When Pamela Strobel released her cookbook in 1969, it was one of the first books to coin the term soul food. Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook, a collection of recipes served at her speakeasy style restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village (open from 1965 to 1998 and frequented by the likes of Andy Warhol to Diana Ross), fell out of print 40 years ago. But in February, Rizzoli will resurrect the book with a new edition, with the help of two brothers with a passion for forgotten cookbooks.
Matt and Ted Lee, Charleston, S.C. natives who made their foray into the food world with The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a mail-order catalogue for southern pantry staples, are also avid collectors of old, rare cookbooks. The brothers, cookbook authors themselves and commentators on the Cooking Channel’s series Unique Eats, were approached by a former editor at Rizzoli about republishing another out-of-print cookbook. That cookbook’s rights were tied up at the time, but the idea of an imprint series tied to worthy out-of-print books was born. Strobel’s ode to soul food, out February 7, will be the first title released in the Lee Brothers Library Series.
“It’s a pleasure to see cookbooks, while sometimes challenging technically to stay relevant...find a new life and a new audience,” said Rizzoli publisher Charles Miers. “Specifically, we have been interested in publishing a title on African-American cooking, an under-published field we think, and when the Lee Brothers serendipitously proposed this classic, it ticked all the boxes for us.”
The Lees first met Strobel in 1994, but didn’t realize the reach of her influence on Southern chefs until nearly a decade later when they entered the food writing industry themselves. “The original Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook has so much to offer in terms of food ideas, history, and poetry, all of which express the journey and the vision of a phenomenally gifted African-American woman at the peak of her cooking career,” said Ted Lee. “And yet [its original package] was almost disposable, a small, stiff and acidic paperback. So we took the opportunity to give her poetry and recipes a permanence, so that new generations of readers and cooks might be introduced to her voice and her story.”
The book will get a first printing of 10,000 copies, but Miers “[trusts] it will build from there.” At launch, the Lees will host events in Spartanburg, S.C. (where Strobel began “her life’s journey, as a way to bring her story home,” said Matt Lee), and will also hold a panel discussion at NYU’s Fales Library.
To prep the book for its new life in 2017, the brothers tested recipes and worked with designers to create a look that felt true to the original. They also took exhaustive steps to contact Strobel herself, and haven’t yet been able to determine whether or not she is still alive.
“We've hired private investigators, archivists, and genealogists, and beat the bushes throughout the East Village and all the way back to Spartanburg, S.C. to try to determine where she might have ended up, but with no confirmed sightings since 1997,” said Ted Lee. “She was likely born around 1928, and yet we remain hopeful that she is still with us, and that in publishing her book again, someone will step forward who knows her whereabouts, or what happened to her after her restaurant closed. Our greatest hope is that either way, she'd be proud of this new edition of her landmark cookbook.”
The Lees are pursuing reprint rights to two other books (neither are confirmed yet) and intend to re-release one title per year as a part of the series.