Abby Fisher: The Unrivaled San Francisco Chef Who Made History By Publishing A Cookbook In The 1880s

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Her recipes are the key to her success as an award-winning Southern chef. Her meals were delicious and distinctive. Many people wanted to know what made Abby Fisher’s meals so special.

Fisher became the second Black woman in America to publish a cookbook in the 1880s as a result of the requests and questions. In the 1970s, her name became a household name in San Francisco.

Fisher was an enslaved African American who grew up on a South Carolina plantation. According to kqed, she was born in 1831 to an enslaved woman and a white farmer and never had the opportunity to receive formal education, so she could not read or write.

When it came time for Fisher to write about her recipe, her illiteracy was never an issue. She dictated her recipe to nine friends and colleagues, who transcribed everything she said. When the Women’s Cooperative Printing Office published ‘What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Souther Cooking’ in 1881, what she dictated was identical to what was printed.

According to historical accounts, Fisher worked in the plantation kitchen and rose to become a Southern cooking expert. She made a living as a cook and supported her family with the money she earned from her meals.

It is unknown when she gained her freedom, but she married Alexander Fisher in Mobile, Alabama in the late 1850s, just before the Civil War broke out. Alexander was also raised on a plantation as an enslaved African American. He, like his wife, had no formal education and was of mixed race. They had four children and eventually moved to Missouri before settling in California.

Fisher and Alexander had more children before she published her cookbook. Fisher’s recipes won her numerous awards. The Sacramento State Fair awarded her a “Diploma” in 1879. In 1880, she received two medals for “Best Pickles and Sauces” and “Best Assortment of Jellies and Preserves” at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair.

Fisher’s death date was unknown, but little was known about her meals following the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed parts of San Francisco. In 1984, a copy of her cookbook was auctioned off at Sotheby’s, bringing her back into the public eye. It was reprinted the following year and again in 1995.

Fisher’s legacy, according to historians, goes beyond publishing “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”. They say she overcame obstacles and rose to become a prominent figure in the South.

Her recipe still represents the ideals of determination and unbridled talent 140 years later.


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