It’s no exaggeration to say that Toni Tipton-Martin’s The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (2015) is one of the more important pieces of culinary literature to come out in recent years. In it, Tipton-Martin walks through over 150 cookbooks authored by black women in the States, women whose greater imprints on American home cooking have largely been ignored. It is expansive, exhaustively-researched, and vividly written.
Tipton-Martin was rightly showered with a number of accolades for The Jemima Code, including a James Beard award. Without her work, the names of many of the women Tipon-Martin discusses may have well disappeared from our memory for good. Case in point: Tipton-Martin’s book was one of, I don’t know, three books that even deigned to mention Princess Pamela and her 1969 Soul Food Cookbook, and I referred to it frequently when writing my profile of her.
Tipton-Martin has continued this labor of love since publishing The Jemima Code. Yesterday, she launched a GoFundMe asking for help on her project—she’s one book way from recovering the first editions of over 350 African-American-authored cookbooks stretching as far back as 1827.
As books fall out of print, they tend to become more expensive. So it’s crucial to continue supporting work like Tipton-Martin's, especially when it isn't exactly easy to secure funding for this scholarship through more traditional channels. There are few scholars whose work preserving America’s culinary cultural heritage is as important as hers, and I can't wait to see what Tipton-Martin does next.
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.