A Guide to Storing Cheese

It’s that time when tossing a few special cheeses, a bowl of olives, crusty local bread, and some backyard strawberries on a large wooden cutting board is our preferred way of eating. Afternoons are warm with light breezes and plenty of shade thanks to Davis’ urban canopy.

Sharing meals in the backyard, on the porch, or in the park is once again part of our daily nourishment. Don’t bother with the stove on days like these. Just make sure you have plenty of cheese on hand. And, if you can’t construct an underground cheese cellar in your home like our very own Cheesemonger Jess suggests, there are other measures you can take to ensure your fromage maintains its cheesy integrity.

Buy only what you need

Cheese is best fresh, so Cheesemonger Jess recommends only buying what you need for a few days at a time. Once you get your cheese home, use these tips to keep your cheese it’s best!

Beware the plastic wrap 

There are a lot of reasons to avoid using single use plastic. When it comes to cheese, plastic wrap or cling film can significantly alter the taste and texture the longer a cheese remains wrapped up. This is because your little slice of heaven is alive. Cheese ages, sweats, and even breathes, all of which can be stifled if left in plastic too long. 

We are currently exploring alternatives to plastic wrap in our Cheese Department! Until then, rewrap your cheese in parchment, wax paper, or specialty cheese paper when you get home. We carry Formaticum cheese paper – just ask any of our Cheese Specialists. Start by cutting a square 2-3 times larger than your cheese. Wrap cheese somewhat tightly, as you would a birthday present, and secure with a piece of masking tape or a cute little twine bow if you have the patience for that. Label with the type of cheese and date wrapped. 

Hard cheeses: Hard cheeses are meant to be hard, but not so hard that you can’t cut them. After you wrap them in paper, wrap in a square of aluminum foil. This helps maintain proper moisture.

Soft cheeses: Soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert need plenty of air to breathe. Store paper-wrapped soft cheeses in a glass container lined with a paper towel to absorb condensation. With the lid slightly askew, place in the fridge. 

Extra soft cheeses like mozzarella that come in water or brine can remain in their liquid.

Blue cheeses: Blue cheeses are piquant, to put it lightly, which is probably why you love them. Wrap in paper and store in a sealed reusable glass container to prevent the blue cheese flavor from spreading to its milder brethren.

Store in the drawer

Always store cheese in the fridge, never in the freezer. That little drawer is the perfect space for your cheeses: it’s a good balance of humidity and air circulation. Allow cheese to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before you serve it so it reaches maximum flavor.

If you have any questions about storing specific cheeses, our Cheese Specialists are stationed at the Cheese Counter to assist. 

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What to Grill this Weekend

With warm, but not stifling, weather and a break from the wind on its way, this weekend is a great time to fire up the grill. It’s also Mother’s Day weekend, so you may already be planning an outdoor celebration! If Mother’s Day isn’t your thing, check out this blog we wrote about alternative ways you can spend the day (you can still grill, of course). 

We received our first local peaches of the season this week! Try them in this grilled stone fruit and prosciutto salad recipe that comes together in just 30 miuntes. You can easily make this vegetarian or vegan by swapping cubed fontina or smashed green olives for the prosciutto.

Speaking of grillable fruit, spicy pineapple chicken kebabs served with a chilled Sauv Blanc are a crowd-pleasing appetizer or main. I’ve also been dying to try this grilled pork tenderloin recipe with homemade rhubarb bbq sauce since I came across it a few weeks ago on National Co-op Grocers’ website.

If you’re the type to endlessly nibble at family gatherings, which I am, try putting out this grilled vegetable antipasto with asparagus to satisfy the grazers. Psst, local asparagus is on sale for $3.99/pound through 5/11! Grilled artichokes with parmesan aioli and grilled scallions with romesco sauce fulfill this brief as well.

No meat? No problem! You can make grilled eggplant napoleons with halloumi, a salty, grillable cheese that announces the start of summer. Make smoky grilled tofu and broccoli over chilled rice vermicelli noodles for a hearty main course.

As for dessert, try something simple. This recipe for grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream topped with granola really celebrates the peaches we have so dearly missed. Or you could serve an 18-layer naturally dyed rainbow crepe cake if simple isn’t your style.

Recipes mentioned in this post

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Alternatives to Mother’s Day

May 9th

Alternatives to Mother’s Day

May is a beautiful spring month. Flowers are blooming; wisteria and cherry blossoms are pastel and comforting. The weather is finally warm enough for flowy dresses and shorts. This is time to reconnect after months of seasonal dreariness. 

May is also the home of Mother’s Day. This is a day to celebrate mothers, but for some it can be a difficult month and the constant reminder of strained relationships can be triggering. ETSY took the request of shoppers this year to ask all email subscribers if they would like to opt out of all Mother’s Day themed emails. Whether it be absent or strained relationships or recent loss of family members, we are here to offer you some alternatives to enjoy May 9th.

May 9th Ideas

Have a self-care day! Everyone’s idea of self-care will be different. Yoga, Meditation, Hiking or Walking, Exercising, Crafting, Spa Day, Baking, Fishing, Gardening, Reading in the Park, the list goes on. 

May is bike month. Come grab coffee and lunch to-go, put on some sunscreen, and take a leisure bike ride through our beautiful small town! Looking for a longer ride? Grab a Davis Bike Map at the Customer Service Desk; head down Russell Boulevard and Putah Creek Road to Winters for Turkovich or Berryessa Gap Wines or Old Davis Road to Dixon for MOTHER (a houseplant boutique) and The Barn and Pantry.

Treat yourself to some new recipes or take a Teaching Kitchen Class. On Saturday, May 8th we are teaching an 18-layer Rainbow Crepe Cake class! Or try out a recipe from our website davisfood.coop/recipes

Spend the day in the yard or indoor jungle. Spring is the time for repotting and propagating indoor plants and sprucing up your outdoor garden. Stop by the Green Patch and grab some new soil, fertilizer, pots, and plants! Check out our blogs on Propagating and Container Gardening, and our Plant Care Guides.

Have a sibling, friend, or pet day instead. Use this day to celebrate the strong relationships you have. Plan out your ideal friend date, bundle at home or go out and enjoy the spring weather. Just like a self care day, this will vary for everyone. Here is an example of how I would do it; (1) get ready together and dress for the occasion, but comfy (2) lunch and boba, then (3) thrifting, (4) end in the park on a blanket with fruit and conversation or games. 

