The summer season has always been my favorite time of year. As a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, I spent most afternoons in my bare feet jumping in and out of swimming pools and eating more than my share of ice cream with friends. My sister and I both celebrated our birthdays in June and we always had the best parties in the neighborhood. But what I looked forward to most of all was our annual road trip to visit family down South. It always felt like such an adventure and I treasured the memories we created upon our arrival at my grandmother Hannah’s house.
My mom was a part of the great migration, when millions of pioneering Black folks left the American South for cities where they’d heard whispers of equal opportunities for all. She wanted to make sure that we stayed connected with our Southern roots and her way of doing this was always through food. Her efforts would have a lasting impact on how I carried on the legacy of my family.
Throughout the year, my mother and I did our share of baking. We had lemon and plum trees in our yard, and trips to the farmers market always yielded the most delicious berries, so we made a lot of fresh fruit pies all summer long. During our time together in the kitchen, my mom shared family memories and stories of what life was like for her as a child (the good and the bad). She wanted me to know it all, because my life in Los Angeles was worlds apart from hers—she lived through segregation and built strong connections and community to pave the road to a better life for me. It is not lost on me that because of my mothers courage in leaving the South, I had the opportunity to return.
I still remember the first time I visited my grandmother’s kitchen in Alabama as a young girl. It seemed like there was always a pound cake baking in the oven or a fruit pie cooling on the counter. The pride and craft of Southern baking was on full display. That is when my love affair with the American South and baking began. To this day, the memory of pies baking in the oven take me back to those hot summer days of my youth. My style of baking and entertaining is a direct connection to those afternoons spent with my mother and my grandmother. To this day, I reach for my collected vintage table linens to set the tone for every gathering in my home.
"It is not lost on me that because of my mothers courage in leaving the South, I had the opportunity to return."
Life in the South is about hospitality, community, celebration, and preservation. There is a casual elegance that is always so welcoming from impromptu get-togethers, all day cook-outs for Juneteenth, and of course all of the special family occasions from baptisms to weddings. Southerners are master storytellers, and this was certainly the case in my family. The stories and faded recipe cards are an important link to our culture that keep our history from being erased and completely forgotten. It’s where I learned the legacy of my family from oral accounts that were passed on for generations like family treasures.
Ever since those days of my youth, I have felt a special connection with the beauty, history, and food culture of the South. I have always felt a longing to create a life for myself here and to continue to share the stories of my ancestors that are such an important part of American history. These feelings keep me connected to my roots and to the place I now call home.
Cheryl Day's Summer Baking Recipes
Buy Cheryl's cookbook: Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking