Repositioning the food of the American South: Sara B. Franklin on Edna Lewis's writing career

Oct 4, 2018

Photo: Sara B. Franklin (left), Edna Lewis (right)

As we planned our tribute episode to Edna Lewis, we knew we'd want to talk to her family, friends and fellow chefs. We also knew that we should visit with Sara B. Franklin; she is a food writer and educator who edited a wonderful collection of essays about the work, life and food of Miss Edna called Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original. Franklin is also working on a book on Judith Jones, Miss Lewis’s legendary editor. Francis Lam talked with Sara B. Franklin about the lasting effect that Edna Lewis has had on the world of food, particularly how it views Southern cooking and cuisine.

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original
Edited by Sara B. Franklin

In this essay, Miss Lewis positioned the culture of the American South, and the culture of the African-American South in particular, alongside the work of kitchens - the workaday, quotidian work of kitchens - and also alongside music, literature, painting, and other forms of art. For me, it was this incredibly striking moment.

- Sara B. Franklin on Edna Lewis's essay "What Is Southern?" (2008, Gourmet Magazine)


It's a massive corrective to so much of what had been written and what continues to be written, that the life of the American South and black culture within that large regional culture, large series of regional cultures, was one of just hardship and poverty. And that, even though these may have been communities that were financially poor, their life was rich and food was central to that life, it was not the only part of it, of course, and that it included bounty. If this community had nothing else, they always had food on their table, and lots of it. Things that we think of still as luxury foods - meats, cream, butter, foraged mushrooms from the forest, stuff that people pay top dollar for now - were everyday food by virtue of the life they had created for themselves.

- Sara B. Franklin on the cultural effect of Edna Lewis's book The Taste of Country Cooking

Church reunion, Bethel Baptist Church, Orange County, Virginia, 1971 Photo: John T. Hill

Judith Jones and Edna Lewis, Central Park, New York City, 1974 Photo: John T. Hill

Edna Lewis and sunflowers in garden behind Ellerslie Plantation, Lahore, Virginia, 1975 Photo: John T. Hill