Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer was an avid gardener and civil rights activist and she and her husband, Edward, often hosted prominent Black writers, artists and activists when they visited the Lynchburg area. She worked as a librarian at the all-black Dunbar High School—often augmenting the library’s offerings with her own books—and loved to find new recipes in the popular cookbooks of the time. The Anne Spencer Home & Garden Museum has beautifully curated her kitchen in Lynchburg, Va giving visitors a time capsule of the time period.
Vintage Kitchen Decor
Like the rest of her house, the poet’s kitchen reflected her love of color, and especially the colors of her garden. Mint green cabinets with sunny yellow accents are adorned with flower stencils and the table is set with dishes in her favorite robin’s-egg blue—the same color she used on her garden trellises. The floor-to-ceiling cabinet near the kitchen sink features more flowers overlaid by one of her poems, A Lover Muses. Ironically, that beautiful cabinet always held cleaning supplies and still does to this day.
Next to the cabinet is a red upholstered door leading to the side porch. Edward, her husband, a talented and creative up-cycler, salvaged the door from the Harrison Theatre, the only African-American theater in Lynchburg. Anne Spencer’s garden also influenced her cooking as well as her décor—she often garnished her salads with edible nasturtium flowers. And although she loved to cook Southern favorites like spoon bread and country ham, she also found many of her recipes in the cookbooks of her era.
Spencer’s children and grandchildren would gather in the colorful kitchen to enjoy one of their favorite treats, Anne’s White Lightning cake. While working as the librarian at Dunbar High School, Anne found the recipe in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer. In fact, this may have been one of her own personal books that she took to the library, as it is now part of her permanent collection. You’ll notice on the book’s original recipe that Anne increased the ingredient portions, most likely because the instructions were for a single layer cake. And although a frosting recipe is not included, the most popular choice in the early 20th century was a buttercream frosting made from confectioners sugar.
Anne’s fulltime job, her writing, her civil rights work and her gardening took up most of her time, and in fact, Edward cooked more often than she did. Pop—as the grandchildren called him—even whipped up special meals like Christmas brunch and often made a family favorite, oyster stew. And with their busy schedules and frequent house guests, Anne and Edward often had domestic help to assist with cooking and childcare. But no matter who was manning the stove or the mixer, there were always wonderful aromas emanating from the colorful kitchen.
- 1 mixer
- 2 layer cake pans
- 1 oven
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- 12 tbsp butter, melted
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- 2 tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350℉
- Beat eggs and add sugar while beating4 eggs, 2 cups sugar
- Add flour, sifted with baking powder and salt4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt
- Add milk, melted butter, lemon extract and vanilla1 cup milk, 12 tbsp butter, melted, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp lemon extract
- Bake 25 minutes in oiled layer cake pans at 350℉
- Put together with any desired filling and frost as desired
is a freelance writer specializing in arts, entertainment, travel with pets, and European destinations. Author of Fido’s Virginia and Fido’s Florida (both Countryman), she is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and lives in Richmond, Virginia with her German Shepherd, Lola, and her cat, Gizmo.
ROBERT RADIFERA has been creatively photographing weddings, interiors and portraits for over two decades. His interior work has been published in Southern Living, Southern Home, The Cottage Journal, HGTV Magazine, Virginia Wine & Country Weddings and Home and Design, as well as many other local and national publications.
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