Our Diverse Heritage: Marion’s Black History Part 7

Celebrating Black History Month in Marion County

Part 7: Finding Aunt Hat’s recipes

In 1941, C. E. Smith wrote that Harriet Wilson Whitely was an outstanding cook and ‘many of her recipes found their way into local cookbooks.’ Her obituary, featured prominently in the Fairmont
Times, also noted her culinary skills and published recipes.

Where to find those cookbooks was the next quest. In 2021, a copy of “Favorite Recipes” was discovered by Nancy Bickerstaff. It was the 3 rd edition compiled by the “Women of Christ Episcopal Church” in 1922. Contributors included all the ladies of society at the time: Governor Fleming’s wife, J. E. Watson’s wife, Mrs. Conrad Sipe (early principal of Fairmont Normal), many Watson sisters, Judge Showalter’s wife, Mrs. Earl Smith (C. E. Smith’s sister-in-law), Mrs. Brooks Hutchinson, Mrs. C. E. Hutchinson, Mrs. E. F. Hartley and many more. Mrs. John A. Clark published about 8 recipes. However, Aunt Hat was their cook for 40 years. Most of these were likely those of Aunt Hat. Harriet was given credit for two recipes in this edition. Historians today agree that most black cooks developed improvisational styles of food preparation by measuring and adding ingredients according to previous experience and their own creativity. Most of the wealthy women of the Episcopal Church submitting recipes in this book most likely had black cooks. A few of the recipes allude to these women, such as “Bessie’s Hollandaise Sauce” (Mrs. C. W. Watson), “Aunt Fannie’s Spoon Corn Bread (Mrs. James E. Watson) and “Paint Cleaner for Washing Walls” (Mrs. A. B. Fleming).

Recipes were reprinted in a publication by Woodlawn Cemetery (copies available at the Woodlawn website) with permission from the 1st Episcopal Church.

Harriet Wilson Whitely’s grave was unmarked, and a new marker was placed there around 2015.

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