Juneteenth celebration gives woman chance to pursue dual interests

By: Stephen Hobbs, stephen.hobbs@gazette.com
June 21, 2014 Updated: June 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm
Caption +
Monica Wilkins dances to african drumming during the Juneteenth Caribbean Heritage Fair at the Hillside Community Center Fountain Park Saturday, June 21, 2014. Juneteenth is a Black American holiday celebrating June 19, 1865, the date slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette

A good meal starts at home, so Mary Lancaster includes a bag of seeds in each of the clear plastic wraps that encloses her cookbooks.

She included green beans, cucumbers and tomatoes in the dozen or so bags out on a table, and had seeds for carrots and beets packed away for later. She wore sunglasses, had on a white shirt, white jacket and white pants, and sat under a canopy as the rain clouds started to move in over Fountain Park.

Her location Saturday morning was the Juneteenth Caribbean Heritage Fair held outside the Hillside Community Center and in the adjacent Fountain Park, where the smell of barbecue ribs and sausages passed through the air over the booths, music stage and gatherers.

The two-day event is a celebration of black heritage, food and entertainment and participants in the day's parade were just lining up in the distance.

Sitting in front of a sign for her book, Lancaster, 66, flipped through its pages. "Mary's Family Cookbook," as it is called, was almost 40 years in the making and the recipes inside were put together from years of her family's meals.

While Lancaster was there to sell her cookbook, a second and less obvious goal was to motivate others to pursue their own interests and to unite around food.

"Food brings us together, whether it's a death, childbirth, class reunion or birthday party," she said, of the African American community. "Food binds us. I've seen it."

Born in Kentucky, Lancaster has fond memories of watching her grandmother and mother prepare meals for from a full breakfast to special events. As a teen, Lancaster never cooked. She was told to stay out of the kitchen because she might get in the way.

But after her daughter Tanya was born while Lancaster was in her early 20s Lancaster became inspired to write a cookbook.

Her book is filled with literal memories. Some are written on the sides of pages. Others are hidden in the recipes themselves. In one case, she wanted to recreate what she calls, "Mama Lucy's and Mama's Pudd'n Cake with Lemon Sauce," a dish she watched her mother and grandmother cook.

A few years ago, Lancaster called her mother searching for the right ingredients, hoping to recreate the dish. When she put the Pudd'n Cake in her mouth, it tasted just like when her mom made it. Lancaster decided to never make it again, knowing that it would never be as good as when she had it that first time. But she knew the recipe belonged in her cookbook.

"It just took me back so far," she said.

In April, nearly four decades after starting to collect recipes, "Mary's Family Cookbook" was published. And now, Lancaster said, she's already working on another one.

"I want to inspire," she said. "If I would have listened to people this book wouldn't have come out."

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