Food & Drink

A Love Song to Sunday Suppers and Easter Feasts

Plus, three springtime recipes from “Affrilachian” writer Crystal Wilkinson’s beautiful new cookbook

Plates with Lamb, Basket Meeting Potatoes and Beans, and Cake on a table.

Photo: Kelly Marshall

Raised on her grandparents’ farm in bucolic Indian Creek, Kentucky, the writer and poet Crystal Wilkinson ties many of her powerful food memories to springtime. “My grandfather grew corn and had huge hotbeds of lettuce that he covered in white fabric during early spring to protect them from the frost,” she writes in her lyrical new food memoir, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks. “My grandmother grew things she cooked often: squash, tomatoes, potatoes, beans.” Praisesong bursts with more of those types of stories, photographs, and the meals of her memory and her own making—her grandmother’s chicken and dumplings, sorghum cookies, sauteed fiddlehead ferns, and an entire chapter on blackberries.

Wilkinson is one of the early proponents of the Affrilachian Poet movement, a group of African-American writers throughout Kentucky and the mountain South. “Black Appalachians are often invisible in our America, a country that often wrongly conflates ‘Black’ with urban and ‘white’ with rural,” she explains in the book. In a moving chapter about what she remembers from the Pine Lick Baptist Church her family attended, she describes how “the basket meeting is a long-standing tradition in Black churches, a full day of religious worship and reunion, where everyone associated with a place returns, followed by a feast—pies, cakes, mutton, chicken, ice cream, pop, and a myriad of family-favorite side dishes served on disposable plates covered in tinfoil.”

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photo: Carsen Bryant; Kelly Marshall
Crystal Wilkinson; in the kitchen.

High holidays like Christmas and Easter often included some of the same basket-meeting dishes, but so did regular weekly Sunday suppers. Her springtime table memories include a savory leg of mutton as an alternative to pot roast, dressed eggs, slow-simmered green beans and potatoes, and always something sweet—blackberry cobbler, caramel cake, or a simple angel food cake, perhaps topped with whipped cream and berries. She generously shares three of those recipes—beans and potatoes, leg of lamb, and angel food cake—which could anchor an Easter menu.

photo: courtesy of Crystal Wilkinson
A vintage photo of Wilkinson and her grandfather Silas.

Wilkinson’s new book is worth sitting down to read cover to cover, but it will also likely inspire you to get up and cook—and maybe plant a garden, too. One ode to her grandmother feels like a universal Southern yearning to connect back to family, tradition, and slower days: “Most of my memories of her are nestled in the growing, the cooking, the preservation of food,” Wilkinson writes. “Hoeing the garden. Stroking the long necks of the yellow squash. Stirring butter beans in a pot. Pouring hot bacon grease over new lettuce, onions, and cucumber. Canning runner beans. … She equated food with love, and she cooked with both a fury and a quiet joy.”

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