Coffee – The Freetown way.


For Christmas, Q bought me this amazing book written by influential cook Edna Lewis. It’s a journey through food of what it was like living in Southern America in the early 20th century. The writing is beautiful, evocative prose and the recipes enticing.

Reading American literature and watching films all set in the deep south,  you read about and hear about coffee being made and although no specifics are given,  you just know that it’s not as simple as it is today. In The Taste of Country Cooking,  there’s a wonderful couple of pages where Edna Lewis writes about coffee. It’s extremely evocative and make you yearn for a time machine to travel back and experience the taste of coffee through the ages.

Taken from The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis pub. 1976

The smell of coffee cooking was a reason for growing up,  because children were never allowed to have it and nothing haunted the nostrils all the way out to the barn as did the aroma of boiling coffee.  The decision about coffee was clear and definite and a cook’s ability to make good coffee was one of her highest accomplishments.  Mother made real good coffee but some mornings my father would saddle the horse and ride more than a mile up the road to have his second cup with his cousin Sally,  who made the best coffee ever.

Morning was incomplete without that cup of well-boiled coffee with cream from overnight milk,  which was stirred in to make a mocha coloured kind of coffee syllabub. The froth on the coffee was quickly chased around with a spoon and spooned into the mouth before it vanished…coffee went well with hot breads,  butter,  and meats with gravies. Aged aunts, uncles and grandparents never drank coffee from a cup. Every aged person in Freetown drank their coffee from a bowl.

All cooks arrived at making good coffee from different methods. Some added salt, some eggshells,  others whites or only yolks,  and all were divine. On any sunny morning you would see everyone’s coffee pot hanging on the garden fence airing out after the morning’s coffee.

Coffee came in a container just like the present day cereal packages do. It was wax lined and the grains never seemed to have lost their strength. Long boiling didn’t seem to make the coffee bitter either. Of course everyone used high quality enamel pots and well water.

Good coffee can be made without complicated pots and gadgets and with less coffee than is usually required. Of course,  a clean pot free from highly perfumed soap powders is important, as is a good brand of coffee that is pretty stable in the market.

Try a coffee house blend of 1/2 pound Colombia,  1/2 pound Java, and 1/4 pound French roast. Also green coffee beans can be roasted and ground at home with good success but it takes great patience. The beans are usually browned on top of the stove using an iron frying pan,  and stirring all the while,  but they can be roasted successfully in the oven – at 400° for 18 minutes,  shaking the pan once during the roasting . When a bean is crushed it should be of a dark chocolate brown colour through and through. Once browned it is very simple to put beans into a hand coffee mill and grind fine. When making coffee with the boiled method, use only a small amount until the right strength is achieved.

It is of little value to grind beans unless they have been just roasted or at least heated up again in the oven. It is the fresh roasting that matters. A two or three days supply can be roasted and ground with good results.

Edna Lewis’s recipe for coffee

5x 6oz cups of cold well water (or bottled water)
5 level tbsp coffee
A few grains of salt

Place the coffee,  water and salt in the bottom of a glass Pyrex pot or enamelled saucepan. Bring to a quick boil and then turn the burner down. When a boil is reached let summer for 12 to 13 minutes, or longer if a stronger brew is desired.  Spill in a spot of ice cold water and remove from the burner. Let rest a minute then pour the coffee into a hot pot and serve while piping hot.

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