Southern Agenda

Leading the Way

As the grande dame of Southern cooking and one of the first Black women to write a cookbook that didn’t conceal her race or gender, Edna Lewis, who died in 2006, is enjoying a metaphorical homecoming. A daughter of Freetown, a community in Orange County, Lewis grew up learning to prepare game meat and homegrown grains and vegetables. She went on to cook in elite restaurants on the East Coast where Black female chefs were virtually unheard-of, and made a name for herself through her cookbooks, including The Taste of Country Cooking. Recently, restaurants around her home county have honored Lewis’s legacy—and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Edna Lewis Cookbook—by forming the Edna Lewis Menu Trail. Seven Virginia restaurants will add Lewis-inspired dishes to their menus, including hoppin’ John at the Champion Ice House in Gordonsville and smothered braised rabbit at Vintage Restaurant near Orange. Lewis “made food accessible to people,” says chef Joy Crump of Foode in Fredericksburg. “Her recipes are about simple, humble cooking that makes you feel loved.”