In 1972, the new headquarters for Johnson Publishing Company debuted in the pages of Ebony magazine. Its interior was replete with the design trends of the new decade: a color palette of orange, brown, and yellow in a variety of patterns, complemented by an art collection of nearly 200 works by Black artists. Every inch of the building was considered, including the Ebony test kitchen, a groovy, all-electric room that was then considered one of the most modern in the United States. The kitchen was used to test the many recipes that Ebony published in its monthly issues, which not only highlighted dishes that their readers should try at home, but also celebrated Black cooks, chefs, and other food-world figures.
These culinary efforts by Ebony are honored in the recently opened exhibition “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table,” on view now through Juneteenth (June 19) at The Africa Center in Manhattan, where the Ebony test kitchen serves as an anchor. Presented in partnership with the Museum of Food and Drink (MoFAD) and curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, an esteemed historian of Black diasporic foodways, the show is the first of its kind to explore more than four centuries of Black people’s indelible impact on American cuisine, from agricultural systems created by enslaved Africans to a host of food-and-drink innovations, such as the mint julep cocktail and the ice cream scoop. “I have spent more than four decades writing about African American food culture,” Harris said in a statement. “Why? Because our history is on the plate. For this reason, we need to tell our story and tell it well.”
The exhibition’s strengths lie in the way it marries past and present through the use of contemporary technology and traditional exhibition displays. It opens with the Legacy Quilt, three panels of floor-to-ceiling textiles sewn by the nonprofit Harlem Needle Arts that wonderfully stitches together the importance of storytelling, connection, and community that undergirds Black cooking and quilting traditions. Each panel highlights a person who has contributed to American foodways; visitors are invited to scan a nearby QR code, where they can click on each tile to explore the histories rendered on the quilt and even contribute their own virtual patch.
The remainder of “African/American” is exhibited in one room, organized by a host of culinary themes. One wall discusses the history of farming, and includes historic tools used by enslaved people for rice cultivation, supported by quotes from bell hooks’s 1993 book, Sisters of the Yam, and archival paper bulletins written by George Washington Carver. The section concludes by highlighting present-day farmers, and offers a visit, in V.R., to the organic, family-run Gilliard Farms in Brunswick, Georgia, and the intergenerationally owned restaurant Jones Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, Kansas.
A digital dinner table sits at the center of the space, where visitors can learn about the history of migration and the cultural food dishes that developed along the journey. Selecting a fried chicken dish, served in a cardboard box, opens onto the history of “shoebox lunches,” in which Black Americans, preparing for road trips during the Jim Crow era, packed boxed lunches of fried chicken and side dishes to provide sustenance, and to prevent travelers from having to stop in the segregated South. The museum also offers shoebox lunches for purchase, which feature food by top chefs including Carla Hall, Chris Scott, and Adrienne Cheatham.
The remaining walls highlight the history of Black contributions to distilling, brewing, and mixology. They show related artifacts and figures such as Tom Bullock, who published the first Black-authored book on bartending, titled The Ideal Bartender, and Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved Black man now celebrated for teaching Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey. Green’s legacy is honored by a mention of Uncle Nearest, a contemporary Black-owned whiskey brand that celebrates his contribution to American spirits. Another wall surveys the history of Black culinary inventions, while an opposite small shelf displays a host of Black American cookbooks, such as Norma Jean and Carole Darden’s Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine and The Ebony Cookbook.
A soundtrack of ’70s music, curated by the Grammy-nominated singer Kelis, lures visitors from the exhibition’s beginning to its close, where they are transported back to 1972 and can walk through the original Ebony test kitchen, which was salvaged from demolition by the nonprofit preservation group Landmarks Illinois and temporarily acquired by MoFAD. Visitors can walk through the kitchen, which looks as pristine as it did in the pages of Ebony 50 years ago. It serves as a fitting end to the show, amplifying the importance of celebrating the countless Black contributions to American cuisine, and the urgency of preserving the past to paint a fuller picture of the nation’s history.
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Supermarkets put billions of pounds of perfectly fine, edible food to waste each year for the very silly, Goldilocks reanearly half of all harvested produce is never eaten. The home-delivery start-up Misfits Market aims to right the wrong of this senseless global food crisis, selling only produce that is certified organic, non-GMO,
Marfa may be known as a site of pilgrimage for lovers of minimalist art—its expansive desert sky, open landscape, and ofCooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (Phaidon). The collection of essays and recipes, featuring local ingredients and dishes, from prickly pear to chicharrón
The idea of “pantry cooking” connotes a sense of resourcefulness—the humble term focused on the shelf lives of whatever Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier told us on Ep. 10 of At a Distance, canned food can be every bit as delicious as the fresh stuff, if not exceedingly so. Conservas, tinned seafood products from Spain and Portugal, can last for months, if not years, in the cupboard, but that seems topiquillo peppers stuffed with bonito tuna. Chicken of the Sea, these are not. Fortunately, you can browse and find all sorts of conservas online from grocers such as La Tienda and Chicago’s Wixter Market, and fuel those wanderlust dreams of a trip to the Iberian coast. “The other day I tried zamburiñas,” Gordinier told us on the podcast, with excitement. “Have you heard of that? See, this is interesting. I'm still seeki
First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has ta recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to htry this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to pract
Dr. Brian Fisher, an entomologist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, has studied and identified countless species of antadvocating for an insect-focused approach to nutrition and natural conservation. Here, Fisher tells us why eating insects is a healthy practice for both our bodies and the planet.
Whetstone Magazine Co-Founder and “Origin Forager” Stephen Satterfield on Food, Culture, and Identity
The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of medEsquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the
With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer has officially begun, and for many home-growers, this signifies the busiest Kitazawa Seed Company, founded in 1917 by a Japanese American family, sells some of the best, and offers more than 500 seed varieties of dento yasai, traditional heirloom varieties of a diverse array of Asian vegetables used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, Browse the extensive catalog to learn about all the delicious varieties, and pick up some recipes for dishes such as sunomono, a simple and refreshing cucumber salad, and kinpira gobo, a savory side of burdock root sautéed in sweet soy sauce.