Spend the day with someone who needs a mother. Sign up to volunteer at the SPCA or foster/adopt at Hearts for Paws Rescue in town. Finding a way to share some love, with a creature that will unconditionally love you back for a walk and some snuggles can be a great way to emotionally heal. Volunteering with both organizations takes a little time and training to qualify. If you are last-minute looking for some snuggles, ask some friends with pets if you can pet sit for the day!

Weekend Happenings: 

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Fair Trade Picks for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 9th. Fair Trade Day is Saturday, May 8th.

If you celebrate Mother’s Day with gift-giving, you can use this opportunity to support Fair Trade certified businesses as well! You can read more about the Fair Trade philosophy and business model in this blog we wrote in 2020.

If Mother’s Day isn’t your thing, for whatever reason, be on the lookout for our upcoming blog on alternative ways to spend the day complete with a calender of weekend events happening in and around Yolo County.

In my household, somehow lip balm became a go-to gift. In our Christmas stockings? Lip balm. Birthdays? Lip balm. In the candy bowl on Halloween? Lip balm. I even got lip balm in a care package when I was studying abroad.

Not only is Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lip Balm fair trade certified, it’s made with jojoba, avocado, and US-grown hemp oils. Use on lips, dry and cracked fingers and toes, rough skin, and to keep your brows looking sharp.

You can find Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lip Balm by the registers. 



There are many fair trade chocolate bars out there. For this Mother’s Day we recommend Theo. Theo uses a third party to verify ethical sourcnig and fair treatment of cacao farmers. Offering stable pricing ensures Theo’s farmers aren’t hurt by the volatile glocal cacao market.

We carry a number of delicious Theo chocolate bars, but this 70% Rasberry Dark Chocolate bar is perfect for Mother’s Day. Slightly tart and earthy with rich cacao, this bar is soy free, gluten free, and vegan.



Marquet’s team of fair trade artisans create absolutely beautiful accessories. You can find Marquet scarves and earrings in our Wellness Department.

Many of Marquet’s artisans are women and mothers. If you won’t be purchasing Mother’s Day gifts for anyone in your life, consider treating yourself to these products in support of fair trade!






My mom may only wear flip flops in the shower, but some moms out there are ready for hot summer days and the freedom to wiggle their toes in public! These Feelgoodz flip flops are made with fair trade rubber by fairly treated artisans in Southeast Asia. We have a handful of colors, all of which can be found in the Wellness Department.

La Riojana’s organic extra virgin olive oil is a blend of Arauco and Manzanilla olives. With notes of dried fruits and a combination of spicy and sweet flavors, this is a unique olive oil that is also versatile in the kitchen. La Riojana received Fair Trade certification in 2015, making them the first Fair Trade certified olive oil producer in all of Latin America.






Coffee is another great fair trade option! Organic Just Coffee Co-op beans are perfect for your mom or mother figure who loves coffee, fair labor practices, and sustainability. Just Coffee Co-op is a Certified B Corp too! Track your coffee via their website and learn about the producers who grew your beans.

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All Natural Allergy Relief

Seasonal allergies aren’t fun for anyone! Try these natural remedies to alleviate your symptoms.

Stay Hydrated

It seems like no matter what the ailment, staying hydrated is one way to prevent or improve it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the case for seasonal allergies as well. 

First, a petite science lesson: Histamine is a compound made by our bodies that regulates physiological functions in the gut, acts as a neurotransmitter in our brain and spinal cord, and is involved in inflammation and immune responses. You’ve likely heard about histamine in conversations about seasonal allergies. This is because symptoms of elevated histamine levels include runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, hives, sneezing, nausea, and headache. Sound familiar? When we are dehydrated, our bodies produce more histamine in an attempt to help retain water. Unfortunately, this triggers seasonal allergy symptoms. 

Technically, staying hydrated won’t prevent or treat an allergic reaction, but drinking enough water can help maintain normal histamine levels in your body.

Regular Cleaning 

This may be a bit of a bummer to hear, but regular, thorough cleaning of a few key things in your home can help reduce your exposure to allergens which trigger seasonal allergy symptoms. The good news is, you’ll feel better and your home will be so clean! We recently wrote a blog about natural home cleaning with 19 easy, safe, and inexpensive DIY cleaning products. 

Vacuum regularly

If you’re an allergy sufferer, make sure you’re vacuuming your floors, rather than sweeping them as brooms do a very good job of kicking up all kids of dust and debris into the air. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends vacuuming twice a week with a vacuum outfitted with a HEPA filter.

Dust weekly

Weekly dusting is highly effective against seasonal allergies. Skip the feather duster and opt for a microfiber cloth instead. Microfiber is designed to grab tiny particles, which means you’ll actually remove the dust from your home. 

Wash your sheets

Your sheets are covered in potential allergens: human and pet hair, dander, pollen, dust mites, and a whole host of other creepy crawlies that can irritate your immune system. Wash your sheets (especially your pillow cases) once a week. If you get bad allergies, you’ll want to vacuum your comforter twice a week and your mattress cover once a month as well.

You can find the following natural allergy remedies in the Co-op’s Wellness Department. If you need help finding something specific, stop by the Wellness Desk and ask one of our Wellness Specialists!

Saline Nasal Irrigation

Sometimes called a sinus flush, saline nasal irrigation can help ease stuffy noses and make it a little easier to breathe when you have seasonal allergies. Rinsing your nasal passages with salt water can help restore moisture to your mucous membranes and ease inflammation. Some folks prefer daily irrigation during allergy season to help keep inflammation under control.


You may have heard that butterbur can be very effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of migraines (researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found this to be the case), but evidence is emerging in favor of butterbur as a treatment for seasonal allergies as well. One study found its participants’ allergy symptoms improved after just 5 days of taking a butterbur supplement by mouth. Scientists attribute this to butterbur’s ability to block allergy-producing leukotriene and histamine.


Quercetin is an antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables including onions and apples. Researches at the National Institutes of Health found it has antihistamine properties as well (it’s actually the most common plant compound found in conventional allergy treatments). Quercetin eases allergy symptoms by decreasing inflammation in our airways.

Stinging Nettle Leaf

Although research has come back with mixed results, stinging nettle has been and continues to be a popular treatment for seasonal allergies. Stinging nettle reduces sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes by lowering inflammation. Stinging nettle can best be used in combination with other natural allergy remedies like quercetin.


Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Emerging research suggests ingesting turmeric regularly may help relieve symptoms caused by seasonal allergies as well. Whether you take turmeric as a supplement or use it in meal preparations, be sure to take black pepper along with it as black pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2,000 percent! 

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Hello Spring Produce!

a sight for sore eyes

With warming weather and blooming flowers comes local Spring produce! Learn about the season’s staples and what you can do with them.

Click on each image to go to the recipe. 


Arugula is a member of the mustard family with peppery, nutty flavors. Like other dark, leafy greens, arugula is filled to the brim with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin K.

Augula Salad Pizza

Springtime Pesto

Citrus and Arugula Salad with Balsamic Dressing


Asparagus is a Spring staple! Its mildly grassy and sweet flavor works in many applications. Asparagus has more glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, than any other fruit or vegetable.


Asparagus and Bell Pepper Quiche

Asparagus Stir-Fry

Broiled Asparagus with Cotija


Raw beets have flesh that is dense, aqueous, and crunchy. When cooked, beets develop a tender, toothsome texture with a mildly sweet, earthy flavor. Red beets are earthier than golden beets. You can even eat the beet greens – they taste like Swiss chard. Beets contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plenty of fiber!

Banana Beet Muffins

Roasted Beet and Fennel Soup


Carrot flesh is dense, crisp, and snappy. Carrots have a sweet, earthy flavor, which intensifies when cooked. The leaves are edible too – use in place of parlsey or in pesto. Carrots are an excellent source or vitamins A and C. 

Moroccan Carrot and Radish Salad

Carrot and Pea Fritters with Raita

Maple Glazed Carrots


Raw garlic is known for its pungent flavor and aroma, which intensifies when chopping, pressing, or pureeing. Cooking garlic mellows its sharpness and roasting it brings a wonderfully sweet flavor to the foreground.

Salad Pizza with Roasted Garlic

Roasted Garlic Aioli


Leeks have an earthy, mild onion flavor and are considered the sweetest and most mild member of the onion family. Raw leeks are crunchy while cooked leeks take on a silky texture. Leeks are a good source of iron, vitamin C, and folate. 

Savory Noodle Kugel with Leeks

Potato Leek Soup with Gruyere


Spring peas are sweet and can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried. They are also a first-rate source of plant-based protein!

Charred Snap Peas with Mint and Lemon

Vegan Split Pea Soup with Rosemary

Weeknight Ravioli with Peas and Ham


With earthy, buttery insides potatoes are one of the most versatile veggies! You can roast, grill, fry, mash, sauté, and boil them. Potatoes can also be prepared alongside so many cuisines. Potatoes contain vitamin C, fiber, and potassium! 

Parmesan Herb Crusted Potatoes

Mashed Potato and Bacon Pizza

Potato and Kale Tart


Radishes, known for their peppery, crisp, white flesh, can be eaten raw or cooked. Slice thin to add a nice bite to salads, tacos, or pizza. You can also roast, braise, grill or pickle to bring out the more subtle sweet and earthy flavors. Radishes also contain enzymes which aid in digestion!

Lentil Salad with Radishes

Radish and Carrot Kimchi


Rhubarb has a texture similar to celery, but the flavor is tart and astringent, which is why it’s often cooked down with sugar in sweet preparations. Rhubarb leaves are toxic with no safe culinary application. Rhubarb’s pink stalks are high in vitamin C, B-Complex vitamins, fiber, calcium, and potassium.

Rhubarb, Strawberry, and Sage Empanadas

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

Super Simple Rhubarb Crisp

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Dyeing Fabric with Kitchen Scraps

Plant Dyed Fabrics

This blog is an introduction to dyeing fabrics with plants. We won’t be using any fancy equipment or mordants here (we’ll get back to that later) – just plants, water, and the fabric you wish to dye. While there are many plants which can be used to dye fabric, this blog will focus on dyes derived from common kitchen scraps: avocado skins and stones, red and yellow onion skins, and carrot tops. 

Using kitchen scraps to dye fabrics is a wonderful way to use plant parts that would otherwise be composted. You may wish to give new life to old or thrifted clothes or use plants to dye bolts of fabric and yarn. Either way, this project is fun, can easily be done over the weekend, and is family friendly. 

Experimentation is a key part of this process. If you fall in love with plant dyeing, try other plants from your garden (nettles make a beautiful slate blue) or pantry (sumac produces a deep burgundy shade). Keep a journal about your process/results, test fabric swatches, and get creative with patterns!

Choosing your Fabric

We recommend using natural fabrics like cotton, wool, or silk. You can use synthetic fabrics, but colors tend to be softer and splotchier, which may be exactly what you’re looking for. All of the fabrics you’ll see in this blog post are 100% cotton. Even though we’re using natural fibers, you’ll want to wash fabrics before dyeing them to ensure an even, saturated color. 

Speaking of evenness, anything with a seam (think clothing) will likely produce an uneven finish. This isn’t a bad thing though! Intentionally, or unintentionally, uneven dyes can be beautiful. While the plant dye and fabrics do their thing, colors can vary widely (more on that later), so accepting that you’re just along for the ride can help you see the beauty in what you’re doing.


Avocado Skins and Stones Scrape away as much flesh from the skins as possible. Set on a sunny windowsill to dry. Gently wash away avocado flesh from stones. Store in a paper bag until ready to use or freeze for longer storage (up to three months). 

Carrot Tops Use stem and leafy parts. Use immediately or store in the freezer for up to three days. 

Red and Yellow Onion Skins Peel away outer layers of onions. Set skins on a sunny windowsill to dry. Store in a paper bag until ready to use or freeze for longer storage (up to three months).


As a general rule, the more plant material you have, the deeper your dye will be.

  • avocado skins and stones: pinky peach
  • red onion skins: pale pink/mauve/brown
  • avocado skins + red onion skins: orange-y peach
  • yellow onion skins: yellow/brown
  • carrot tops: green/pale green
  • yellow onion skins + carrot tops: yellow/pale yellow
Dye vs stain

While many plants can be used to change the color of a fabric, not all of them are actual dyes. Plants like spinach, turmeric, and beets will stain your fabric blue, yellow, and pink, respectively, but the colors will fade with time and washes in a matter of weeks to months. Plants that dye fabric release pigments which bind to the fabric’s fibers. While these dyes may gradually fade over time, the color will hold for years.  


