The legendary musician and personality Isaac Hayes passed away this week. An accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter, he is probably best remembered for his Oscar-winning song, Theme from Shaft (Hayes was the first African-American Oscar winner for any category outside of acting). He was also widely recognized for his work as the voice of “Chef” on the long-running animated series, South Park. Hayes got his start at Stax Records in Memphis (see the cool@hoole entry on Stax and Eddie Floyd) working as a session musician, but soon stood out as a songwriter and performer.
The item featured here is representative of another side of Isaac Hayes — as a man who knew his way around the kitchen and loved to share his love of food with family and friends. This cookbook, Cooking With Heart & Soul(G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000) is part of the David Walker Lupton African American Cookbook Collection housed at the Hoole Special Collections Library, and just one of the many cookbooks by celebrity chefs. They are remarkable and important for many reasons, especially for the intimate and personal stories they tell about these very public people – stories that fans and others may never hear without these books.
On page 173 of Cooking with Heart & Soul, Hayes tells about his memories of his grandmother canning fruit — a moving story of planning for the winter as a child growing up in rural Tennessee, of spending time with loved ones, and of fond memories with family and childhood. Here is that story:
Canning Fruits with Mama
“During the off-season (when there was no cotton to raise or pick), my grandmother canned a lot of fruits and vegetables. The land we lived on had peach trees and apple trees, with way more fruit than we could eat when it was ripe. There were great masses of blackberry bushes along the ditch that ran in front of the house separating the house from the road, and I was often sent out to pick berries for pies and jellies.
There was no more delicious aroma than those apples and peaches stewing on the stove as Mama prepared the mason jars. She’d put the jars in the pressure cooker and then when they were ready, she’d store them on shelves in the smokehouse. When I saw those rows of colorful jars brimming with fruit, I knew we would eat well all winter long.”