A 19th-century cookbook gives new twist to "soul food"

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For nearly seven years, Jan Longone, an antiquarian cookbook collector, has been haunted by a ghost. The spirit came into her life as thousands of other vintage volumes from book dealers had before: in a plain brown wrapper. But as soon as she held Malinda Russell's "Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen," she could see its author and her world - the small, seldom-discussed society of free blacks in the 19th century - coming to life before her eyes.

"I felt like an archaeologist who had just stumbled on a dinosaur," said Longone, who is the curator of American culinary history at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "I was in awe."

Longone, long considered the top expert on old American cookbooks, knew immediately that she was holding the earliest cookbook by a black woman that had ever come to light. Turning the 39 fragile pages of the 1866 pamphlet, she realized, too, that it could challenge ingrained views about the cuisine of black Americans.

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