Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, tucked into West Denver between downtown and City Park, traces its roots back to 1886. The church’s mission is derived from the third parable of Matthew 25, and food is part of it.
“Are you hungry? . . . We feed you!”
“The Soul Food Scholar,” otherwise known as Denver food writer Adrian Miller, has been well fed — spiritually and culinarily — by the church for decades.
“It’s just a wonderful church that I’ve been a part of all my life,” he said.
Many of the recipes he grew up with are collected in “Our Favorite Recipes,” a 1984 cookbook from the church’s hospitality committee. Naturally, it includes a recipe for greens, a staple as far as Miller is concerned. He isn’t just fond of this dish’s flavors, he notes the recipe comes from the wife of his longtime childhood pastor.
“In African-American cuisine, greens are often seasoned with smoked meat,” Miller explained. “You can use any greens. Collard, kale, mustard, turnip, and then you add smoke ham hocks and then some onion, garlic and some red pepper.”
The cookbook is about community — and in these trying times of pandemic and protest, there’s no better opportunity to seek some understanding than to break bread together.
“I mean you would expect maybe just soul food, but it's got recipes from other parts of the world. It's got Native American herbal cures, all kinds of stuff. It just reminded me of the loving and diverse community that I had as a faith community and how that has set me up for success in so many ways.”
Usually, inside the pages of any kitchen tome, you’re sure to find something that steps into fraught culinary territory. Here, it’s what Miller called the battle line of Southern Cooking: Should cornbread have sugar? The recipe in “Our Favorite Recipes” calls for only a modest amount.
“A fourth of a cup,” Miller said, “so not too much, but definitely noticeable.”
As you can imagine, the Soul Food Scholar has seen countless cornbread recipes in his life, but it’s the title of this one that stands out: Never Fail. “It's on point every time.” Miller knows of one exception. Someone (he’s quick to point out it wasn’t him) used canola oil instead of solid shortening.
“I wouldn’t say it failed, but it was more crumbly.”
Miller’s actual mother contributed a recipe for lemon icebox pie, a dessert that’s just perfect for the summer. You can hear the nostalgia and flavor in Miller’s voice as he described it. He grew up with four siblings and always tried to cut the pie first so he got a decent-sized piece.
“You put it all together and you actually cook it, but then you refrigerate it,” he said. “I’m just telling you it is transcendent, especially in warm weather.”
5 lb. greens
5 ham hocks
1/2 cup bacon fat
1 qt. water
pinch of soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Wash and clean greens thoroughly. Boil ham hocks until slightly tender. Cut up greens and add to pot with ham hocks. Add bacon fat, onions, salt and black pepper. Add pinch of soda if cooking collard greens. Soda is not needed if cooking turnip greens.
1 cup sifted flour
1.4 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup milk
1/4 cup soft shortening
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in cornmeal. Add eggs, milk and shortening. Beat until just smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into greased pan. Bake at 425° for 20-25 minutes.
Lemon Icebox Pie
2 egg yolks
1 (15oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 unbaked 9-inch vanilla wafer crust
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
Beat egg yolks until light and fluffy. Ad the sweetened condensed milk and beat until fluffy. Mixture will stand in peaks. Stir in lemon juice and grated lemon rind. Spoon filling into crust made of crushed vanilla wafers and melted butter.
Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is stiff. Spoon on top of lemon filling being careful to seal all edges. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Yields one 9-inch pie.
For our series “The Kitchen Shelf,” CPR News wants to know about other local Colorado cookbooks and we want your help. Whether your cookbook is collecting dust on a shelf or is a butter-stained countertop workhorse, take a picture of the cover and tweet @cprwarner or email it to email@example.com. We’d love to share more of these family recipes and the stories behind them.
Disclaimer: On June 17, Adrian Miller will join the Board of Directors of Colorado Public Radio. Miller will also serve as part of CPR’s nominating committee and diversity and inclusion task force.