History in the Kitchen


"Rose Cake" prepared from the recipe on page 10 of Malinda Russell's A Domestic Cook Book (1866). 

Earlier this month, Special Collections was pleased to host WEMU news reporter Jorge Avellan as he researched a story for their "Hidden in Plain Sight" program, featuring Malinda Russell's A Domestic Cook Book. This unpreposessing little 39-page booklet in faded paper wrappers is one of the greatest treasures of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. Published in Paw Paw, Michigan in 1866, A Domestic Cook Book is the only known copy of the oldest known cookbook published by an African American. 

Cover of A Domestic Cook Book.
Malinda Russell, A Domestic Cook Book (Paw Paw, MI: The Author, 1866). 

The radio feature (still available throughWEMU's website shares some of Malinda Russell's remarkable lifestory and the details of how her cookbook came to the University of Michigan, due to the generosity of Jan and Dan Longone. You'll also hear Jorge Avellan interviewing two MDining Chefs, Chef John Merucci and Chef Jeremy Moser, who enthusiastically brought some of Malinda Russell's recipes into the modern kitchen.

In addition to the delectable Rose Cake pictured with boiled icing at the top of this blog post, they prepared Rusks, Sweet Pickles, and Sweet Potato Baked Pudding. The recipe titles in the preceding sentence link to Malinda Russell's original recipes, but for those home bakers who would like a little more modern formatting and detailed guidance on things like oven temperature, we're also grateful to the chefs for sharing the following, slightly updated version of Sweet Potato Baked Pudding: 


6  sweet potatoes
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
Nutmeg, to taste
1 cup cream
1 tablespoon flour


1. Peel and boil sweet potatoes until soft. 
2. Separate the eggs. 
3. Beat the sugar and yolks together until light. 
4. Mix potatoes with the sugar & yolk mixture.
5. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks
6. Add the egg whites, cream, and flour to the potato mixture. 
7. Bake in the oven at 350*F in a hotel pan (at home, a 9x13 pan will probably do the trick). 

Both Malinda Russell's original A Domestic Cook Book and the 2007 facsimile produced by the Clements Library at the University of Michigan have been digitized and are available to read online or download as PDFs through Hathi Trust. Those interested in learning more about Malinda Russell and other important 19th century African American household publications will especially enjoy the introductory essay by Jan Longone in the facsimile, as well as the 2007 New York Times article “A 19th-Century Ghost Awakens to Redefine ‘Soul.'"