REVIEW: Are You Ready to Celebrate ‘Jubilee’?

There could be an inherent pressure that comes with Toni Tipton-Martin‘s newest project, Jubilee, since it comes on the heels of her James Beard Award-winning book The Jemima Code. It could’ve been that Tipton-Martin, who was the first food editor for a daily American newspaper at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, felt she had something to live up to when she began to research the new book which features recipes from two centuries of African-American cooking. But, there wasn’t.

Instead, it was more like the natural progression for the journalist and community activist, who has a collection of over 300 African-American cookbooks that have been on exhibit at the James Beard House and twice was a guest of former First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House to participate in programs to raise a healthier generation of kids.

“The material was so complex that I needed to ease it out a little at a time,” Tipton-Martin said in a recent interview. “You don’t eat an elephant all at once.” Indeed, while The Jemima Code is a history of African-American cooking found in–and between–the lines of three centuries’ worth of cookbooks by Black chefs, Jubilee is an adaptation of 125 recipes from those historic texts for the modern kitchen, with the originals and adapted recipes side-by-side.

The recipes are from a world of African-American cuisine–made by enslaved master chefs, free caterers, and black entrepreneurs and culinary stars–that goes far beyond soul food. It’s a cuisine that was developed in the homes of the elite and middle class that takes inspiration from around the globe and is a diverse, varied style of cooking that has created much of what we know of as American cuisine.

“Depending on how far back the recipe went, I had to flesh it out,” Tipton-Martin explained in an interview with Garden & Gun. “These are recipes that were written by women who believed everyone had the same understanding of the elements of cooking. So they were comfortable saying “Bake a cake in the usual way” or “First you make a roux.” Back then, they were the cooks and everyone they knew were cooks, so they thought, well, everybody knows how to do that. I had to try numerous versions numerous times to ensure I was getting their way right, not whatever my expectation or the modern reader’s expectations would be. 

“People can come to these recipes and say, “Well, that’s just a standard macaroni and cheese.” If I gave the recipe with the béchamel sauce, the way that a cook who had all day to prepare it would have, people wouldn’t recognize it.”

Jubilee has been praised by major publications and fellow chefs alike, including being called “one of fall’s best cookbooks” by The New York Times, Bon Apetit, Eater, Food & Wine, and Chowhound. Julia Turshen of Kitchn called the book “major and important,” saying that by providing recipes that cover so much history, “we will all get to honor generations of African-American cooks in our own kitchens.”

Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African-American Cooking: A Cookbook hits bookshelves November 5th, just in time for the holidays.

You can pre-order your copy here.

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