Memories of My Dear Friend Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis

April 13, 1916 – February 13, 2006
Today, I found myself reminiscing about the first time I spoke with my dear friend Chef Edna Lewis. At the time of our very first conversation, Ms. Lewis was a few years shy of retirement and was serving as the executive chef at Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn, New York. I called Ms. Lewis and introduced myself and right away let her know how proud so many of my fellow black chef’s and I were of her contributions to the restaurant industry and especially for all she had done to set a positive example for all African American chefs.

Over the next few years we had many opportunities to work on projects together. In 1993, she had retired and was living in Orange County, Virginia with her brother George, who had also retired and returned home to Virginia from Pasadena California. George had a new home built just down the road from their sister Ruth. I invited her to come to Washington, DC and participate in a dinner at the Hay Adams Hotel, where my friend Patrick Clark was the executive chef. The dinner was great and so was her dessert course Blackberry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream. The next year she returned and did another dinner at the Grand Hyatt Hotel where she made She Crab Soup.

In 1996, Edna and I traveled to Chicago for three days to attend the African Festival where we hosted cooking demonstrations and she signed cookbooks. One morning , Ms. Lewis and I went to Glady’s Lunchonette for breakfast. She was delighted to see scrambled eggs and brains on the menu. She immediately ordered them and began to tell to describe to me her love for hog brains since she was a young girl. I can remember Ms. Lewis saying, “During hog killing time the brains would be the first thing that got eaten.” She was especially excited to eat hog brains that morning. After breakfast Ms. Gladys came out of the kitchen to greet Ms. Lewis and myself. These are memories I will always cherish.

Ms. Lewis gained tremendous accolades for her cookbooks on the pleasures of southern cooking and heritage. Some of her most prized cookbooks included, The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking, and In Pursuit of Flavor. Chef Edna Lewis’ passion for fresh ingredients and authentic flavors will live on through the work of generations of African American chefs to come.

She-Crab Soup
Makes 8 Servings

Female crabs are prized for this famous soup because they contribute a potent but delicate flavor. Following tradition, she-crab soup should be prepared using female crabs exclusively, with their roe added for even more flavor.

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
4 cups heavy cream
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups crab roe or the yolks of 4 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Melt butter in a heavy 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. In a saucepan, heat milk, but do not boil. When butter is hot, whisk in flour to make a roux. Cook roux 2-3 minutes, do not brown. Slowly stir in hot milk, whisking well. Cook over medium low heat until hot, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Pour cream into a large skillet. Bring to boil, whisking occasionally, then reduce heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes until cream has thickened and reduced by [1/4]. Pour cream into hot mixture. Mix well, then stir in crab meat. Cook 30 minutes to allow the flavor to develop, stirring occasionally. Season with sherry and salt. Add crab roe. Ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with parsley and a generous sprinkle of cayenne.

This recipe developed by
Chef Edna Lewis
all rights reserved.

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