She was wonderful.

Powerful. And a bit intimidating in the kitchen. She had “command presence.” Suzi and I shared our kitchen with her while she prepped Thanksgiving turkeys in August for a November magazine article. A half dozen turkeys in August heat.

She was a machine.

Born in 1916, Edna made it to 89 years and 10 months. Let’s call her ninety. She would not mind.

She wrote four cookbooks on her native Southern cuisine, but her culinary life was not automatic. She left her native Virginia and came to New York City working as a seamstress with distinguished customers like Marilyn Monroe.

At age 33, she became the chef at a friend’s restaurant on East 58th Street. She never looked back. She did, however, break her leg and famed editor Judith Jones asked her, in that interlude, to write a cookbook. And that was life changing.

The Edna Lewis Cookbook is her iconic work, still a best seller. It has recipes with her Virginia roots exposed. And items she needed for an East Side audience in New York. Here’s a baker’s dozen ideas:

Sauteed Potato Balls [just scooped potato balls cooked in butter]

Deep Dish Blackberry Pie with Blackberry Sauce

Gazpacho [Edna style with 20 ingredients including soy sauce]

Southern Fried Chicken [lard and butter]

Fresh Peach Cobbler with Nutmeg Sauce

Roast Ribs of Pork with Peanut Sauce

Grilled Veal Kidneys with Seasoned Butter Sauce

Beef Stroganoff [she was on the Upper East Side!]

Baked Virginia Ham [soaked in water for 8 hours, no matter what the label says]

Coconut Layer Cake

Peanut Brittle

Creamed Onion with Cloves

Crisp Roast Duck Garnished with Kumquats

Some recipes here are simple, some a little complex. All are perfected recipes. If you never had Beef Stroganoff, and want the best possible version, then you need this book and Edna’s strong guidance.

If you ever met her, you cannot forget her. If never met her, your life is compromised.