A mordant is a substance which helps the pigments from plants bind to the fibers in your fabric. If you’re dying plant fibers like cotton and you want a vibrant shade, you may want to use a mordant, but this is optional. Animal fibers like wool and silk tend to have an easier time binding with pigments. One of the easiest mordants to use is unsweetened soy milk. After you wash your fabrics, you can soak them in soy milk, lightly ring out, and then allow to air dry before dyeing. 

A note on colors

Colors can vary widely depending on many factors. One avocado skin may produce a bright pink, while another dusty rose. Red onion skins may give you pale mauve or a deeper brown. Color can also vary depending on the material you’re dyeing. Cotton may take carrot tops differently than wool, for example. The water you use can also affect the final color outcome. All of that is to say, your dyes may look very different from those in this post, but this is all part of the fun! Allow this process to surprise and delight you.


  • large pot

  • plants you’re using to dye with

  • fabric that you are dyeing 

  • wooden spoon

  • gloves (only necessary if you wish to avoid temporarily dyeing your hands)

  • optional: strips of fabric to create patterns


1. Pre-wash the fabric you wish to dye with a gentle fabric soap by soaking fabric in soap and warm or hot water for several hours or overnight. Rinse and keep damp before adding to your dye pot. 

2. Fill your dye pot with enough water to cover the material you wish to dye. There should be enough water so fabric can move freely around the pot. Add plant material to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-40 minutes. You’ll see the water gradually deepen in color. The longer you simmer, the darker the color generally. 


3. Begin soaking your fabric. You can begin the soak while the pot is still simmering. You can even simmer for an additional hour with your fabric in the dye pot. Remove from heat and steep for several hours to overnight. Animal fibers should soak for at least 12 hours but up to 24 hours. With a wooden spoon, stir the pot every time you think about it or walk by to encourage an even shade. The longer the fabric soaks, the more vibrant the final product.  

You can use strips of fabric to create patterns in your dye. Cut an old t-shirt or kitchen cloth into thin strips to tie tightly where you don’t want dye. Stripes are the easiest! Some cloth (red and pink mostly) may transfer its color onto the fabric you’re dyeing so use white/undyed fabric if you don’t want dye transfered. 

4. When your fabric has reached your desired shade, remove it from the pot. Rinse in warm or cool water and gentle fabric soap. Hang dry. 

5. Wash your plant dyed fabrics in cold water and dry on the lowest heat setting or air-dry for long-lasting color.

King sized pillow case dyed with carrot tops and yellow onion skins. Fabric strips create a striped pattern. Soaked in dye pot for 3 hours.

Small cotton pouch dyed with avocado skins and red onion skins. Soaked in dye pot for 3 hours. 

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Black History Month

Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, we will be celebrating and recognizing the contributions that Black Americans have had on our food system throughout history. The Co-op, and America as a whole, have been directly influenced by these innovators that created many of the advancements in food as we know them today. Keep an eye out for our posts throughout the month that will highlight some of these great visionaries!

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver is often credited with the creation of peanut butter but his influence in the world of food goes far beyond that. He was an agricultural chemist, agronomist, and experimenter whose development of new products derived from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans helped revolutionize the agricultural economy of the South in the early 20th Century.

Starting in in 1896, Carver devoted his time to research projects aimed at helping Southern agriculture, demonstrating ways in which farmers could improve their economic situation. He conducted experiments in soil management and crop production and directed an experimental farm. At this time agriculture in the Deep South was in steep decline because the unremitting single-crop cultivation of cotton had left the soil of many fields exhausted and worthless, and erosion had then taken its toll on areas that could no longer sustain any plant cover. As a remedy, Carver urged Southern farmers to plant peanuts and soybeans. As members of the legume family, these plants could restore nitrogen to the soil while also providing the protein so badly needed in the diet of many Southerners at the time.

Carver revealed his experiments to the public in 1914, and increasing numbers of the South’s farmers began to turn to peanuts, sweet potatoes, and their derivatives for income. Much exhausted land was renewed, and the South became a major new supplier of agricultural products. When Carver started his research in 1896, the peanut had not even been recognized as a crop, but within the next half century it became one of the six leading crops throughout the United States and, in the South, the second cash crop by 1940. Additionally, his research ultimately helped develop 300 derivative products from peanuts—among them: milk, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils, and cosmetics—and 118 from sweet potatoes, including: flour, vinegar, molasses, ink, a synthetic rubber, and postage stamp glue.

Frederick McKinley Jones

In 1939, Frederick McKinley Jones patented the world’s first successful refrigerated transportation system. Two years later, he released an improved version, the Thermo King Model C, which revolutionized the agriculture and grocery industries.
While Frederick McKinley Jones patented more than sixty inventions over his sixty-seven-year lifetime (making him one of the most prolific African-American inventors ever) the Model C stands as his most prominent achievement. The Model C was the first cooling unit mounted on the front side of a vehicle. Units fixed in this location collected less dirt than under-mounted versions. That combined with its unitary, metal body gave it the rigidity to withstand long trips and the lightness (700 lbs) to save precious engine power. This meant that seasonal crops could now be shipped across longer distances and nations could trade perishable goods.

Today, more than ¾ of food transported in the United States is done so with a refrigeration unit. There is no doubt that Jones’ innovation helped shape the future of both agriculture and the modern grocery store.

Lloyd Augustus Hall

Lloyd Augustus Hall invented a number of ways to better preserve food and is widely regarded as one of the most important food chemists of the 20th century. During a 40+ year career that started in 1921, he amassed 59 U.S. patents while working as a consultant for both Griffith’s Laboratories and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Hall pioneered antioxidant use when he discovered that foods with fats and oils spoiled when certain ingredients react with oxygen in the air. He also proved that some spices exposed food to microbes that sped up the process of food spoiling. This was contrary to beliefs at the time, which held that spices acted as food preservatives.
Many food preservation techniques used today were pioneered by Dr. Hall’s methods. He is responsible for many of the meat curing products, seasonings, emulsions, bakery products, antioxidants, protein hydrolysates, and other substances that keeps certain foods fresh and flavorful today.

