This Old House
These Walls Can Talk: East Austin home is the melting pot of black culinaryhistory
Upon first glance, the house on 13th Street and Olander in East Austin doesn't look like anything out of the ordinary. The white two-story clapboard home boasts a browning grassy lawn, a modest front porch, a sagging front-length widow's walk and faded red shingles. It's not until you reach the porch that you'll even see the insignia declaring this house as a nationally registered historic place.
The Limerick-Frazier House, as it is called today, was formerly known as "The Big Pink House" because of its vivid rosy paint job. One hundred years ago, this was a home bustling with life, a boarding house and finishing school for business-minded female students at what was formerly Sam Huston College. Today, the House is the single remaining structure of that institution, a lasting reminder of Austin's longstanding but little known African-American history.
One Austin entrepreneur, however, has a vision of the Limerick-Frazier House restored to its vibrant former glory, alive and bustling with life again as a cultural community center with a clear purpose and a powerful message of hope for the future. To do so, Toni Tipton-Martin is changing families one meal at a time.
As a student, Tipton-Martin recalls encountering images of racially charged stereotypes with black female cooks that sharply varied from the powerful, patient women she recalls from her own childhood. These women ("the mothers of everyone," she calls them) were nurturing providers that maintained and strengthened their family units through the involved performative act of cooking for their families.
“The culinary arts were, in most cases, the only way [black women] could express creativity, independence and maintain their self-esteem," Tipton-Martin states on her personal website. "The emotional, spiritual and physical strength behind their accomplishments has been too long ignored.”
These images continued to haunt Tipton-Martin as she grew into a budding culinary journalist. After pouring over an extensive archive of historic Southern cookbooks, Tipton-Martin repeatedly found that African-American contributions to recipe books were only included as an afterthought, despite the number of strong Southern traditions that were based out of black kitchens. She refers to the 1904 Blue Grass Cookbook by Minnie C. Fox as a landmark publication as the first notable edition to give credit to African-American Southern hospitality.
She launched the website The Jemima Code to expose stereotypical images of the past for their wrongful depictions of black female cooks and replace them with heartfelt explorations of the importance and necessity of strong African-American figures in the kitchen. Tipton-Martin has subsequently made it her mission to tour the country sharing the stories and images of these women that fed their communities and persevered through countless tribulations.
Following this passion, Tipton-Martin also developed the SANDE Project, a burgeoning Austin nonprofit concerned with educating youth about nutrition while preserving African-American culinary history. It is Tipton-Martin's belief that integrating food and heritage in vulnerable students' everyday lives will help them thrive as individuals and as community members.
Through a partnership with the University of Texas Division of Cultural Diversity, she currently works with the students at The University of Texas Elementary School through a pilot program that introduces them to gardening and healthy eating, exposing them to new foods they grew from the ground themselves.
"I've learned you've got to pique the student's interests and build bonds of trust with them slowly," says Tipton-Martin, "You can't just go from fast food to raw food overnight." Teaching these students to appreciate the flavor of raw kale, for example, is a personal victory she can claim.
For each of her efforts, Tipton-Martin feels the Limerick-Frazier House serves both as a home base and as a source of inspiration for her efforts.
"I was just drawn to the House somehow," Tipton-Martin says. "With its history and the work that was done here, I believe it's imperative to give back and share the House [with the community] once again."
To do so, Tipton-Martin is working with Renaissance Families Properties to attain her ultimate goal of buying the Limerick-Frazier House, refurbishing it to its former glory and transforming it into the effective home base of the SANDE Project. The walls that once contained African-American students learning cooking and other skills to prepare for their future would again serve the same noble purpose.
But to get there, it's going take some money. A whole lot of money, in fact. And, thus, Tipton-Martin quickly became a pro at building bridges, forming partnerships, writing grants and throwing fundraisers.
"I'm a very busy woman," admits Tipton-Martin, with a good-natured laugh.
One way the SANDE Project raises money is through community events like The Dream Pie Social Tipton-Martin held with collaborator Luanne Stovall at the L-F House to celebrate Juneteenth. Celebrity and amateur pie chefs shared their favorite recipes with all who came out to enjoy the afternoon which also included an oral history project, a photo exhibition and live gospel music from a local choir.
Donations came from attendees, and additional support came in the form of food industry backers like Kikkoman, Blue Bell Creamery and Whole Foods who recognized the value of what SANDE provides to the community.
Partnerships are a welcome part of the capital campaign, but grants and donations will need to come in soon in order to save the Limerick-Frazier House from falling into further disrepair. Despite its infrequency, rain has damaged the sagging roof, and drought threatens the once-lush gallery of trees that still surrounded the house.
"There is an urgency to make this happen sooner rather than later," says Tipton-Martin. "Each year that goes by makes the renovation process more difficult."
Individuals are welcome to donate to the SANDE Project to support the capital campaign, and those sharing her passions can volunteer with her in any and all of her endeavors by contacting her through her website as well. Tipton-Martin will continue bravely pushing forward, opening young and old minds alike with a message that still needs to be heard even after all these years.
Meanwhile, the Limerick-Frazier House sits patiently. Inside its walls, stories from centuries of facing and overcoming oppression begging to be told. Or, better yet, tasted.