The Abby Fisher Story
This episode is based on Abby Fisher’s 1881 cookbook, What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. This is one of the earliest cookbooks written by a Black person in the United States. And it’s truly groundbreaking.
Today is all about soup, pickles and preserves. Oh my! You can make soup in big batches and freeze or store it.
So was Rufus Estes’ book. You might remember from episode 2 that he was the first black chef to write a cookbook in 1911. There are some similarities between these two books that are worth mentioning.
They’re writing only 30 years apart from each other, Fisher’s being earlier. And both were writing from California, Estes in Los Angeles and Fisher in San Francisco.
Perhaps most notably, though, both Fisher and Estes didn’t want to write a book. But both were egged on by their friends and customers. Imagine what would have been lost to history if they hadn’t produced these books?
It speaks to the power of cheerleaders in our lives, the people who fortify us to do more than we could or would without them. I think the food in Fisher’s cookbook has the same power to fortify you.
Most copies of Fisher’s book were lost during the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed over 80% of San Francisco. So, it went unknown to most of the public until 1984, when a copy resurfaced.
On the other hand, the house Fisher owned outright, without a mortgage, on 17th Street in San Francisco is still standing. Fisher clearly became a prosperous woman through her work. And she was also very entrepreneurial.
She ran a business: Mrs. Abby Fisher and Company that manufactured pickles. These weren’t just any pickles. These were award-winning pickles. Fisher won two awards for them at the 1880 San Francisco Mechanics Institute Fair.
She also won an award at the California State Fair. In fact, it was because of her recognition at the State Fair in 1879 that she was asked to write this cookbook. Fisher’s book is full of recipes that show her love for soups, pickles and preserves.
There is a lot you can say about people’s lives. You can tell many stories based on the events they experienced. But I’m most interested in the story the cookbook author wants to tell you in their book. The best cookbooks speak to more than just how to make a dish.
In this book, Mrs. Fisher is talking about encouragement. That’s something allies do when they see it’s necessary. In this case, they didn’t wait until she asked. They encouraged her before she even knew she needed it. And look at the result. We’re still benefiting from it today, 139 years later.
Allys come in many different forms. All we have to do is listen when they speak to us. And we don’t just have to wait to be allies. Perhaps the more we are an ally, the better we get at recognizing them when they present themselves.
That’s what Abby Fisher is serving up. Anybody that can do that with food is someone worth learning more about.
Bougrier Muscadet 2019 (FR)
Château du Jaunay Muscadet de Sèvre 2018 (FR)
Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc 2019 (CA)
Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2019 (ZA)
Bontzu Viognier 2017 (WA)
Rulo Viognier 2017 (WA)
Cooper and Thief Red Blend (CA)