Like the Jubilee celebrations marking the emancipation of enslaved Americans, she writes, “Jubilee” is also about liberation, resilience, and — for cooks everywhere — “the freedom to cook with creativity and joy.”
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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