Edna Lewis as pictured on a stamp

Edna Lewis is not well-known in Britain. But she should be. The award-winning chef, writer and cookbook author elevated Southern cooking – the food of the United States’ Deep South – so that it sat at its rightful place alongside the greatest cuisines of the world.


Her legacy in the States is powerful. The granddaughter of enslaved people, she was born in Freetown, Virginia, a settlement established by her grandparents following the abolition of slavery. Food was a big part of the community. It was both seasonal and well-seasoned, and resourceful through necessity, but never dull. Little of their food was shop-bought – it was grown, caught and foraged by the community, which was a huge influence on a young Edna until she moved away to Washington DC and later, New York City.

In the late 1940s, she opened a restaurant with an antique dealer friend that became popular with the rich and famous, including Truman Capote and Marlene Dietrich. She went on to write four best-selling cookbooks and win several awards. And though few know Edna’s name here, the foods she revered and celebrated – fried chicken, cornbread, shrimp ‘n’ grits – have become woven into the fabric of British food culture so deeply it would be hard to imagine a world without them.

I might have never learned of Edna, who died in 2008, had I not listened to The Splendid Table, a podcast hosted by Francis Lam. It’s American, but the beauty of podcasts – especially those about food – is how they transcend both time and geographical borders. The food Edna Lewis championed would make mouths water the world over. Who can listen to talk of her stewed quinces without thinking of British autumns and our own homegrown quinces?

The Splendid Table is one of a handful of my favourites that have educated and entertained me.

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