A whole coconut cream cake topped with coconut flakes
Coconut Cake's History Is A Legacy Of Black Cooking
The recipe for coconut cake can be traced back to the antebellum era, a time before the American Civil War. The laborious process was most often done by enslaved women.
While coconut cake recipes appeared as early as 1830, author Minnie Fox's 1906 "The Bluegrass Cookbook" is notable for giving credit to Black cooks who shaped Southern foodways.
The book includes a recipe for a fluffy, frosted, coconut-drenched layered cake like the one Black cook and author Edna Lewis described in 1976's "The Taste of Country Cooking."
The book recounts the culinary practices of the small Virginia town founded by freed slaves where Lewis was raised. Lewis calls the cake "one of the most famous desserts we baked."
Fancy cakes were baked for celebrations and church dinners, and they also helped fund civil rights organizing. Recipes like coconut cake help keep those traditions alive.