Rufus Estes – the first African-American Cookbook

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Rufus Estes – author of the first African-American Cookbook


In 1911, Rufus Estes published cookbook. There is nothing particularly unusual in that except Estes is believed to be the first African-American chef to publish his recipes.

Rufus was born in 1857 in Tennessee and given the last name of his master; the man who ‘owned’ Rufus’ mother, a slave.

When civil war broke out he said that most of the male slaves ran away to join the Yankees. This left the young children to do their work.When he was five, his job was to carry water from a spring a quarter of a mile away from the house. He had to deal with cattle herding too.

Two of his brothers died in the civil war and what was left of the family moved to Nashville in 1967 but his mother’s health was not good. Rufus decided that getting work was essential so found jobs farmhand.
But it was after that, when he started working for a Nashville restaurant, that he found out what he really wanted to do.

In 1881 he moved to Chicago and entered the Pullman service. He remained with the company until 1907 when he found work as a chef for the United Steel Corporation.
In the meantime,he took care of his mother and he briefly married, although it’s unknown as to whether he had children. No-one knows when he died.

His recipes come from the days when measuring was done by ‘a little bit of this’ and a ‘touch of that’so inexperienced modern cooks will have fun with this.

Here’s a sample recipe – delicious!

Puerto Rican Bananas


Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 4

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup heavy cream at room temperature
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • 4 bananas
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the water and the sugar in a saucepan and place over a medium heat whisking constantly
  3. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will begin to turn golden brown
  4. As soon as it becomes golden, remove it from the heat
  5. Slowly add the cream in small amounts
  6. Stir in the rum
  7. Meanwhile put the bananas,still in their skins, on a baking sheet and bake until they split open(about 20 minutes)
  8. Remove from the oven
  9. Serve in the skins with a pool of the hot rum sauce. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon if desired

You can also cook the bananas on the grill if you wish.




Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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