What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking; By Abby Fisher - San Francisco: Women’s Co-op Printing Office; 1881.

This is the fifth of the more-than-century-old cookbooks featured for National Black History Month. The books were selected by the Feeding America Project, of Michigan State University Libraries to represent the contributions of African-Americans to our cooking heritage.

It is also my favorite.

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

"That this book was written at all and that it has survived is a marvel. Mrs. Fisher, born a slave, somehow found her way to San Francisco soon after the Civil War and, by dint of talent and hard work, created a life and business there. She and her husband created a business manufacturing and selling ‘pickles, preserves, brandies, fruits, etc.’

"She was proud of a Diploma awarded at the Sacramento State Fair in 1879 and two medals awarded at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair, 1880, for best Pickles and Sauces and best assortment of Jellies and Preserves. - Mrs. Fisher seems to have been supported by many of the leading business and professional figures in the San Francisco and Oakland areas.

"Perhaps it was these citizens who helped her to write and publish her book as both she and her husband were illiterate. We are grateful to whomever it was that helped her to publish these splendid recipes. She hints that they were written ‘at my dictation.’" This may account for a few interesting variant spellings and names of dishes. - For example, her Jumberlie is obviously Jambalaya; her Circuit Hash was probably Succotash; the Carolas, Crullers; and the Milanaise Sauce used in her recipe for Chicken Salad is certainly mayonnaise. - This is truly a Southern cookbook: Beat Biscuits, Plantation Corn Bread, Creole Chow Chow, Sweet Potato Pie, Oyster Gumbo Soup, Ochra Gumbo, Chicken Gumbo, Boiled Turkey, and Jumberlie - A Creole Dish.

"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 Feeding America Project is on the Web at


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

Good Things to Eat, By Rufus Estes - http://amzn.to/1nwus0y

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old South Cooking, By Abby Fisher - http://amzn.to/1ihoKwb

Here are a few recipes from Mrs. Fisher’s cookbook (with original numbering). Generally, a tea-cup equal a standard cup; oven temperatures - Slow Oven is 300; Moderately Slow, 325; Moderate, 350; Moderately Hot, 375; Quick, 375-400; and Hot is 400-425.

3 - Breakfast Cream Cake. Four eggs beat light, one gill of cream to a tea-cup of sweet milk, one pint of flour, sifted, half teaspoonful of salt; mix cream, milk, and eggs together, well stirred, then add flour gradually until thoroughly mixed. Have your baking cups hot when put to bake. Requires ten minutes to bake in hot oven.

7 - Breakfast Corn Bread. One tea-cup of rice boiled nice and soft, to one and a half tea-cupful of corn meal mixed together, then stir the whole until light; one teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of lard or butter, three eggs, half tea-cup of sweet milk. The rice must be mixed into the meal while hot; can be baked either in muffin cups or a pan.

29 - Chicken Croquettes. Boil chicken very tender, pick to pieces, take all gristle out, then chop fine. Beat two eggs for one chicken and mix into meat; season with pepper and salt; make into cakes oblong shaped; powder crackers and roll them into the powder, after dipping them into two eggs beaten moderately well. Then have your lard very hot, and fry just before sending them to the table.

47 - Corn and Tomato Soup. Take a fresh beef bone, put on to boil with one gallon of water, and when boiling skim the grease off. Cut corn from cob and scald tomatoes with boiling water. Skin them and put both vegetables into soup, the corn ten minutes before dinner. Cut tomatoes in small pieces and let them boil in soup at least one hour.

50 - Lemon Pies. Take four eggs, one tablespoonful of butter to one and a half tea-cup of powdered sugar, rub butter and sugar together until a cream, then add the yelks of the eggs to butter and sugar, and beat until light; beat the white of the egg until perfectly light, and add to the others. Take two lemons, roll them with your hands, on board until soft, then grate peel of lemons and put into preparation, then squeeze juice of lemons into preparation. All articles in this preparation should be well mixed together and put in pastry, and baked immediately in a hot oven. Only one layer of pastry at bottom of pie plate.

53 - Sweet Potato Pie. Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

70 - Ginger Cookies. One teacup of molasses, one-half teacup of sugar, one tablespoonful of butter, one tablespoonful of lard, one quart of flour, two tablespoonfuls of ginger, one teaspoonful of cinnamon, one teaspoonful of allspice, two tablespoonfuls of yeast powder. Cream butter and sugar together and add molasses. Sift yeast powder and flour together and add to butter, sugar and molasses, then add lard and spices, etc., and work it up well. Roll out on a board, and cut them out and bake like you would a biscuit.

119 - Jumberlie - A Creole Dish. Take one chicken and cut it up, separating every joint, and adding to it one pint of cleanly-washed rice. Take about half a dozen large tomatoes, scalding them well and taking the skins off with a knife. Cut them in small pieces and put them with the chicken in a pot or large porcelain saucepan. Then cut in small pieces two large pieces of sweet ham and add to the rest, seasoning high with pepper and salt. It will cook in twenty-five minutes. Do not put any water on it.

134 - Corn Fritters. To one dozen ears of corn add three eggs, half a teacupful of powdered crackers, one tablespoonful of sifted flour. Cut off the corn very lightly from the cob say half of the grain and then scrape the other half clean off with a knife. Add the crackers to corn and beat together light. Beat the eggs light and add with the flour and a quarter of a teacupful of sweet milk. Season to taste and beat the whole light. Have your lard or butter hot when you go to fry, and drip the batter into the hot fat from off the end of a spoon, letting it fry quick and brown. Have young and tender corn. The fat ought to be hot enough to brown the fritters in two minutes.

140 - Stuffed Tomatoes. Cut off the tops of tomatoes, hollow the inside, and mix the inside that you take out with chopped up ham; bread crumbs or crackers powdered, butter, salt and pepper to your taste. Stuff the tomatoes full and replace the top close. Put them in a pan to bake in a hot oven for fifteen minutes.

151 - Chicken Gumbo. Salt and pepper chicken before frying it. Take a chicken, separating it from all the joints and breaking the bones, fry the chicken in one and a half tablespoonful of lard or butter. First well mix the chicken in dry flour, let the fat be hot, put chicken to fry until brown; don’t burn chicken. After fried put it on in soup kettle with half a gallon of hot water, one and a half quarts of green ochre cut into thin pieces, throwing the end away, and let the whole boil to three pints; season with pepper and salt. Chop half of an ordinary sized onion fine, and fry it with chicken: chili pepper chopped fine if added is nice when liked.

152 - Circuit Hash. One dozen tomatoes, one quart of butter beans, one dozen ears of corn cut off from cob, quarter pound of lean and fat pork cut in fine pieces, if pork is not liked, use two tablespoonfuls of butter; put on in a sauce-pan and stew one hour. Note. Five minutes before dinner put in the corn to cook with the rest of stew.

153 - Stewed Tomatoes. First scald the tomatoes in boiling water and then peel the skin from them, then cut them up in small pieces, cutting also one slice of onion fine in them; add no water; bread crumbs, one tablespoonful of butter, pepper and salt to taste. To one dozen of tomatoes, half a tea-cupful of bread crumbs.

159 - Cheese Pudding. Have mild cheese; grate half pound of cheese and half pound of apples, add to this half pint of sweet milk, beat four eggs very light, and add to the above. Before mixing apples with cheese, put to it one tablespoonful of white sugar; stir all well. Season with nutmeg, and pour it into a dish and put to bake, putting one tablespoonful of butter over it in small pieces. Twenty minutes will bake it, and send to table as a vegetable.