Henry Blair

Henry Blair received his first US Patent in 1834, the second Black man to be issued a patent in the United States. His invention, a corn seed planter, dramatically improved efficiency in corn planting. A successful farmer for years, Blair used his inventions to increase productivity on his farm and farms across the country. Two years later, Blair was issued a patent for his mechanical cotton planter, similarly optimizing cotton planting. According to an 1836 article in The Mechanics’ Magazine, Blair’s planter could “save the labor of eight men”.

Blair was born in Glen Ross, Maryland in 1807. Although he was likely a freedman, until 1858 free and enslaved men could apply for US patents. After a slave-owner challenged this law in 1857, the law was re-written to exclude any enslaved persons from applying for and obtaining a patent. This law wasn’t changed until 1871, eleven years after Blair’s death and six years after the end of the Civil War. Today, .3% of US patents are issued to Black Americans.

Dr. Booker T Whatley

Did you know Community Supported Agriculture has roots in Black history? Although popularized by white farmers in the 1980s, Dr. Booker T Whatley listed having a Clientele Membership Club as one of his Ten Commandments for Small Farms in the 1960s. Dr. Whatley was born the eldest of twelve children on his family’s farm in Anniston, Alabama. With a passion for agriculture, Dr. Whatley grew up to be a prominent author, horticulturist, and professor at Tuskegee University.

Between his youth and adulthood Dr. Whatley saw the steep decline of Black farms and farmers. When he was born black farms made up 14% of farms in the US. In 2021, Black farms account for just 1.4%. Seeing this decline, he created his Ten Commandments which he considered essential for the success of small and mid-sized farms in the 60s and 70s. Dr. Whatley’s Clientele Membership Club, asked members to pay an upfront fee to pick their own produce throughout the season. This enabled farmers to pay for seeds and equipment without taking out a loan at the beginning of the season, saved them labor during harvest, and gave club members agency in choosing their food.

Dr. Whatley’s Ten Commandments were cutting edge in his time. Now, we consider CSA and Pick Your Own staples of the good food movement. And while CSA and cooperative economics in farming have been practiced all over the world, we want to recognize Dr. Whatley’s contribution and its revolutionary effect on US American farming.

Joseph Lee

Joesph Lee’s world was the food industry, and his glorious career in food service began when he was a young boy and worked in a bakery. Armed with hands-on experience, he eventually began preparing, cooking and serving food. He was so successful that he opened two restaurants in the Boston area, then went on to also own and manage the popular Woodland Park Hotel for 17 years.

It was during the peak of his success as a Master Chef that Lee got the idea for the bread crumbing machine. In his opinion, throwing out day-old bread was a waste, when it could instead be used to prepare foods. He had long felt that bread crumbs were superior to cracker crumbs, so he quickly began working on a device that automatically tore, crumbled and ground day-old bread into crumbs.

In June of 1895, Lee patented his bread-crumbing machine. The picture here is of Lee himself using the machine. Lee’s machine was so efficient, it reduced manpower by 75% and was quickly adopted by restaurants all over the country. But Lee wasn’t finished. He soon invented a bread-making machine that could mix ingredients and knead dough so quickly and efficiently, it did the work of six men — and did it cheaper and more hygienically than it had ever been done before. This machine was the predecessor of bread-making machines that are still in use in bakeries and restaurants all across the world today.

George “Crum” Speck & Kate Wicks

George “Crum” Speck is often credited with the invention of the potato chip. While there is no doubt that Speck helped popularized this new snack that would become a staple in America, there seems to be some indication that his sister, Kate Wicks, may have also played a part in the accidental discovery of the chip while they were working together as cooks at the Moon Lake Lodge Resort in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The commonly told tale goes something like this: A customer that ordered french fries repeatedly sent them back to the kitchen for being too thickly cut. In frustration, Speck cut a potato into the thinnest of slices, fried them in oil, and sent them back out. These crispy fried potatoes would be the first potato chips served in the US. However, his sister Kate Wicks has a different version of the story in which she says she sliced off a sliver of potato and it fell into a hot frying pan by accident. Speck then tasted the sliced potato and gave his enthusiastic approval of the chip.

Regardless of which story was the correct version, there is no doubt that Speck’s promotion of the chip helped popularize it. Wealthy visitors to Moon’s restaurant soon spread the word about the “Saratoga chips”, often traveling from Boston and New York specifically for the delicacy. Speck opened his own restaurant, Crum’s Place, in 1860 in Malta, New York where he provided every table with a basket of chips. His chip would remain a delicacy for the elite until the 1920s when entrepreneur Herman Lay brought the chips to the South to introduce them to a wider audience. Lay’s mass production and worldwide distribution of potato chips soon overshadowed Speck’s legacy. Nonetheless, the accidental discovery of the potato chip by George Speck and Kate Wicks led to the potato chip as we know it today in the US.

Robert Lloyd Smith

Robert Lloyd Smith founded the Farmers’ Improvement Society in 1890 with the goal of guiding Black farmers to economic independence through home and farm ownership, cooperative buying, cash purchasing instead of credit buying, and raising most of their own food. Although born, raised, and educated in South Carolina, R L Smith moved to Oakland, Texas in the late 1870s to become the principal of the Oakland Normal School, a leading teacher-training educational institution in the state. Before founding the Farmers’ Improvement Society, he served as an aide to Booker T Washington, advocating for self-help and solidarity as a means to economic independence and growth for Black US Americans. ⁠

Smith founded the Society to assist Black farmers in the area who worked as sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Sharecropping and tenant farming required farmers to rent land from the landowner, give a portion of their crop to landowners as rent, and purchase seeds and equipment from the landowner or from a merchant on credit. Many Black farmers became deeply indebted to landowners. R L Smith challenged this system through the Society which also sponsored agricultural fairs for Black farmers and paid sickness and death benefits. The Society spread throughout Texas and to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Under R L Smith’s leadership the Society grew to include a truck growers’ union, an agricultural college, the Farmers’ Improvement Bank, and the Woman’s Barnyard Auxiliaries, which specialized in better egg, poultry, butter, and swine production. ⁠

Alexander P. Ashbourne

Alexander P. Ashbourne was an early inventor. He was born into slavery in Philadelphia around 1820 and while there are very few documented facts about his personal life, it is know that he grew up cutting wheat alongside his family members. This would lead him to think of more efficient ways to cut wheat which would result in an important invention later in life.

