Cookbook celebrates the grandmothers of Marin City

Cookbook celebrates the grandmothers of Marin City

Felecia Gaston has wonderful memories of her childhood in Marietta, Georgia, surrounded by her extended family.

One of the most special people in her life was her maternal grandmother, Estelle Lofton, fondly called Big Mama, whose bountiful garden fed her family and nurtured the many gatherings she hosted each summer as more aunts moved south, and continue Sunday after church.

When Gaston arrived in Marin City in the late 1980s, she was welcomed by the older women in her new community and, like her Georgia family, nurtured her with kindness, wisdom, and hearty Southern soul food.

So as Marin City turns 80, it seemed to Gaston, the executive director of Performing Stars and an activist and advocate for Marin City, that her surrogate grandmothers should also be recognized and celebrated. She does so with “Grandmothers Feed Us Love,” a new 96-page cookbook with 49 recipes and precious photos and memories of 146 grandmothers, living and dead, and lovingly dedicated to them.

It is just one of many events, exhibits and initiatives planned this year to celebrate, preserve and share Marin City’s vibrant history.

Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal

“These women had been through so much, coming from the South and parts of the Midwest and coming here to build a new life and live up to their traditions,” says Felecia Gaston.

“When I first came to work here, I didn’t know all about this rich history of Marin City. I started to connect with many of the grandparents. They reminded me of my grandmother,” she says. “These women had been through so much, coming from the South and parts of the Midwest and coming here to build a new life and live up to their traditions.”

And like her grandmother, they had stories and wisdom and, just as importantly, they had recipes. They weren’t necessarily fancy recipes; instructions are more “a little this or a little that” than exact measurements and often based on what was available at the time, but they were recipes that nourished both their loved ones and their community. Recipes such as Amanda Harris’ Famous Liver and Onion, Bea Johnson’s 7-Up Cake, Conchitta Sibbaluca’s Lumpia, Annie Smith’s Chicken Feet Stew, and Mary Peoples’ Ma’Mary’s Kidney Beans and Rice.

“When I think about my own life history growing up in the South, these women are my tradition,” Gaston writes in the book’s introduction. “They live in me. They are the dynasty of Marin City. They should be honored forever. They have been the leaders in the family for generations. They are the strength of our community.”

Gaston hopes the cookbook will resonate with everyone’s memories of the love and nourishment they found at their grandmother’s table, and “to understand the legacy of these Marin City grandmothers, to understand Marin City, to look at the beauty , to go to all these beautiful women and their precious recipes.”

Details: “Grandmothers Feed Us Love” ($25) is available at Book Passage in Corte Madera and beyond


Louisiana Fish Stew

½ cup olive oil

Grandmothers Feed Us Love is part of Marin City's 80th anniversary, which includes events, exhibits, and initiatives to lift, preserve, and share the history of this small black community in Northern California.  Grandmothers Feed Us Love is one of the initiatives of Marin City 80 and Performing Stars of Marin that founded the Marin City Historical and Preservation Society.  (Thanks to Felicia Gaston)

2-3 cloves of garlic

1½ cup chopped onions

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons celery, finely chopped

2 tablespoons green bell pepper, finely chopped

14.5-ounce can of tomato

1 can of tomato sauce of 8 ounces

1 cup dry red wine or sherry

1 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon paprika powder

½ teaspoon sweet basil leaves


2 pounds shrimp, fish peeled and cleaned

2 pounds assorted fish fillets (sea bass, cod, snapper, catfish)

2 pounds cracked crabs, cooked

2 dozen mussels

In the Dutch oven or large skillet, sauté garlic onions, parsley, celery and green pepper in hot oil. Add tomatoes, sauce wine and herbs. Simmer for 1 hour.

Prepare seafood. Cut the fish into pieces, clean and crack the crab and scrub the clams. When the sauce is cooked, add the shrimp, fish and crabs. Cook over low heat until the fish is cooked (25 minutes). Add mussels.

The stew is ready when the mussels open. Add Louisiana hot sauce and/or lemon juice to taste. Best served with toasted baguette with garlic.

— Recipe courtesy of Mrs Ethel Perry

Downhome Turnip greens from the Marin City Garden

2 bunches of turnip greens and a small bunch of kale

1 turnip cut into cubes

I diced onion

pinch of sugar

Splash of apple cider vinegar

6 slices of thick sandwich

herbal salt

Black pepper

red pepper flakes

Chicken stock or broth

Slice and slice fatback until crisp, add onion, greens, chicken stock, turnips, stock and season to taste. Bring to the boil or desired tenderness for at least an hour and a half.

— Recipe courtesy of Mrs. CD Lee Townsel