The Black Family Reunion Cookbook is a recent thrift store find. This is a collection of recipes to commemorate the annual Black Family Reunion Celebration sponsored and organized by the National Council of Negro Women. This event, first held in 1989, is a multi-day celebration of “the historic strengths and values of the Black Family.” It’s the only cookbook I own with a Maya Angelou poem in the introduction.
The book opens with a sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse:
“The sharing of good food among loved ones and good friends not only gives us sustenance but also strength to meet life’s challenges. During decades of public life, I have seen more problems settled in a dining room than in a conference room. A good meal creates a special fellowship that can break down barriers.”
I love this more than I can express in words. I’m of the opinion that if we all sat down and ate each other’s food we’d get along a lot better.
There aren’t any illustrations, and the text is printed in a hard-to-read mahogany, but this is a glorious and diverse collection. If you come looking for African-American soul food you won’t be disappointed – probably half of the recipes have roots in the American South – but there’s also a healthy dose of African-inspired recipes, recipes that you might find in a mid-70s Better Homes and Gardens, and a couple of high-end recipes from celebrated African-American chefs. Many of the recipes have a sidebar with personal notes from the recipe authors, ranging from memories of certain dishes from childhood to key events in the civil rights movement. It’s heady fare for a cookbook.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was learning myriad new ways to cook with peanuts and peanut butter. There’s a hearty peanut butter bisque that puts Depression Era Recipe’s Peanut Soup to shame, and a Thanksgiving turkey basted in a spicy peanut butter paste before roasting. It’s not clear to me whether peanuts are peculiar to the Soul Food tradition or just a feature of Southern cuisine. Whether it’s a tradition or a happy accident the peanut dishes in this book are among the best.
One of the more peculiar peanut recipes is Macaroni, Peanuts, and Cheese, a contribution from Ms. Hazel Isaiah-Ransom. She tells a story of growing up in small-town Oklahoma with a 10 (!) siblings and a mother who could never make enough macaroni and cheese to feed the crew. Young Hazel was an avid reader and enjoyed cookbooks and cooking magazines – when she asked to experiment in the kitchen her mother was more than happy for the help. This recipe was the end product of multiple attempts and “trial runs” at improving on her mother’s recipe.
And it’s not any more complicated than it sounds – this is a creamy, casserole-type macaroni and cheese with a healthy portion of ground peanuts stirred in. The peanuts add both protein and fat, and the end result is heart-stoppingly rich. While I imagine the extra protein helped to fill the bellies of 11 hungry kids I find that Macaroni, Peanuts, and Cheese works better as a side dish. I prefer to serve it with pork chops or chicken with a tangy barbecue sauce – the sweetness and acid help to balance out the richness.
I’ve made a few adjustments from Ms. Isaiah-Ransom’s original, mostly to add some acidity. I’ve added mustard and substituted sharp cheddar cheese for American cheese, which tips the balance in the final dish so that you can really taste the cheese. The peanuts play a supporting role, more for a meaty texture than flavor. Your kitchen will still smell like roasted peanuts while you’re cooking, but the final dish isn’t intended to taste like peanut butter. A couple of cranks of freshly ground black pepper complete the dish.
The Black Family Reunion Cookbook is still in print, and can be purchased here: https://amzn.to/34cqlD3
Macaroni, Peanuts, and Cheese (adapted from the Black Family Reunion Cookbook)
- 2 cups elbow macaroni
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp prepared mustard
- 1 tsp hot sauce
- 2 cups milk
- 1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 cups coarsely ground peanuts
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Cook macaroni as per package directions.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour salt to form a roux, then add mustard and hot sauce and continue to stir until well-incorporated into the roux and slightly browned.
Add milk all at once and heat, stirring constantly, until a thick, creamy texture is achieved. Add half the cheese and half the peanuts and stir until cheese is melted. Add the cooked macaroni noodles and combine.
Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish or – better yet – a large, greased pyrex bowl.
Cook for 10-15 minutes. Add remaining cheese and peanuts and mix well. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until mixture is bubbly and the edges are browned.