Black Women in the Kitchen

Presented by Dr. Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth

Grandmama’s Hot Water Cornbread
Mama Mary’s Blackberry Cobbler
Squash & Onion Medley

A note from Scott Warner, President, Culinary Historians of Chicago:

This past fall I had the joy of attending the International Association of Culinary Professionals Annual Conference held in Birmingham, Alabama. The conference offered a buffet of glorious foodwriters and speakers, all accessible and sharing. Among the most moving talks I attended was one by Dr. Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth who spoke poignantly and personally about ‘Black Women in the Kitchen,’ and what they have contributed to America’s table. She even belted out a spiritual that her grandmother often sang in the kitchen as she cooked for her family. (Dr. Shuttlesworth got a standing ovation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.) 

As soon as the applause died down, I made a beeline to the front stage and asked her if she would share her tale (and throw in a song) for the Culinary Historians of Chicago. She took hold of my hand, smiled and in a nanosecond said yes.

So do come “down by the riverside” and join Dr. Shuttlesworth as she serves and sings up a feast of remembrances and American Culinary History.

A few highlights from her upcoming talk: 

“Where I come from, everybody had a Mama or Big Mama. She was most often one’s grandmother and was usually the best cook in the family. My own maternal grandmother held that position not only in our family but was revered as one of the best cooks in our community. When her food arrived at church gatherings, it was sure to be some of the first to disappear! From her double-crusted apple pie to potato salad, boiled cabbage sprouts, and baked chicken and cornbread dressing, she made magic with food! Mama became a widow in her late 40’s, left alone to finish raising 4 children ages 12 to 19. Papa left her a 30-acre farm where she and her children worked season in and season out, (oftentimes plowing the mules herself) to provide for her family! On that little farm, she grew market crops like cotton, corn, and later soybeans; but also, as many as 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables.They grew (almost) everything they needed to sustain themselves and always enough to share with others.

“One thing Black women over time have excelled at is “making something out of nothing,” especially in the kitchen. It is a skill passed down through the generations. My late husband, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, used to say that he could go into our kitchen and come out sure that there was nothing to eat and certain that it was time to head to the grocery store. Twenty minutes later, I could go into that same kitchen and have a “meat and three” on the stove and dessert in the oven. That’s because I can almost always see a meal where others might not! And I can take scraps and leftovers and make a new and wonderful “taste treat.” It is a skill that I believe has its roots in “slave food.” Slave food consisted of the leftover and discarded rations that slave owners made available to their chattel. From the pig, such parts as the liver, spleen or “light”, intestines (chitterlings), maw (stomach), head, neck bones, pig feet and tails were passed on. From the cow came the tripe, liver, tail, tongue, neck bones and back bones. Slaves were also allowed to scrap “seconds”; oftentimes inferior quality and/or leftover fruits and vegetables. Lard and sorghum molasses were also common.”


Dr. Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth brings 30-plus years’ experience as an educator, administrator, trainer, and motivational speaker to our event. Born and reared in rural Tennessee, she and two of her siblings integrated the Jackson-Madison County School system in the summer of 1966 in search of a better education. The next eight years were wrought with rich experiences as they grappled with open racism, isolation, and crippling stereotypes. However, their willingness to stay the course and break down existing barriers led to many “firsts” by the end of their formal education. 

While attending high school, Sephira enrolled in Union University (Jackson, TN) where she spent less than three years completing her undergraduate degree in Education. Two weeks after graduation, she relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, hoping to jumpstart her new career. To her surprise, the school district had imposed a three-year hiring freeze for teachers. Relying on her love of cooking and entrepreneurial spirit, she landed a job in food service management thereby delaying the onset of her career in education. In 1983, she accepted a teaching assignment with Cincinnati Public Schools and later completed a master’s degree in Educational Administration at the University of Cincinnati. In 2013, she received an honorary Doctoral Degree in Business Christian Management from the Global Evangelical Christian College and Seminary in Montgomery, Alabama.

In Cincinnati, Sephira met the charismatic Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth in 1986. Recognized nationally for his leadership during the Civil Rights Movement, he was also the local hero who challenged injustice and organized grass roots efforts throughout the decades. The two developed and nurtured a 20-year friendship that led to their marriage in 2006. Sephira worked closely with her husband on local and national issues aimed at uplifting poor, disenfranchised people, challenging injustice and addressing quality in education. 

Following a year’s respite in the wake of her husband’s death in 2011, Sephira returned to education as a charter school Director in Lansing, Michigan, and culminated her career in 2017 as Regional Support Director for a Cincinnati, Ohio charter school. Since retirement, Dr. Shuttlesworth continues to travel, enlightening audiences throughout the country. Most recently, she has embarked on her latest venture training with the Brain Stimulated Wellness (BSW) organization to become a licensed interventionist able to provide proven techniques that reduce stress and trauma, to clients of all ages, exacerbated by the worldwide pandemic. She anticipates completion in 2023. At home, she enjoys cooking, writing, home improvement projects and grandmothering her precocious twelve-year-old grandson.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022
7 p.m. Central Time

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