Probably few American cookbooks begin with such dramatic lines as, "I was born in Murray County, Tennessee, in 1857, a slave…"

With February being National Black History Month, five more-than-century-old cookbooks by African-Americans, from The Feeding America Project of Michigan State University Libraries, will be featured.

Quoted information from the Feeding America Project is from essays by Jan Longone, Curator of American Culinary History, Clements Library, University of Michigan.

"Feeding America project is an online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The digital archive includes page images of 76 cookbooks from the MSU Library’s collection as well as searchable full-text transcriptions. This site also features a glossary of cookery terms and multidimensional images of antique cooking implements from the collections of the MSU Museum."

The URL for the Feeding America Project is:

"Good Things To Eat As Suggested By Rufus; by Rufus Estes, published 1911, is one of five works selected for the Project to represent the significant contributions of African-Americans to American cookery.

"For most of his working life Rufus Estes was one of the now legendary Private Car Attendants of the Pullman Company. In this book, he presents a brief sketch of his life from his birth as a slave in 1857 in Tennessee to his professional work with the Pullman Company and as a chef.

"In his foreword, the author tells us ‘that the recipes given on the following pages represent the labor of years.’ He goes on to explain that ‘their worth has been demonstrated, not experimentally, but by actual tests, day by day and month by month, under dissimilar, and, in many instances, not too favorable conditions.’

"And what recipes follow! Ranging from Apple Slump to Walnut Loaf, they include, among numerous others: Sheep’s Brains with Small Onions, Sheep’s Kidneys, Broiled, and Sheep’s Tongues; Candied Violets, Southern Corncakes, Coffee Cup Custard, Roasted Canvasback Duck, Kedgeree, Rolled Rib Roast, and Scotch Snipe. They also include ten Souffle recipes, including those for corn, Guernsey cheese, tapioca and tomato; and five kinds of Sherbet - Cranberry, Currant, Lemon, Lemon Ginger and Tea.

"This book has been little known as few original copies are available. In addition to its placement here, it was issued in reprint in 1999, thus making it available to all students."

Two of the MSU reprints from Feeding America available for purchase:

Good Things to Eat -

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old South Cooking -

Here are some recipes from Good Things To Eat As Suggested By Rufus. Many would work well in crockpots. Be aware, though, Estes wrote with the assumption of the reader having knowledge and experience with cooking:

CHICKEN GUMBO, CREOLE STYLE - For about twelve or fifteen, one young hen chicken, half pound ham, quart fresh okra, three large tomatoes, two onions, one kernel garlic, one small red pepper, two tablespoons flour, three quarts boiling water, half pound butter, one bay leaf, pinch salt and cayenne pepper. To mix, mince your ham, put in the bottom of an iron kettle if preferred with the above ingredients except the chicken. Clean and cut your chicken up and put in separate saucepan with about a quart or more of water and teaspoonful of salt; set to the side of the fire for about an hour; skim when necessary. When the chicken is thoroughly done strip the meat from the bone and mix both together; just before serving add a quart of shrimps.


VIRGINIA STEW - A half grown chicken or two squirrels, one slice of salt pork, twelve large tomatoes, three cups of lima beans, one large onion, two large Irish potatoes, twelve ears of corn, one-fourth pound of butter, one-fourth pound of lard, one gallon of boiling water, two tablespoonfuls salt and pepper; mix as any ordinary soup and let it cook for a couple of hours or more, then serve.


TOMATO SOUP - Put one quart can of tomatoes, two cups of water, one-half level tablespoon of sugar, one level teaspoon of salt, four whole cloves, and four peppercorns together in a saucepan and simmer twenty minutes. Fry a rounding tablespoon of chopped onion and half as much minced parsley in a rounding tablespoon of butter until yellow, add two level tablespoons of cornstarch. Stir until smooth, then turn into the boiling soup and simmer ten minutes. Add more salt and pepper and strain.


EGG AND POTATO SCALLOP - Fill a buttered baking dish with alternate layers of cold boiled potatoes sliced thin, hard-boiled eggs also sliced, and a rich white sauce poured over each layer. Cover the top with buttered crumbs and set in the oven until the crumbs are browned.


APPLES AND ONIONS - Select sour apples, pare, core and thinly slice. Slice about half as many onions, put some bacon fat in the bottom of a frying-pan and when melted add the apples and onions. Cover the pan and cook until tender, cooking rather slowly. Sprinkle with sugar, and serve with roast pork.


BUTTERMILK MUFFINS - Sift four cups of flour, one-quarter cup of cornmeal, and one level teaspoon each of salt and soda three times. Beat two eggs well, add a level tablespoon of sugar, four cups of buttermilk, the dry ingredients, and beat hard for two minutes. Bake in muffin rings or hot greased gem pans. One-half the recipe will be enough for a small family.


APPLE SLUMP - Fill a deep baking dish with apples, pared, cored and sliced. Scatter on a little cinnamon and cover with good paste rolled a little thicker than for pie. Bake in a moderate oven until the apples are done, serve in the same dish, cutting the crust into several sections. Before cutting, the crust may be lifted and the apples seasoned with butter and sugar, or the seasoning may be added after serving. A liquid or a hard sauce may be served with the slump. If the apples are a kind that do not cook easily bake half an hour, then put on the crust and set back in the oven.


BUTTERMILK CAKE - Cream three tablespoons of butter with one cup of sugar, add one cup of buttermilk, one well beaten egg, two cups of flour sifted with four teaspoons of baking powder and one-half cup of seeded raisins cut in pieces and rolled in flour.


RAISIN FUDGE - Put into a saucepan one heaped tablespoon butter, melt and add one-half cup milk, two cups sugar, one-fourth cup molasses and two squares chocolate grated. Boil until it is waxy when dropped into cold water. Remove from fire, beat until creamy, then add one-half cup each of chopped raisins and pecans. Pour into a buttered tin, and when cool mark into squares.


VANILLA ICE CREAM - Put two cups of milk in a double boiler, add a pinch of soda and scald, beat four eggs light with two cups of sugar, pour the hot milk on slowly, stirring all the time; turn back into double boiler and cook until a smooth custard is formed. Cool and flavor strongly with vanilla because freezing destroys some of the strength of flavoring. Stir in a pint of sweet cream and freeze.