So many great souls have passed off the scene. The world has changed. We are now faced with picking up the pieces and trying to put them into shape, document them so the present-day young generation can see what southern food was like. The foundation on which it rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed—planted and replanted for generations—natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, we worked with love and care.
~Edna Lewis, from her essay "What is Southern"
Edna Lewis was born in 1916 in the African American community of Freetown, Virginia, near Charlottesville. Raised in a family that grew and prepared all of its own food, Lewis devoted much her life to cooking the simple, Southern cuisine that she loved. Her work took her from New York to Atlanta and many points in between. As the cook at Cafe Nicholson in New York, she served many fellow expat Southerners, including William Faulkner and Truman Capote. Later in life she authored several cookbooks, the most famous of which was The Taste of Country Cooking, first published in 1989. She spent her last years in Atlanta with the chef Scott Peacock, and they collaborated on Lewis's last book, The Gift of Southern Cooking, published in 2003. Edna Lewis passed away in 2006.
Sadly, we were not able to collect an oral history interview with Edna Lewis before she passed. Instead, we offer you Kim Severson's essay on Ms. Lewis, "Blood and Water", a chapter from Severson's memoir, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life. "Blood and Water" also appeared in the SFA's 2012 collection of food writing, Cornbread Nation 6.
*PDF: To download Kim Severson's "Blood and Water" in PDF form, please click here.