This post was written by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a Science Reference Specialist in the Science, Technology and Business Division.
Many Black cooks may have on their bookcase, or have seen in their mother’s cookbook collection, a copy of The Ebony Cookbook: Date with a Dish. It was advertised and sold in Ebony, the flagship Black magazine of Johnson Publishing, which was first issued in November 1945 by John H. and Eunice Johnson. The cookbook was the creation of Freda De Knight (alternatively spelled DeKnight), who was the first food editor for Ebony, and author of the monthly food column “A Date with a Dish,” which premiered in Ebony in 1946.
The Library of Congress has several editions of the cookbook, held in our science and business reading room collection, including the 1948 original, A Date with a Dish. It has been digitized and available in the HathiTrust Digital Library. Here you will find, not just what is termed “soul food,” or even “southern food,” but recipes aimed at the Black middle class for whatever genre of cooking they were doing, whether it was a Sunday spaghetti dinner, a New Year’s roast, or a Bakewell tart for afternoon tea. Just like in her monthly column, which featured Black notables and entertainers showcasing foods, there were additional features on chefs, caterers, and cooks, showing that the “Negro cook” was, at heart, just as “American” in their cooking as anyone else. As Donna Battle Pierce wrote in The Salt blog in February 2017, “…DeKnight presented a more nuanced and often glamorous image of African-American cooking and culture—not just to African-American readers, but to the broader world.”
The back cover of Favorite Carnation Recipes, a 1950s booklet by De Knight, describes her as “a triple threat… a home economist, a cook, and a writer. As a home economist, she is widely known and honored…as a cook, she turns out foods that whet the most jaded appetites…as a writer, she prepares food features for several national magazines.”
De Knight was widely regarded for her accomplishments and expertise in the field. She had a degree in home economics from South Dakota Wesleyan College, and attended courses at both Columbia and New York universities. Additionally, she added to her list of diplomas when she graduated from Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu–she attended in 1949, the same time as renown cook Julia Child. Unfortunately, Freda De Knight died early, at only 54 years old, but she had already had an inimitable effect on Black culture. She was one of several Black notables featured in the 1953 film series One Tenth of a Nation. Achievements, which highlighted the contributions of African Americans to their communities and the nation. As late as 2014, there was a reprint edition of The Ebony Cookbook, and Ebony has reprised her column title “Date with a Dish” as the title of their new conversation series. Although the original A Date with a Dish (1948) is not heavily illustrated (only chapter headings are illustrated) Oriana Koren has plated and photographed some of her recipes as part of A Juneteenth Dinner Party That Celebrates the Recipes of Freda DeKnight and Edna Lewis (Bon Appétit, June 19, 2018).
For more information on Freda De Knight:
Barrow, William. The Late Freda DeKnight: A Tribute to a Lady Titan. Negro Digest, August 1963: 30-34.
One Tenth of a Nation. Achievements.  Video. From J. Fred and Leslie W. MacDonald Collection, Library of Congress. (See also One Tenth of a Nation series from American Newsreel spotlighting African-American achievements and achievers of the1950s: The Arts; Newsmakers; Parade of Progress; The Press.)
Pierce, Donna Battle. Freda DeKnight: a ‘Hidden Figure’ and Titan of African-American Cuisine, NPR, February 16, 2017.
Pierce, Donna Battle. Freda De Knight and Postwar Black Cooking. Repast, Quarterly Publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor, v. 26, no, 2, spring 2013.
Pierce, Donna Battle and Evan Kleiman. Donna Battle Pierce on Freda DeKnight and ‘A Date with a Dish’. Interview on Good Food podcast. May 21, 2016.
The Table Freda Built. The Sporkful with Dan Pashman, podcast, June 6, 2022.
Works by Freda De Knight:
De Knight, Freda, and James B. Herndon. A Date With a Dish: a Cook Book of American Negro Recipes. New York: Hermitage Press, 1948.
De Knight, Freda. The Ebony Cookbook: a Date with a Dish: a Cookbook of American Negro Recipes. Chicago, Johnson Pub. Co., 1962.
De Knight, Freda. The Ebony Cookbook: a Date with a Dish. Rev. ed. Chicago, Johnson Pub. Co., 1973.
De Knight, Freda. A Date with a Dish: Classic African-American Recipes. Mineola, NY; Dover Publications, 2014.
De Knight, Freda. Favorite Carnation Recipes, Los Angeles, Carnation Company,1950s.
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