Good friend Carol Roark gave me an old cookbook she’d picked up at a garage sale for next to nothing. It’s Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, copyright 1969 and signed by Princess Pamela herself. That’s not so old, but the pages are yellowing and feel fragile.
Princess Pamela ran a tiny soul food spot in Manhattan, Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen, where noted food expert Craig Claiborne was one of her regular customers. The book is subtitled “The Cooking of Black America,” and a blurb tells us that “What Julia Child did for Beef Bourguignon, Princess Pamela does for ham hocks and turnip greens.”
There’s a reproduction of the hand-written menu in the front of the book, with 1969 prices: BBQ ribs, $2.75; Meatloaf, $2.00; Liver (smothered with onions), $2.25; Oxtail (ragau [sic]) $2.00; fried chicken (southern style) $2.25; pork chops (smothered with onions) $2.80. No price on the vegetables but they include collard greens, blackeye peas, salad beautiful, steamed rice, homemade potato salad, and yams. Hot corn bread was served with meals but if you wanted an extra serving, it cost you twenty cents. For dessert: rum cake, bread pudding (with fruit sauce), and peach cobbler, seventy-five cents each. Buttermilk was among the drinks offered, which says something huge to me about a food culture.
Princess Pamela was a philosopher as well as a cook, and each page of the cookbook is enlivened with one of her sayings: “One way to stop an argument is to fill a man’s mouth with good cookin’.” Or “Three things I find offensive—mean men, back-bitin’ women, and sloppy cookin’.” And “I prefer my meats firm but tender which goes for chicken, pork chops, and men.”
I prowled through every page of the book and found some recipes you and I probably won’t ever cook, like chitlins, fried salt pork, tripe either boiled and served with tomato sauce or fried, cracklin’s, scrambled brains, pig tails ‘n’ beans, roast possum with sweet potatoes. But others sounded intriguing—peanut butter biscuits (my grandson would love those), chess pie (what’s not to love?), skillet corn bread, fried green tomatoes with milk gravy.
Many recipes intrigued me, but here’s one I really want to try because I’ve always wondered what to do with a ham steak (other than cook it in a pineapple/raisin sauce, which my mom did and I didn’t care for):
A 2” thick slice of ham
2 heaping tsp. dry mustard
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Combine the flour, dry mustard, and brown sugar. Work the mixture into both side of the ham. Place in baking dish and cover completely with milk. Bake at 350 for about an hour, until ham is tender. When it’s done, the surface should be brown and the milk almost all gone.
Curious about salad beautiful? It’s pretty much a tossed salad, with Boston or iceberg lettuce, a cucumber (unpeeled and chopped), a tomato, chopped, 3 scallions chopped, sweet green and red peppers sliced into rings, Greek olives, and lemon wedges or salad dressing. If you choose lemon juice, Princess Pamela suggests dissolving salt, freshly ground pepper and a little sugar in a mild vinegar and added to the salad, tossing lightly, before decorating with pepper rings and olives.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? I wish I could have eaten at Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen.