Celebrating Our Matriarchs Through Food
Jerelle Guy on adapting family recipes to honor both the past and present
Think back to your childhood. What memories do you have of your favorite treats and food? Is it your grandma’s homemade sauce? Your aunt’s top-secret cookie recipe? What was your mom’s favorite dinner from her childhood? Food is a connector, not only to others but also to our past, present, and future. Jerrelle Guy, founder of the blog Chocolate for Basil and author of the James Beard Foundation Award-nominated book Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes From a Soulful Upbringing, has been deeply inspired throughout her career by the women who helped raise her.
“I’ve watched the matriarchs in my family carry a lot of extra burdens, working overtime to take care of the men and children in their lives — so much so that they did not have the capacity for self-care or to express gentleness and care to me consistently,” Guy tells rē•spin. “My mother was an emotional eater, my grandmother was a practical eater, and I’m a romantic eater.”
During those family moments centered around good food, Guy experienced what she describes as “great motherly love” from the women who came before her. “I’ve learned to romanticize those memories, carry them with me, over-tell them, and replicate them in my everyday life so they’re amplified,” she says. “They taught me that we all need to have consistent self-care routines that we honor and that they shouldn’t be put on the back burner for work, relationships, or really anything else.”
Honoring the matriarchs in our lives
Chocolate for Basil began as a digital destination for Guy to document what she ate and cooked on her travels while studying abroad in Italy. Her blog transformed as time passed, rē-spinning with each new chapter of her life.
When she began developing Black Girl Baking, Guy took the opportunity to dive into her past to pull inspiration into the future, using memories of food to understand herself on a deeper level. “I’m witnessing the evolution of my emotional and mental health, and I’m enjoying these newfound boundaries by saving some food moments for myself,” says Guy of the experience.
Using food and nourishment as a love language is something Guy adopted from her mother, who best expressed her love for her by sharing island foods from childhood. “She showed her nurturing side in those moments, and she loved that I was the child open to exploring food out of the ordinary, and we bonded over that,” says Guy, who credits her mom’s encouragement for inspiring her travels and thirst for new flavors.
rē•spinning memories for ourselves and the next generation
Memories are a powerful force that can transport us back to a time, place, or person. As a result, we naturally crave what we remember comforting and satiating our mind, body, and spirit. But it’s important to honor our bodies in the present, too, and to adapt recipes and foods from our past into what will nourish us best now.
“I’m reconnecting to my inner knowing and awakening to the nudges my body gives me and what it’s telling me it really needs to be nourished in this lifetime so that I can thrive, feel happy to be alive, and show up authentically,” Guy says of herself today. “I’m strengthening my awareness of these more subtle and nuanced energies and building a life that makes space for them and hopefully paves the way for others to do the same without fear.”
And Guy doesn’t just use food to rē-connect with the past and practice self-care. In collaboration with Anthropologie, Guy released the Madea Collection, named not only for her grandmother’s eldest sister but also as a way to rē-claim the name and its original essence after what Guy describes as “Hollywood’s characterized distortion.” Guy curated a selection of kitchen pieces spanning a pie dish to dessert bowls that embody the feelings we get when we think of our grandmother’s love – peace, nourishment, and safety.
“The kitchen is my sanctuary and a safe space where I can ground myself, reflect, regenerate, self-regulate, and create,” Guy says. “By claiming that space for myself, I hope it inspires others – especially those who don’t find enough welcoming spaces out in the external world – to start mindfully cultivating ones for themselves in their day-to-day so that all the best parts of themselves can unfurl.”
Jerrelle Guy’s Whole Wheat Crème Brûlée Pie
Guy wanted to share one of her favorite recipes inspired by her great aunt Doris’ buttermilk pie. “I made many tweaks to it, so it was never her recipe at all (and honestly, it would never have been unless she made it herself),” Guy tells rē•spin, “I think watching the flowering of recipes over time has shown me the deeply layered process of cooking in the modern world, and how natural it is to expand curiously and playfully into the future, hopefully, without ever losing the coordinates of where we began.”
12” Whole Wheat Crème Brûlée Pie (with Orange Zest and Espresso Liqueur)
Whole wheat crust ingredients:
- 10 ounces whole wheat flour
- 5 ounces of all-purpose flour
- One teaspoon of kosher salt
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 12 ounces of very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled until ready to use
- 4 ounces ice-cold water, or as needed
- Nine large egg yolks
- 7½ ounces granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- One tablespoon of vanilla bean paste
- Two tablespoons coffee liqueur (Guy uses Flor de Caña)
- One teaspoon of packed orange zest
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Method of Preparation:
Prep and chill the dough:
- Add the flour, salt, and sugar into a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Add the butter, toss to coat, and then using your hands or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles wet sand with pieces of butter the size of peas and chickpeas.
- Add the water, gently tossing to coat the flour evenly, then bring the dough into a loose ball with your hands.
- Dump the ball into the center of a large sheet of plastic wrap (or Bee’s Wrap), and shape it into a tight disc with the help of the wrap.
- Chill the disc in the fridge for at least one hour.
Roll the crust:
- Unwrap the dough and place it on a large sheet of parchment paper.
- Lightly flour a rolling pin and the dough with more all-purpose flour and roll out the dough into an even 15-inch round, patching any split edges together and adding more flour as needed.
- Flip the dough into the pie dish, peel away the parchment, and ease the dough into the corners of the dish.
- Fold under any excess dough to create a lip and crimp the edges.
- Place the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes or until ready to bake.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the crust:
- Lay a large sheet of parchment over the pie crust and fill it to the top with pie weights (dried beans, rice, etc.), and bake until the crust is golden brown on the edges (20 minutes).
- Remove the pie weights and parchment and continue to cook for another 10 to 12 minutes or until the bottom of the pie is cooked through.
- Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside to cool.
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees and position an oven rack in the center.
Make the filling:
- Combine the heavy cream, salt, vanilla bean paste, coffee liqueur, orange zest, and nutmeg in a large saucepan, and bring to a simmer.
- Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large heat-proof mixing bowl, using a handheld beater, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and ribbony, about two to three minutes.
- While whisking the eggs and sugar together slowly (so the eggs never scramble), drizzle the warm cream over the egg yolks, and continue to whisk until evenly combined.
1. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for one hour and 10 minutes, the filling will still be slightly jiggly when shaken (it will set up a little more in the fridge), and the top will be golden brown.
2. Remove the pie from the oven and let it come to room temperature.
3. Cover tightly with saran, being careful not to let the wrap touch the face of the pie for two hours, overnight, or up to three days.
Brûlée the top:
- When ready to serve, sprinkle the face of the pie evenly with the sugar.
- Then, using a blow torch, holding the flame a few inches away from the crust, and moving circular motions, torch the sugar.
- It will bead and then eventually form into a solid hard sugar crust.
- When ready to serve, crack the surface with the back of a spoon and cut the pie into slices.