Since Ashbourne was born after the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act was passed in 1780, he was not subject to a lifetime of enslavement. Although the exact date of his emancipation is unknown, by 1847 all enslaved people in Pennsylvania had been freed. Ashbourne disappeared from the public record until 1863, when he reemerged working as a caterer. By this time, he was well known and respected in the city. He catered weddings and buffets of the wealthy elite in Philadelphia, and was selected as one of a handful of local caterers for the 1863 Emancipation Celebration held in the city.

While attending this event, Ashbourne noticed that the biscuits were simply hand patted and lacked any real form. He began a decade long process to create a device, a spring-loaded biscuit cutter, that would guarantee a uniform shape and size. Ashbourne applied for a patent for his invention on May 11, 1875, and on November 20, 1876 he was granted a patent for the cutter. The cutter also contained metal plates with various shapes. The cook could push down on the plate to cut the dough into specialized shapes, a method that is still used for numerous baked goods today.

Ashbourne continued to invent, and also received a patent for processing coconut oil on August 21, 1877. The Ashbourne process for refining the oil included filtration, bleaching, high temperature heating, and finally hydrogenation to ensure that no unsaturated fatty acids were left in the oil. Ashbourne began working on this process in 1875 and received a patent for it on July 27, 1880. Thanks to Ashbourne’s early work, coconut oil is widely used in hair products, foods, and scented products today.

Alfred Cralle

What’s the scoop on Alfred Cralle? Born in 1866 in Virginia, just after the end of the American Civil War, Cralle attended local schools and worked for his father in the carpentry trade as a young man. During that period, he also became interested in mechanics.

Cralle was sent to Washington D.C. where he attended Wayland Seminary, a branch of the National Theological Institute, one of a number of schools founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society immediately after the Civil War to help educate newly freed African Americans. After attending the school for a few years, Cralle moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a porter at a drugstore and at a hotel.

While working at the hotel, he developed the idea of the ice cream scoop. It came to him when he noticed ice cream servers having difficulty trying to get the popular confection desired by the customer into the cone they were usually holding. The ice cream tended to stick to spoons and ladles, usually requiring the server to use two hands and at least two separate implements to serve customers. Cralle responded to that problem by creating a mechanical device now known as the ice cream scoop. He applied for and received a patent on February 2, 1897.

Cralle’s invention, originally called an Ice Cream Mold and Disher, was designed to be able to keep ice cream and other foods from sticking. It was easy to operate with one hand. Since the Mold and Disher was strong and durable, effective, and inexpensive, it could be constructed in almost any desired shape, such as cone or a mound, with no delicate parts that could break or malfunction. This innovative product has lasted until today as the best method for scooping ice cream. Next time you get a cone or cup, be sure to remember the contributions of Alfred Cralle!

Abby Fisher

One Summer day in 1880, a 48-year-old Mrs. Abby Fisher took the stage at the 15th annual San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair to accept two medals: a bronze for best pickles and sauces, and a silver for best assortment of jellies and preserves. The jurors later wrote that “her pickles and sauces have a piquancy and flavor seldom equaled, and, when once tasted, not soon forgotten.”
At this point, Fisher was already a famed, local, culinary authority. She had taken home a diploma at the Sacramento State Fair in 1879, its highest award. Her cooking chops became so revered that the Women’s Co-operative Printing Office published her extensive cookbook, entitled “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”, in 1881.
Fisher migrated from Alabama with her husband and 11 children to California in 1877. Upon arriving in San Francisco, she used her talents to set up a preserves business. The extraordinary cookbook she put together is one of the first authored by an African-American woman. Besides being a trove for sensational recipes —ranging from savory to sweet, encompassing both the briney and beefy—Fisher’s cookbook also helped to immortalize the culinary imprint of African-Americans.
What’s most remarkable about Fisher’s recipes is that they’re captured in her own words which was a rarity for African Americans at that time. They also provide a clear glimpse into food that she herself made at home for her family rather than what she cooked at plantations early in her life. In recent years, chefs and cultural institutions alike have been cooking Fisher’s specialties and revamping them for 21st-century palates. Abby Fisher paved the way for African American women to be respected and awarded for their contributions to the culinary world, and her recipes have truly stood the test of time.

Moe Burton

Bryant-Central Co-op was started in the mid-70s and was spearheaded by a community organizer, Moe Burton. Burton, who had been involved in the Socialist Workers Party and the Black Panthers, was drawn to the practicality of the co-op. He worked closely with the Cooperative Organization in Minnesota to create an equitable and affordable store that everyone could benefit from.
While many co-ops at this time focus on healthy food and volunteer workers, Moe fought hard for affordability over all else. The co-op also moved to compensation much quicker than others, hiring young adults and teenagers in the neighborhood to learn skills and stay busy during the summer.
Bryant-Central, unfortunately, closed in 1978, but Seward Co-op filled the need for healthy and affordable food in this neighborhood.
“At Seward Co-op we are proud to honor and build on the legacies of past cooperators. People like W.E.B. Du Bois, Mo Burton, and groups like the Credjafawn Social Club, not to mention, the countless unnamed individuals that did the physical work of starting first wave co-ops are critical in our understanding of the stories of those who came before us. Communities, like our own, have used cooperatives in order to end oppression and eradicate injustices, particularly in food justice.” – Seward Co-op

Jereline Bethune

While many know the story of Rosa Parks, and how she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, the work of Jereline Bethune is not as widely discussed. Shortly after Parks’ historic act of activism, more bus boycotts began around the city and it was the staff of Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit in Montgomery, AL, owned by the Jereline and her husband Larry, that helped organize parts of those boycotts. These boycotts helped propel the civil rights movement into the national conversation at the time.
Jereline and Larry Bethune first opened the restaurant in 1942; back then it was a nightclub, the Siesta Club, that also sold food. It later shifted focus towards barbeque and became Brenda’s, named for one of their daughters. Jereline’s passion for food was paired with her passion for the civil rights movement, and her restaurant became an important community pillar. Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit would go on to become an unofficial center for the local civil rights movement, holding N.A.A.C.P. meetings, printing fliers and planning protests.
But even after the bus boycotts, Ms. Bethune continued her work for the movement. Most notably, she quietly held lessons to teach other African-Americans to read so they could pass the literacy test, which functioned as a way to suppress the black vote during the height of the Jim Crow era. Donetta Bethune, the Bethunes’ granddaughter, described it as: “Let’s learn how to read. Let’s learn how to vote. Let’s go after our own rights so we never have to be treated in a way that we’re not equal to again. In the black community, that’s how they lived back then. Everyone helped each other, or else how could you get by or how could you make it through?” Jereline also continued organizing and supporting boycotts and protests. She can be found pictured directly in the center of this image taken from the notorious March from Selma in 1965.
Brenda’s is family-run to this day, and it still feeds locals its popular ribs, pig ears and chopped pork. But more important than the food, is the legacy that was left behind.

