In an effort to keep things fresh and continue growing The Blacker The Berry Food, we’ll be adding a few new features. Along with great interviews and profiles stay tuned for book and product reviews, more recipes, and personal essays about the African-American experience in food.
The Holidays are fast approaching, which means the inevitable surge in Holiday baking for many. Always looking to improve my own skills, I eagerly await the arrival of new cookbooks promising the perfect pound cake, apple pie, and chocolate chip cookie. This year’s crop brought a pleasant surprise with “Sweet Auburn Desserts” by Chef Sonya Jones, owner of the well loved Sweet Auburn Bread Company in Atlanta. With over 100 recipes to chose from, this book offers you everything from great Southern Classics like Lemon Chess Pie to an updated twist on the Jelly Roll, chocolate in flavor with a coconut-pecan filling. Perhaps what I love most about this book is not just the incredible recipes but the story behind them, and Chef Jones herself.
Although raised in Atlanta Chef Jones lived the locavore dream of spending summers at her 200-plus-acre family farm,with memories of her grandmother butchering chickens and slopping hogs. Everything her grandmother used came from the farmyard, from meat to milk. Chef Jones’s mother continued those farming traditions growing fig and peach trees at their Atlanta home, duplicating the feeling of that childhood farm right in the city. Chef Jones poignantly states that “As a child, I didn’t think of the food we cooked as “soul food”, it was just fresh food to us”. When Chef Jones was about ten years old her mother opened a neighborhood cafe called Cat’s Corner, a place for folks to pick up a few staples or a freshly prepared meal like oxtail stew. With those kind of roots it should be no surprise that she has a successful career in food.
Armed with a degree in Fashion Merchandising and working long hours in retail Chef Jones began baking in her spare time, a hobby that she soon realized could be parlayed into an successful career. She began her culinary training at a school in Atlanta but soon found herself to be the recipient of an academic scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. After the CIA she would return to Atlanta working at restaurants and eventually teaching culinary arts at the local technical school. During this time she was also fortunate to forge a friendship with the great Edna Lewis, working alongside Ms. Lewis in the Society for Revival and Preservation of Southern Foods, a group Ms. Lewis co-founded that would be the forerunner to the Southern Foodways Alliance. Her time with Ms. Lewis solidified the notion that there was a definite need to preserve the desserts and food that she had grown up with in the South. She opened the Sweet Auburn Bread Company in 1997, located on Edgewood Avenue in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market building in downtown Atlanta, an area that President Clinton designated an Empowerment Zone to help revitalize and attract new businesses. Because of the Initial success of Sweet Auburn Curb Market which included personal recognition from President Clinton himself, people came from near and far to admire what Chef Jones and others had accomplished. The Food Network even came calling when Rachael Ray featured the Bakery and its now famous Sweet Potato cheesecake on her show $40 a Day.
Fast forward to 2002 and Chef Jones was ready to take her bakery to the next level but realized her space at the Curb Market was not large enough for that transition. She closed the doors of Sweet Auburn Bread Company and went to work as an executive chef at a restaurant in her childhood neighborhood, but just a couple of years later fate would step in when the building owner of the restaurant decided to tear it down. Chef Jones headed back downtown and located a spot on Auburn Avenue, a street rich with history within the African-American community and once coined as the “Richest Negro Street in the world”. It was also coincidentally one street over from the Curb Market, the original location of the Sweet Auburn Bread Company. Armed with determination, vision, and a copy of “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking” a book introduced to her by Ms. Edna Lewis, Chef Jones set out to finally build the business that she longed for, one that would showcase all of the incredible desserts that she grew up eating and ones that have become synonymous with Southern cuisine.
After reading Chef Jones’ incredible story I felt compelled to go into my kitchen and cook everything out of her cookbook as a way to honor her story and her vision, but, when you have two little people pulling at your apron strings one doesn’t always have such luxuries so I settled on the very simple and delicious Chocolate Mud Pie.
Chocolate Mud Pie – Serves 8
1 Unbaked Chocolate Pie Shell * TBTB
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter in a mixing bowl, in a separate bowl combine the sugar; flour; and salt, and add this mixture to the creamed butter. Add the eggs one at a time, and stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla.
Spoon the filling in the unbaked pie shell. Bake for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serve with Homemade Whipped Cream.
* TBTB – a plain pie crust works well too, it really is all about that rich chocolate filling.
From Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones, © Sonya Jones, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc