On the south shore of the Bedford Basin, on the outskirts of Halifax, former residents of Africville would be able to smell dinner cooking on their way back from school or church, and now Nova Scotians can get a taste of that experience by following the steps of original recipes.
A group has released a new cookbook through the Africville Museum called In the Africville Kitchen, The Comforts of Home. The cookbook celebrates and honours the history of African Nova Scotians, and it contains recipes that have not been written down until now.
“One of the challenges of the cookbook was that the families were so used to cooking that they didn’t write anything down. So when we went on the search of recipes, it was very, very difficult,” said Juanita Peters, one of the creators and researchers for the book.
Peters said the cookbook has 24 original recipes provided by former residents, as well as some other suggestions. For instance, she said the book has a recipe for eel.
“A lot of people know how to cook eel. But as you know, living on the Bedford Basin, a lot of your content on the table or in your home comes from the waters. And this was one of the great little stories of how they would catch the eel, and then we provide a recipe, and then other people’s recipes for eel as well, as suggestions,” Peters said.
The cookbook has been divided up into meats, fish, desserts and even a specialty of root beer.
In Peters’ search for these recipes, she said she learned the importance of documenting family traditions and memories.
A lot of people cook by memory so they don’t write down their recipes, she said. “I encourage people to write those recipes down,” she said.
“Also, because we live in such a digital age, we’re all walking around and snapping pictures and we have them on our digital cameras or on our computers. I encourage people to print those pictures off so that you’re talking about them with your families,” she added.
Peters said what’s left behind, in pictures or recipes, gives a chance for the next generation to connect with their ancestral legacy.
“We want to be able to share your stories. It’s important to tell the stories of our parents, grandparents and know their legacy, our history. And so if everything goes up in a cloud somewhere, we can’t get to it.”
Peters said the cookbook is available through The Africville Museum, and can be found in Bookmark, located in Halifax.
All proceeds go to the Africville Museum’s Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to former residents and descendants of former Africville residents who pursue post-secondary education.