Virginia Estelle Randolph

Virginia Estelle Randolph was a pioneering educator, community health advocate, organizational leader, and humanitarian. She was born to formerly enslaved parents in Richmond, Virginia in 1870 and would go on to a career in education and community building which spanned nearly 60 years. Her passion for education commitment to her community sparked interracial cooperation which broadened access to educational opportunities and healthcare for Black folks in her community.

As the first countywide Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher in the South in 1908, Randolph traveled to every Black school in Henrico County to train teachers and build community support. She was internationally recognized for her methods which were used in rural communities across the South and in British colonies abroad.

As a founding member of the Negro Organization Society, Randolph led major initiatives in public health and continuing education for Black educators and farmers. The society’s motto, “Better Schools, Better Health, Better Homes, and Better Farms,” encompasses Randolph’s holistic approach to community health and wellbeing. To the same end, she was appointed Chairman of the committee in charge of food supplies of the Colored Branch of the Red Cross, of which she was a founding member. Randolph strengthened not only her community, but laid a groundbreaking foundation for community health advocacy and rural education. And although we may not realize it, her contributions have had a lasting legacy as teachers continue her work today.

Zephyr Wright

Zephyr Wright drew in crowds with her comfort food. But the one person who may have benefited the most was Lyndon B. Johnson.
Wright was born and raised in Marshall, TX and in 1942, she started working for the Johnsons as a maid and cook to help pay her way through college. She ended up staying with the family until 1969, through the duration of Johnson’s presidency. While Johnson was in Congress, his home quickly became known for its food, as other politicians visited regularly and built relationships over Wright’s chile con queso and peach cobbler. Lady Bird Johnson once wrote, “I have yet to find a great chef whose desserts I like as well as Zephyr’s.”
Wright was known to have told Johnson of her experiences with discrimination which ultimately guided his decision making process in regards to Civil Rights changes at the time. Leonard H. Marks, the director of the United States Information Agency at the time of Johnson’s presidency, was one witness to this. “When Sammy and I drive to Texas and I have to go to the bathroom, like Lady Bird or the girls, I am not allowed to go to the bathroom,” Mr. Marks recounted Wright telling Johnson. (Her husband, Sammy, was Johnson’s driver.) “I have to find a bush and squat. When it comes time to eat, we can’t go into restaurants. We have to eat out of a brown bag.”
When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Wright was there. After he finished, he gave her a pen he used and said, “You deserve this more than anybody else.”

Martha Jones

Black women have long contributed to America’s culture of innovation. Martha Jones, who may have been the first Black woman to earn a US patent, was an inventor who made significant contributions to agriculture with her corn husker and sheller. Jones was issued a patent for her “Improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller” (pictured) in 1868, 59 years after the first white woman received a patent and 47 years after the first Black man. Jones claimed her invention could husk, shell, cut up, and separate husks from corn in one operation, marking a significant step forward in the automation of agriculture. Aside from the information associated with her patent, we don’t know much about the life of Martha Jones. 

While Martha Jones is widely believed to be the first Black female recipient of a US patent, it is possible there were Black women who came before her. Time for a bit of patent law history: With the passing of the Patent Act in 1793, patent applicants were required to swear an oath affirming that they were the original inventor of the invention receiving the patent and that they were a US citizen. Fast forward to the 1857 Dred Scott decision which prohibited anyone of African descent from claiming US citizenship and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to US citizens, regardless of place of birth or status of freedom. In many cases, this prohibited Black folks from receiving patents. However, it is possible that Black female inventors applied for patents through other people, a work around, before Martha Jones. That being said, Jones’ corn husker and sheller represents a major step forward in agricultural processing, regardless of whether or not she was the first Black woman to receive a patent.

Judy Reed

If you’ve ever kneaded bread dough by hand you may have found yourself wishing for an easier way to do it. Enter Judy Reed. In keeping yesterday’s theme of early Black women inventors, Judy Reed was issued a US patent in 1883 for her Improved Dough Kneader and Roller (pictured). Her machine allowed bread dough to be more evenly mixed before getting rolled out into a covered chamber. With her invention, Reed directly contributed to advancing both food processing and food safety. 

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the life of Judy Reed. She lived in Washington DC and signed her patent with an “X”. Likely the third Black woman to receive a US patent, Reed lived at a time when Black women inventors received little recognition for their inventions and saw fewer profits. We do know that Judy Reed thought critically about food and food systems and had the mechanical know-how to contribute meaningfully to the process. Most of us still eat store-bought bread on a daily basis, so next time you toast up a slice of bread think of Judy Reed and her contribution to your breakfast!

Combahee River Colony

From mutual aid societies and independent fugitive communities to land and food co-ops, the Black community has a long, but little recognized, tradition of cooperation in the United States. Early forms of cooperation included mutual insurance companies, buying clubs, and collective farming. Both free and enslaved Black people pooled money to pay for burials, land, sick benefits, and buying freedom for one another. The Underground Railroad is another example of a cooperative effort. Cooperation served as a powerful tool, allowing Black folks to improve each other’s lives in the face of blatant racism and active sabotage. Housing and land co-ops offered Black folks access where racist and discriminatory policies would prohibit individual action. 

Throughout this long tradition of cooperation, women often founded and ran Black cooperative efforts. This is the case with the Combahee River Colony, which formed in South Carolina during the Civil War. As men left to join the Union Army, Black women in South Carolina took to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Islands in the Combahee River region to grow cotton on abandoned farms. These women formed an intentional community which collectively farmed the area throughout the war and several years after. Eventually, hundreds of women farmed with colony, securing food, shelter, and income for themselves and their families.

