Long before Jessica B. Harris published High on the Hog or Michael Twitty wrote The Cooking Gene, and before other enlightening books and documentaries on African-American foodways emerged, there were Norma Jean (b.1940) and Carole Darden (b. 1945).
They weren’t the very first, of course; cookbooks by Black authors in America go back to at least the 1860s, but these two remarkable sisters were among the earliest to bring together cookery and family history.
Norma Jean had a successful modeling career, and her sister Carole was a social worker of some standing. Their private passion, however, was food, and they started a catering service and restaurants in New York City. In the 1960s the Dardens began to locate their scattered relatives, to correspond with them, to meet many of them, and to collect recipes and related lore. In the process they gained an education in a host of local food traditions.
A magazine editor persuaded them to share their family stories and recipes, and the resulting book was published in 1978. Following extensive research, they accumulated a large number of early photographs of their forebears and their far flung cousins, as well as group pictures of communal cooking and dining, which they placed throughout the text, bringing real life to this absorbing account of varied but kindred foodways.
Lots of good cooking here but ever so many stories. Never lost through time, struggle, or relocation was the value of good, sturdy food, made at home and consumed in company. Whether it was the wines made by family patriarch Charles Henry Darden; Great Aunt Norma’s grits or, for some, a plate of scrambled brains; Aunt Annie’s sweet potato biscuits; cracklin’ bread from cousin Artelia Darden; or, from the kitchen of Norma Jean and Carole’s mother, Mamie Jean Sampson Darden, cold buttermilk soup, and a dozen or more heavenly confections. It all adds up to make this a read-in-bed book, as well as a kitchen companion.
Hardcover copies of this attractive book are no longer commonplace, so we are proud to be able to offer an unused volume in crisp, clean Near Fine condition. We are especially pleased that our copy was signed in the store many years ago. Norma Jean had dropped in to visit us and signed both for herself and for her sister. The dust jacket is Very Good. We are not aware of any other signed copies presently available.