Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American woman who grew up on a farm, born in Freetown, Virginia named Edna Lewis who became an award winning author and entrepreneur for her cookbooks and how she made Southern cooking and taste unforgettable.
On April 13, 1916, Eugene “Genie” Lewis, a 25 year old farmer, and Daisy B. Lewis, a 21 year old housewife, gave birth to their 3rd of what would be six children named Edna Lewis. She was born a second generation into the city of Freetown that was founded by her grandfather’s generation of black people who were formerly enslaved. Her grandfather’s name was Chester Lewis.
They all lived together in 1920 in the same household, but by 1930, both her grandfather and father were deceased. Despite these deaths, the family was secure in the home that her mother now owned outright. Edna was 14 years of age, and at this time, her uncle William and two first cousins had already moved into the home with them.
Because Edna grew up on a farm, she learned how to cook very well. As a matter of fact, it was this type of rearing on the farm and fresh cooking that led her to what she would be doing by the time she became an adult.
Edna left home at the age of 16 and ended up in New York City with her husband named Steven Kingston whom she’d met and fallen in love with while she lived in Washington D.C. for a short while after leaving her Virginia home. He’d also worked as a cook, a Merchant Marine cook.
Two years after she left her Virginia home, her mother Daisy passed away.
By the time she was 32 in 1948, she was also working as a cook in the brand new Cafe Nicholson restaurant, hired by her friend John Nicholson who was the restaurant’s founder. They basically went into business together. Her food was a hit, and many famous people enjoyed her dishes. She ended up leaving his restaurant and started catering on her own.
What Edna had in her food was a good thing that many people enjoyed, so she began teaching as well as catering to many. She soon was teaching at the American Museum of National History! Eyes were on Edna, and one day she decided to write her own cookbook.
In 1972, The Edna Lewis Cookbook was published, but it wasn’t that cookbook that got all the attention. It was her second cookbook that took the taste buds and storytelling to a whole other level when it comes to Southern cooking the African American way. The title of this second cookbook was The Taste of Country Cooking (1976).
Despite the fact that she was gaining great attention from her wonderful cookbooks, she was also suffering from the loss of her husband who’d passed away around the time her first book was released.
About 12 years after the second book, Edna published The Pursuit of Flavor (1988) and her final book, The Gift of Southern Cooking (2003) which she collaborated and co-authored with her good, very close friend Scott Peacock.
Edna’s cookbooks were done with the goal in mind of keeping southern cooking alive, from the tastes to the original ways make it with fresh ingredients only. It was the way her parents taught her back in Freetown, Virginia, the land founded by former slaves who lived off of the freshness of the land.
In the end, she and her long time good friend Scott Peacock lived together in Georgia. It was Scott who revealed to the L.A.Times that Edna died from natural causes after suffering from dementia. She passed away in Decatur, Georgia on February 13, 2006.
She was buried at Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery in Virginia. Many years before her death, she founded the Society for Revival and Preservation of Southern Food.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Year: 1930; Census Place: Taylor, Orange, Virginia; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0010; FHL microfilm: 2342187