People of African descent are gaining increasing visibility in the culinary world. Note the success of bestselling books such as The Cooking Gene (2017) by Michael Twitty. Then there’s Butter Honey Pig Bread (2020), the debut novel by Halifax writer Francesca Ekwuyasi. Long-listed for the Giller Prize, the release is sprinkled with tantalizing recipes from her native Nigeria.
Fifty years after Halifax officials razed Africville — having derided the vibrant Black enclave as a “slum” — readers can now savour In the Africvillle Kitchen: The Comforts of Home by Juanita Peters, Claudia Castillo-Prentt and Adina Fraser-Marsman.
In opening pages of the spiral-bound cookbook, former residents of the community share memories of a typical Sunday meal: “There was either a boiled dinner or a roast dinner with potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, sauerkraut … There would always be … apple pie or a one egg cake. … Everyone in the family would be sitting down at the table.”
The 54-page volume includes a variety of time-honoured Africville recipes for meat, fish, desserts and “extras” (such as homemade root beer). As for seafood, a former resident provides an intriguing backstory to the ingredients for Eel Sautéed in Onion. “We’d go down to the Bedford Basin at night and light a match to attract the eels to the top,’’ he recalled.
A recipe for rosemary and garlic-studded roasted lamb calls for mini-hasselback potatoes (reputedly invented in a Swedish tavern) as the perfect accompaniment. Halifax civic leader Irvine Carvery offers readers his mother’s Fried Pork Back (with cut up cabbage). “This dish can be personalized,” he notes.
Ingredients for a mouth-watering barbecued mackerel include a marinade of ginger, honey, lime juice and sesame oil. Recipes for blueberry muffins and blueberry grunt evoke archival photos of Black children picking blueberries in the bucolic Africville landscape.
The lovingly rendered release also presents a brief history of The Coloured Hockey League noting that a match between the Africville Sea-Sides and the Charlottetown West End Rangers drew 1,200 spectators. Readers who work fast in the kitchen will find directions for aromatic fruit cakes that can be ready to serve by the end (Hallelujah!) of a taxing 2020.
–Evelyn C White is a journalist and author whose books include Chain, Chain, Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships (Seal Press, 1985), and the biography Alice Walker: A Life (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). A former reporter for the San Fransisco Chronicle, she lives in Halifax.