Hallelujah! The welcome table, A lifetime of memories with recipes – Maya Angelou (Virago Press 2006)

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Reviewed by: Mary McConville

This recipe book was written by the recently deceased Dr Maya Angelou (4.4.28 – 28.5.14). Many people have recorded their sad thoughts at the news of her death. Her son praised her as “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace”. Oprah Winfrey called her “mentor, mother/ sister and friend” and George W. Bush said that she was among the most talented writers of our time”.

Dr Angelou was a well known African American writer, best known for her autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. She also wrote essays, poetry, children’s books and other autobiographical books.

Each section begins with a short, autobiographical tale and then gives us a few relevant recipes. The first section deals with her difficult childhood in Stamp, Arkansas. After her parents’ marriage broke down when she was three, she and her brother Bailey were brought up by her father’s mother, Annie Henderson or “Momma”. Momma was a tough but loving lady who had many problems of her own – poverty, desertion and a crippled son. In this section we are given the recipe for Momma’s delicious caramel cake.

In later chapters Dr Angelou deals with her varied working life as singer, dancer, clerk, cook and university professor. Working as a cook she claimed to have experience in Creole cooking, then took tips from her mother’s employee who told her to just add plenty of celery, garlic, onions, capsicum, tomato and chili peppers.

Life improved as she got older. She travelled and lectured overseas. She mixed with famous names and cooked for them – Jessica Mitford (roast turkey), M.F.K. Fisher (cassoulet) and Oprah Winfrey (smothered chicken). She gained respect, fame and fortune.

Now the food in this book ranges from poverty food to American specialities to international recipes. Most of the food, especially in the early years, is regular Southern cooking – fried chicken, corn bread and peaches. It’s not exactly soul food which uses more of the cheaper foods like chitterlings (intestines). It does have some classic poor food – pickled pigs’ feet and the ever present collard greens. We also find recipes for the American specialities of roast turkey and tamales and delicacies that she picked up overseas like onion tart and cassoulet.

Her recipes are competently put together. There are no careless omissions or incomplete instructions. A regular cook would not have a lot of trouble making these dishes.

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