What Mrs. Fisher Knows

Mrs. Abby Fisher must have been some cook. Her friends persuaded her to put her recipes in a cookbook, the first published by a black woman west of the Mississippi.

Abby and her husband Alexander came to California in 1877. In 1879 she won the highest award at the State Fair in Sacramento for her pickles, sauces, and preserves. In San Francisco she became a popular cook and caterer, her cooking rated so highly that everyone wanted her recipes.

Abby Clifton was born into slavery in South Carolina around 1831. Sometime in the 1850s she met and married her husband, Alexander Fisher, in Mobile, Alabama and the couple and their children (they had a total of 11) eventually migrated to California. In the 1880 census Alexander is listed as a “Pickle and Preserve Manufacturer” so it was a joint venture, but Abby was the one who was in demand as a cook and gained fame as a cookbook author.

As she states in her “Introduction and Apology,” Abby Fisher could neither read nor write, and that gave her doubts that she would “be able to present a work that could give perfect satisfaction.” But she didn’t let her doubts hold her back.

But after due consideration, I concluded to bring forward a book of my knowledge based on an experience of upwards of 35 years in the art of cooking soups, gumbos, terrapin stews, meat stews, baked and roast meats, pastries, pies and biscuits, making jellies, pickles, sauces, ice creams and jams, preserving fruits, etc. The book will be found a complete instructor so that a child can understand it and learn the art of cooking. Respectfully – Abby C. Fisher

I learned about Mrs. Fisher from an article by the California State Library: “Mrs. Fisher Pens a Cookbook.” You can read more about her there. Her cookbook, containing 160 recipes, is available from the Internet Archive. The recipes are brief, but certainly usable, with a little imagination. She never tells you how hot to set the oven, for example.

Here is a page with some recipes for pies, in case you want to make a sweet potato pie. Sounds delicious! (A gill is a half-cup.)

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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1 Response to What Mrs. Fisher Knows

  1. Marian Ware says:

    Love this. Peter is going to search the internet library for me , so I can read more about Mrs Fisher. I could do it , but lazy that way.
    Not surprising that she would make use of the local oranges as she did, adding to the sweet potato pie and making an orange pie.
    It is doubtful that she ever tasted an orange in the Deep South.

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