- Sweet potato pie from Abby Fisher, 1881
I was planning on giving you the recipe of my sweet potato cake but in between, i heard about Abby Fisher.
Abby Fisher was the first African-American known to have published a cook book. That makes ‘ What Mrs Abby knows about Southern cuisine, soups, pickles…’ the oldest book known written by a former slave.
Born in 1832, Abby Fisher worked as a cook in a plantation. Years later when she got freed with her husband and their 11 children they settled in San Francisco where her talents were recognized very quickly and enquiries from the San Francsican uper class were high.
Her reputation and catering company growing allowed her to earn a lot of money and open her own business ‘Mrs Abby Fisher pickle manufacturer’. Combining African and American cultures and the spices of both continents, and in order to have all her recipes listed somewhere she published a book that she had to dictacte as she couldn’t read nor write.
Very little is known about Abby Fisher after the publication of her book, not even the date of her death.
In 1984, 100 years later exactely, one of her book was rediscovered and put in auction at Sotheby’s in NewYork and in 1985 an editor published it for the second time making the recipes available for the new generation of chefs.
I attended a conference hold by Mr Robert W. Brower who is an independant culinary historian. It was fascinating. The book is scarce since most copies were destroyed in the fire following the earthquake of 1906 and so 2 scanned original books can be found online… Not very exciting… Reading a cook book online…
After Abby, I heard about Celia (actually, it was not the first time i heard about Celia) who has the chance to own one of those so rare piece, ‘the book’. Celia at ‘Omnivore’ bookshop in San Francisco had the extreme kindness to bring me ‘the book’ from her home. It was very moving, the size, the smell, the color of the paper… I looked throught the book imagining Abby giving me directoin on how to make her sweet potoato pie.
Another lucky one is Whoopie Goldberg to whom Celia sold her second volume of Abby Fisher’s book.
I made one of her recipe, the traditionnal sweet potato pie evolved since then but this one is the original, that proves that nowaday her recipes are still doable and it was airy, fluffy, delicious and beautiful, like this story.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 tbsp of butter
- 5 eggs (whites and yolks separated)
- 120ml (4 oz) of milk
- 1 tbsp of sugar
- 1 orange juice + the zest
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1 short crust pastry
Method : Boil the sweet potaotes inn water with the salt. Prehaet the oven to 350°F/180°C Meanwhile, zest the orange and juice it. When the potatoes are ready, mash them with the butter, set aside. Whisk the whites till firm. Add the sugar, milk, orange juice and zests, egg yolks to the sweet potatoes. Mix and gently add the whites. Pour your mix on the dough and put it in the oven for 35min, till the pie is golden brown. Omnivore Books http://omnivorebooks.com/