After Maya Angelou’s death in May, obituaries and tributes recounted her dizzying list of accomplishments.
Acclaimed as a writer and poet, she led a life that took seven volumes of memoirs to record, leaving her mark on the civil rights movement and the entertainment industry as well as in the world of literature.
Most of the obituaries overlooked that, among her 30 books of memoirs, poetry, essays and children’s books, Maya Angelou also authored two cookbooks.
The two cookbooks, not surprisingly, combine recipes with vignettes of Angelou’s experiences and encounters.
Her first cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes,” covered a wide range of food influences, from her childhood with her grandmother in the tiny town of Stamps, Ark., to Paris’ best French restaurants.
Angelou’s appetite for life was matched by her appetite for good food.
She was an adventurous eater, and collected recipes for everything from Moroccan stews to tripe to Southern recipes. Though her first cookbook includes recipes for pate, chocolate éclairs and cassoulet, her most eloquent reveries are for the simple foods her mother and grandmother served.
“One important date that stands out in my mind I call Vivian’s Red Rice Day,” Angelou writes, recalling a lunch prepared by her mother. “Vivian Baxter cooked wonderful meals and was very serious about how to present them. She put her left hand on the platter and the right hand on the bowl and turned the dishes over. She gently loosened the bowl from its contents and revealed a tall mound of glistening red rice (my favorite food in all the world) decorated with finely minced parsley and the green tops of scallions.”
The rice was so good that “each grain of red rice is emblazoned on the surface of my tongue forever,” Angelou wrote. “Two large portions of rice sated my appetite, but the deliciousness of the dish made me long for a larger stomach so that I could eat two more helpings.”
Maya Angelou followed that 2007 cookbook with “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart” in 2010. The second cookbook tells plenty of stories, but the recipes focus more on her versions of Southern classics and on healthier ways of eating.
The cookbook author who previously reveled in double helpings of rice three years later wrote, “Remember, cooking large amounts of food does not mean that you are obligated to eat large portions.”
The second cookbook was the result of some lifestyle changes that resulted in Angelou shedding 35 extra pounds. She found that portion control was the key to better eating for her.
“I found that when I ate a few barbecued ribs and a serving of a few vegetables, I could set the rest aside and return to it later,” she wrote. “The food should taste so good that you will be satisfied with a small portion.”
Clearly, Maya Angelou will be more widely remembered for reciting a poem at a Presidential inauguration, or for her groundbreaking memoirs, or for her other contributions to the world of arts and letters, but food mattered to her and inspired her, and her cookbooks offer many glimpses into her long, eventful life.
Spicy Barbecued Spareribs
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds baby back spareribs, cut into serving pieces
1 cup chicken stock
1⁄2 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1⁄3 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
Dash of hot pepper sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Stir together 1 teaspoon of salt and a 1⁄2 teaspoon of pepper.
Sprinkle the mixture over the spareribs and rub in thoroughly. Place the coated ribs in a shallow roasting pan.
Pour the chicken stock over the ribs and place the ribs in the oven. Cook for 11⁄2 hours or until tender.
Mix together the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove the spareribs from the oven and place them in a broiling pan. Brush the spareribs with the barbecue sauce and return to the oven on the lowest rack.
Set the oven on low broil and broil the ribs for 30 minutes, basting frequently with the sauce.
To tell when they’re done, pierce the meat between the bones with a fork. If the fork comes out easily, the meat is done.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart,” by Maya Angelou)
1⁄2 pound thick-sliced bacon
1 cup onions, chopped
1⁄2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes
One 6-ounce can tomato paste
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 cups cooked white rice
2 cups water
Fry the bacon in a large skillet on medium heat until brown, stirring with fork. Add onions and peppers. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the lid and add the remaining ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil for about 3 minutes.
Stir vigorously, cover again and cook over very low heat for about 15 minutes until the rice and liquid are thoroughly mixed.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes,” by Maya Angelou)
6 medium nearly ripe peaches, peeled and pitted
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Place the peaches in a large pot, add the remaining ingredients and cover with water. Boil for 30 minutes.
Take the pot off the stove and let cool. Discard the cinnamon and cloves. Store the peaches in the refrigerator, including the liquid. Serve cold.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A lifetime of Memories with Recipes,” by Maya Angelou)