Chef notes

Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning culinary historian, cookbook writer and journalist who specializes within the meals and foodways of the African diaspora. With this column, “My Culinary Compass,” she is taking folks everywhere in the world — through their style buds — with recipes impressed by her intensive travels.

Compass factors: True north.

Everybody has a spot they outline as residence, a spot embedded of their DNA so tightly as to be part of their matrix. Typically it’s a place of their current, generally it’s a place of their previous. Whereas I’m very snug within the current, my culinary true north is the kitchen on Anderson Street in Queens in the home the place I grew up. I vividly keep in mind its format and the way the desk within the breakfast nook, the place we had dinner on weeknights served because the prep zone when my mom cooked. I be taught to cook dinner in that kitchen whereas watching my mom.  I keep in mind sitting on the underside step of the step stool that my — dare I say it — quick mom used to get to the highest cabinets. I keep in mind the radio the place I listened to kids’s reveals on Saturday mornings and watching attentively as mother made biscuits and pie crusts and seasoned roasts and chopped greens. As she was a working mom with an lively solely youngster, my being within the kitchen served two functions: childcare and instruction. Of necessity, my mom grew to become my culinary teacher instructing by instance and by demonstration.

My mom was a grasp instructor as she truly had been educated as a dietitian and had an affiliate’s diploma in dietetics from Pratt College. She labored briefly within the subject at Bennett Faculty an African American ladies’s establishment in Greensboro, North Carolina, and as a non-public dietitian for rich household in New York Metropolis. She beloved meals and had the most effective palate of anybody I’ve ever identified, however she left the sector when pals satisfied her that being a dietitian was too near home work. She grew to become a secretary.

She exercised her culinary expertise in our family kitchen and I used to be her apprentice and ultimately her sous chef. I used to be a most prepared pupil and discovered to cut and season with the most effective of them. I mastered roasting chickens and creating a number of the basic dishes of the African American repertoire that turned up on our desk. Nevertheless, lengthy earlier than I used to be dealing with knives and mixing spices, our earliest bonding moments got here after we baked cookies collectively.

Then, she would get out the frayed copy of the “Boston Cooking-College Cook dinner Ebook” that she had used at Pratt and we’d determine what kind of cookies we had been going to make. One in every of my favorites was an oatmeal cookie that had simply sufficient crispness to be crunchy and was easy to organize. I’d be detailed to greasing the cookie pans and assembling the few components: oatmeal, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Then, we’d bake the cookies.

I had not considered the cookies or ready them for greater than 60 years, till just lately, once I determined to get out the venerable copy of the cookbook and make them. As a result of I’m incapable of following recipes with out experimenting, I changed a number of the oats with dried coconut and almonds and added a splash of lemon extract (a household secret that provides a brightness to most baked items). The outcomes had been pleasant with sufficient of the previous to make me nostalgic and a touch of the current in my additions.

I served them to a good friend and was astonished when she requested in regards to the components after which knowledgeable me that they weren’t solely amazingly tasty, but additionally gluten-free. I used to be delighted to know that an adaptation of a cookie recipe from my true-north kitchen had mixed my tastes from the previous with the current dietary wants of a few of my pals. Someplace I do know my mom is smiling.


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Preheat the oven to 325 F.


In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg till mild.

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Slowly add the sugar, whisking continuously, till well-combined.


Add the melted butter, vanilla extract and lemon extract, and whisk to mix.


Add the oats, almonds, coconut and salt, and stir till well-combined.

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Utilizing a teaspoon measure, drop mounds of the cookie combination onto parchment-lined sheet pans, spacing 1½ inches aside.

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Utilizing a fork dipped in chilly water, use the tines to unfold the combination right into a round form.

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Bake till delicately browned across the edges, about 12 minutes.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Let sit for 10 minutes earlier than fastidiously transferring the cookies to a cooling rack; cool utterly. Retailer in an hermetic container.

Tailored from the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Little Brown and Firm, 1931.

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