Sunday, February 8, 2004

Black history flavors her cookbooks

Food stuff

Carolyn Quick Tillery
Carolyn Quick Tillery
It was about a decade ago that Carolyn Quick Tillery married two of her passions - history and food - to create a "pick up and go" career for herself. She's a law school graduate retired from the Air Force, and husband J.R. is an Air Force colonel who is regularly reassigned around the world.

"I needed a portable career," says Tillery, who now lives at Edwards Air Force Base in California. "It didn't make sense for me to take the bar exam because we were moving every two years."


What: Meet Carolyn Quick Tillery and sample her recipes during "A Taste of Black History: Food for Body and Mind."

When: 7-9 p.m. Friday

Where: Harmony Community School, 1580 Summit Road, Roselawn

Tickets: $25 each and $35 per couple; available at Legends Books in Jordan Crossing (7030 Reading Road) and WCIN-AM (3540 Reading Road).

Information: 731-4500.

Miscellaneous: A Taste of Black History is part of the L. Pastor Black Book Fair, which continues 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. next Sunday at Harmony Community School. Food stuff  

Black-Eyed Pea and Sweet Potato Soup

8 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock

5 cloves garlic, crushed

11/4 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

2 bay leaves

2 smoked ham hocks

1 pound fresh collard greens, cleaned

2 10-ounce packages frozen black-eyed peas, thawed

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

1 cup diced celery

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

Bring broth, garlic, thyme, hot sauce and bay leaves to boil. In the order listed, layer the remaining ingredients in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add hot broth, cover the cooker and simmer on low 8 to 10 hours, or on high 4 to 5 hours, until peas are very soft.

Remove and discard bay leaves. Remove ham hocks, trim fat and discard. Cut lean meat from bone, chop coarsely and return it to the pot. Stir and allow meat to warm through before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Celebrating Our Equality: A Cookbook with Recipes and Remembrances from Howard University (Citadel; $24.95)

So in 1994, she decided to write a book about the history of her alma mater, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. And from the beginning, she decided to fold in food stories and recipes.

"It gave me an opportunity to present history in a tasty way," says Tillery, who was influenced by food and a powerful oral tradition as a child.

"My mother used to bring us into the kitchen while she cooked and tell us stories," she says.

A year and a half after beginning, Tillery published The African-American Heritage Cookbook (Birch Lane; $24.95), acclaimed for its lively storytelling and Sweet Potato Soup, Mom's Devilish Catfish Stew, Smothered Yard Bird and more than 200 other recipes, rich in flavor and tradition.

"Food was communal to black families who were stripped of their language and culture," Tillery says of early African-Americans. "The only thing they shared was this new food they created."

The new author had not only invented a career, but a niche for herself. Tillery went on to write a similar historical cookbook - A Taste of Freedom (Citadel; $24.95) - about the people and food of Hampton University in Hampton, Va., one of the first schools open to freed slaves.

Next she wrote At Freedom's Table: More than 200 Years of Recipes and Remembrance from Military Wives (Cumberland House; $22.95), which also featured Tillery's formula for mixing history with food.

In November, she followed that effort with Celebrating Our Equality: A Cookbook with Recipes and Remembrances from Howard University (Citadel; $24.95). This latest book is most significant, Tillery says, because Howard University and its law school trained many leaders of the civil rights movement, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Vernon Jordan and Andrew Young.

"The recipes are almost as good as the history," she says.

Tillery is working on another book focused on the history and food of a prominent African-American university, but she can't say which school yet.

Like others, she is concerned some African-Americans are losing touch with their cultural and culinary heritage.

"That's one reason why I write these books," Tillery says.

She finds events like Friday's "Taste of Black History" in Roselawn encouraging.

"To come together as a race and celebrate our heritage and the women who created this food is important," she says.

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