Maya Angelou’s love of fine food has been a consistent theme running through her whole life, from her early years spent in Stamps, Arkansas, to her later career as a best-selling novelist who traveled the world. The act of preparing and eating meals cooked from scratch can instill a sense of purpose and tranquility, as well as a sense of accomplishment and connection. Now in Hallelujah! Angelou recounts experiences that are both witty and emotional in her book The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Dishes (PDF), in which she also includes the recipes that served to make those memories timeless and enduring.
Angelou relates to us the story of the time she was kicked out of school for being too timid to speak in front of her classmates, and how her mother cheered her up by baking a lovely maple cake for her. In addition to providing us with her recipe for short ribs, she tells us a story of a time when she worked as a cook at a Creole restaurant, despite the fact that she had no prior experience in the kitchen and was completely unfamiliar with Creole cuisine at the time. There was the occasion in London when Maya went to a terrible dinner party that was full of terrible people. However, it wasn’t all for naught because she got her first taste of a savory onion tart during that dinner party. She talks about the first night she spent in her new house in Sonoma, California, and how she invited M. F. K. Fisher over for cassoulet. She also talks about the night that Deca Mitford roasted a chicken while she was extremely tipsy, which resulted in the creation of Chicken Drunkard Style. And then there was the time Maya Angelou prepared a hearty brunch for a homesick Southerner. The meal was so well received that she was offered a job and given the compliment that foretold her future success: “If you can write half as well as you can cook, you are going to be famous.”
Maya Angelou’s large and hospitable group of friends and family members unanimously agree that she is an exceptional cook. The gathering place in her home is the kitchen. The more than one hundred recipes that are included in this book, ranging from chicken livers to fried meat pies and beef Wellington to caramel cake, bread pudding, and chocolate éclairs, are all tried and true, and originate from Maya Angelou’s heart and her home. Hallelujah! Cooking and writing are two of Maya Angelou’s greatest passions, and The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes is an incredible culmination of those two passions.