This Author Wants to Make Sure We Don't Lose the Culinary Legacies of our Grandparents
The holiday season is in full swing, and for many of us the food is the biggest draw. While we might take for granted the presence of grandma's macaroni and cheese or Aunt Alice's sweet potato pie, we cannot forget the cultural significance of what we place on our tables.
Author Jocelyn Delk Adams wants to remind us. Her debut cook book Grandbaby Cakes spotlights on the seminal dishes of her upbringing. She's on a quest to make sure the traditions that originate in our kitchens aren't lost. We talked to Jocelyn about her work. She even shared one of her favorite recipes with us.
FH: I want to talk a little bit about food. You published a cookbook called Grandbaby Cakes.
Jocelyn Adams: Yes.
FH: Clearly that's named for your grandmother, so I'm wondering what was your first introduction to the idea of food and community and family? When did you realize that those things are interrelated?
Jocelyn Adams: Oh, yeah! I think I really realized it during the visits that I would have at my grandparents' house. They live in Winona, Mississippi and it was always this traditional trip we made several times a year when I was younger and definitely around the holidays. Every time I would come, my grandmother would allow me to help in the kitchen, and I was really curious about it--just wanting to know how things were made, wanting to know how separate ingredients would come together and at the end of the day you'd have this beautiful cake or you'd have these light and fluffy biscuits.
It was just really, really interesting to me to watch that process, but also I really loved watching the women in my family make everything. It wasn't just the creation of everything that was really interesting to me, but it was also the way in which they prepare things, the way it just seemed so instinctual for them. Then also how there was so much love in the kitchen. Bringing those two together, as I grew up, I truly learned how much they played with each other and how instrumental they are to each other.
FH: Were you always a good cook? Some people have a knack for things. When I get in the kitchen, no matter how much guidance somebody offers me, it just does not gel. Did you always a knack for it?
Jocelyn Adams: I think I did. I didn't always know I did, so a lot of it was trial and error for me when I was younger. I always helped in the kitchen and then slowly but surely my dad doesn't get enough kudos, but after school every Friday he would pick me up from school and he would take me to the grocery store and I could basically decide what would be for dinner and cook it. So he really gave me that empowerment early on in addition to everything I was learning from the women in my family. I think some people don't have it and some people do, and I think sometimes a lot of that is developed through lots of practice and just being in the kitchen and trying things out. That's what I did a lot of.
FH: A lot of your book is about the passing down of legacy through food. I'm wondering if there is a particular recipe or a particular dessert that means a lot to you.
Jocelyn Adams: There's a couple, actually. The very first cake in the book is my mother's cake. It's a 7UP pound cake, and that means a lot to me because it was actually the very first cake I learned to bake. I just felt so powerful and strong and excited about what I had accomplished and it just made me more intrigued to do more, so I was just excited to bake more, to see what people thought. That was the first thing that I think of when I think of this book. That first recipe I really didn't touch at all, because I wanted to create some recipes. A lot of the recipes in the book are newer and inspired by family, but then there are some that I did not touch at all, that I just wanted to pass down, and that was definitely one of them.
Then I would say there's a peach cobbler cake in the book. That's because peach cobbler is like my absolute favorite recipe. Absolute favorite dessert. There's nothing better to me. My grandmother used to always make me peach cobbler. All the time. She would let me help with the crust or sometimes we would only be there for a day, I would come and she would surprise me with one. To this day, still my favorite dessert.
FH: Younger generations, sometimes we get criticized for not being as invested in preserving legacy, recognizing the importance of passing down tradition, and I'm wondering how did you come to realize that these things are really valuable?
Jocelyn: My grandparents, for instance, they didn't have as many choices as being able to decide exactly what they wanted to do with their lives.
Of course, there were guidelines as far as what Africans Americans could pursue, but there were also guidelines gender-wise. Women stayed in the kitchen and men went out and worked. Our generation, as we were able to decide what we wanted to do with our lives and we're bringing home the bacon and we're climbing the corporate ladder and doing all these things, that tradition kind of got lost, because it seemed kind of archaic really old-school.
I'm a feminist. I don't have to be in the kitchen. That whole thing is very, very real, but for me, I've decided that I was a bit of both. The traditions that existed in my family, those moments of being in the kitchen and being able to make food for people I loved, they were very instrumental in who I became, which was a strong, independent woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. So you can't really deny those parts of yourself, even as you climb and create new opportunities for women. You can't deny that. Having both is actually making me more well-rounded, more fierce in whatever you decide to do.
For me, I'm really trying to create a community where people see that it's not archaic. It's not old-school to want to bake or cook, and that there's something really cool about that and bringing that back to the masses and not relying so much on convenience of just picking up a pie or picking up a cake. You can bake one too and it can be filled with love.
FH: Right, and now you're moving into television appearances, multi-media appearances. Was that always something that you wanted to do?
Jocelyn Adams: It's so funny. It wasn't initially. Before I started this career, before I even started Grandbaby Cakes, I actually worked in television and film. That was my main job. I was a mass media major. I wanted to direct films. That was my dream, but behind the scenes. I was a Production Assistant; I was an Associate Producer; I wrote scripts I did all of these things, and so I always thought that I was going to really just be mostly behind the scenes.
But I started to find a love for being able to connect with people in front of the camera once I started Grandbaby Cakes. I loved the interaction. I loved really being able to share my personality, which I think sometimes can get lost in blogs. You write, but people don't get an essence of truly who you are. I loved being able to do that and things just really started to take off. People were like, "You're a natural. You should do more," and I realized how much I loved it, so I continued to pursue it.
FH: How else would you like to expand the Grandbaby Cakes brand?
Jocelyn Adams: I'm part of the cast for a show on the Cooking Channel called Unique Sweets, and it's one of the longest-running, most popular shows on the network. So I'm super excited about that. I'd love to definitely do more TV. I eventually see a show for Grandbaby Cakes. I'm not exactly sure how that will pan out, but in some way, I definitely see that as part of the future. I'm going to be writing a new book starting next year, so that's new. I definitely see a product line in the future.
I know people feel like I'm busy building my empire and all of that, and I know that's cliché, but it's true. I feel like Grandbaby Cakes and the mission behind it and what it stands for is way bigger than me. Food plays such an integral part in what we do, who we are, who we become. Those memories. People think in terms of these memories and the things that they remember growing up. There's not a birthday that you remember without the cake. There's not a Thanksgiving. Those things that truly, truly penetrate our lives and you think back fondly on, you want to pass that down to the next generation. You want to pass that down to your kids.
I'm really trying to bring that back, especially in the African American community. Even the Civil Rights Movement centered around food and meetings at restaurants. All of these things that built us and the strength within our community came around food, so we can't negate that. We can't forget that.
I'm bringing it to the masses in a new and fun and interesting way. Like I always tell people, "I'm not the grandmother. I'm the grandbaby." I'm giving it some fresh takes. I'm giving it some new flavor profiles. I'm providing a unique perspective to things that I grew up with and things that were passed along to me, and hoping that it'll inspire people to get back in the kitchen in some way.