Melbah McAfee Smith

Today we’re sharing the story of cooperative developer and 2009 Cooperative Hall of Fame inductee Melbah McAfee Smith. McAfee Smith was born on a rural farm in Mississippi where her family operated 40 acres of fruit, vegetables, and livestock. In 1972, after graduating with a degree in business administration, she began her 40 year career as a co-op developer with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

Through her work with the Federation, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and the Mississippi Cooperative Development Center, McAfee Smith built co-ops in some of the most impoverished areas of the country. Using the cooperative model and her visionary leadership, McAfee Smith brought health care, economic development, and social justice to the communities she worked with. She helped form more than 25 co-ops and developed invaluable financial support networks to ensure their longevity. After Hurricane Katrina McAfee Smith helped form the state’s first worker-owned business, which created jobs and provided health care for low income and elderly folks in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.

Melbah McAfee Smith’s work has propelled the cooperative movement forward. We’re inspired by and grateful for her insight, enthusiasm, and unparalleled intuition when it comes to building communities and grassroots cooperative action. She says, “…I am convinced that cooperation works, and if we work together we can change things, not only in our local communities, but in our regions as well as in this country. There’s a spiritual relationship to working together.” We couldn’t agree more.

James Hemings

If you enjoy macaroni and cheese, french fries, crème brûlée, and/or ice cream, you have James Hemings to thank. Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France and would go on to prepare Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton’s meal as they sat down to political negotiations amidst their famous feud. 

James Hemings was born into slavery in 1765. When he was 8 years old, Thomas Jefferson inherited him as property. When Jefferson was appointed Commerce Minister to France, the 19 year old Hemmings went with him to train as a chef. He studied in prestigious French kitchens, trained with a master pastry chef, but, most importantly, he spent time at Château de Chantilly, which was considered to have better food and chefs than Versailles. He became the chef de cuisine at Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s personal residence, in 1787. Here he cooked for politicians and celebrities. 

Hemings was freed in 1796. He spent some years travelling before returning to Jefferson, this time as a paid employee, to run the Monticello kitchens. In 1801 he committed suicide. He and his cooking were recently immortalized in the musical Hamilton. Moreover, James Hemings introduced us to foods that would become hallmarks of American culture for centuries and set standards which chefs strive toward today.

Robert W. Lee

The year is 1964. There is a line stretching nearly a mile from the doors of the Harrisburger Hotel. The smell of chicken pot pies and chopped chicken livers wafts through the air. But everyone is in line for Executive Chef Lee’s crab cakes as the Harrisburger is the only place to get authentic Southern crab cakes in the North. 

Chef Robert W. Lee was born in Georgia. In 1918, at the age of 7, he started work for French Chef Eugene Bruauier after noticing the man coming from the Baltimore Hotel day after day and doing quite well. Lee trained under Bruauier for 13 years. By now an accomplished chef, he joined the army in 1942 where he became a mess sergeant and instructor. He was awarded a presidential medal by Franklin D. Roosevelt for training hundreds of cooks during the war. Shortly after his discharge he became the executive chef at the Harrisburger Hotel in Pennsylvania. Later in life he said, “Harrisburg, as far as food, was not on the map until I came here.” 

He served as executive chef for nearly 30 years. Throughout his career Lee trained Black men and women for careers in the culinary field. He lectured and held cooking demonstrations at the Pennsylvania State University School of Hotel Management. He had a fiercely loyal following at every restaurant he managed and cooked in. Lee worked and succeeded in a field dominated by white men and in a country where Jim Crow Laws mandated segregation. Later in his career, he was asked to do a cooking demonstration at a hotel. A sign outside of the hotel directed Black folks to the rear entrance. He threatened to leave unless management agreed to let him walk through the front door, which they did. In later interviews he stated that he didn’t let discrimination slow him down. In 1979 he retired with his wife, Geneva, and continued cooking until his death in 1999. Countless chefs alive today were trained by Lee and his crab cake recipe lives on.

Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis, known as the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking, was one of the first Black women from the South to write a cookbook that did not conceal her true name, race, or gender. She also taught Americans to appreciate and love traditional Southern cuisine. She was born in 1916 in Freetown, Virginia, a community that was largely independent and practiced cooperation. She grew up growing, foraging, harvesting, and processing food for her community. She learned to cook and learned to love it from an early age. 

Lewis moved to New York City at age 16 and became an accomplished seamstress making dresses for the likes of Dorcas Avedon and Marilyn Monroe. But this was not her dream. In 1949 her dreams came to fruition when she and her friend John Nicholson opened Cafe Nicholson where she was head chef. Lewis prepared traditional Southern dishes for Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Salvador Dali, and Eleanor Roosevelt among others.  

Lewis recognized the growing demand for cookbooks and creative foods and sat down to pen the Edna Lewis Cookbook at a time when publicly visible Black women chefs were few and far between. With her first book a success, Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones, approached Lewis about more cookbooks. She published several more cookbooks that celebrated Southern cuisine and broke ground for Black women chefs across the country. She mentored many prominent chefs, garnered international acclaim, and continued working as a chef into her 70s.

George T. Downing

In addition to being a prominent New York caterer, George T. Downing worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist for over 70 years. He was born in New York City in 1819 to free parents, Thomas and Rebecca Downing. His father, Thomas Downing, cultivated oyster beds in the Jersey flats. In the 1830s, oysters were inexpensive and enjoyed universally in New York City. The senior Downing ran the Oyster House on Broad Street and served a menu that appealed to powerful white men. The Oyster House garnered international acclaim: Charles Dickens supped there and Downing sent oysters to Queen Victoria who sent back her thanks and a gold watch. George, who, like his father, was an entrepreneur, started his own catering business serving New York’s elite as well.

The Downings’ carpeted fine dining room lit by huge chandeliers was, of course, whites only. Downstairs, however, was a key stop in the Underground Railroad. Black folks making their way north could always count on the Downing’s for safety and rest, and for the best oysters in the city. George Downing’s activism didn’t stop there. He funded schools for Black children, led the fight in desegregating New York’s trolley system, with Frederick Douglas he propelled union efforts forward, pushed for integrating Rhode Island’s public schools, enlisted Black men for the Union Army, argued for women’s rights as well as civil rights, campaigned for an end to violence at the hands of the Klan during Reconstruction in the South, and advocated for the repeal of anti-interracial marriage laws in Rhode Island.

George Downing remained an activist until he died in 1903. As caterer to the stars (including the Kennedy’s), Downing was a tastemaker of the New York elite, but it was his work as an abolitionist and civil rights leader which saved countless lives and has had a lasting impact on this country for the better.

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