Cheryl Day’s first solo cookbook and a line of small-batch provisions are rooted in history — much of it personal
Photography courtesy of ANGIE MOSIER
AS THE YEAR comes to a close, there’s one word that comes to mind when Cheryl Day reflects on the last 12 months: “Pivoting, pivoting, pivoting.”
Like many in her industry, Day has had to pivot again and again over the last couple years, from turning Back in the Day, the bakery she and husband, Griff, opened in the Starland District in 2002, into a walk-up window during the first phase of the pandemic; to shipping her goods nationally for the first time through online marketplace Goldbelly; to reopening her doors as a bakery-meets-market this May, where customers can now find her cherished baked treats alongside sardines, hot sauces and other products from BIPOC and women founders.
Along the way, she also found time to bring one of her longtime dreams to life by launching Janie Q, a line of provisions named after her mother, Janie Hanson, known as Janie Queen. It was Janie, one of three ‘Queens’ in the family, who taught Day how to bake while regaling her with stories — about being one of the first Black women to enlist in World War II; her move, part of the Great Migration, from a small Alabama town to Los Angeles; her time playing basketball while studying at the University of Southern California; her job as a social worker.
“I fell in love with baking because it was my time to spend with my mom, and she always had the best stories to tell,” Day says. “The last year has been extremely difficult, but one of the best parts of it for me was sitting on the couch and dreaming up what we could do with Janie Q. It’s a legacy line for me.”
Janie Q debuted with three small-batch jams and now includes a biscuit mix. Everything from creation to production is done out of Back in the Day, and the line’s whimsical design is by SCAD alumna Emily Isabella. In the future, Day hopes to add marmalades and granola to the collection, and she’s also working on a set of culinary pins featuring renowned Black, Southern chefs and bakers, such as Edna Lewis.
Honoring the women who have come before her, including Day’s great-great grandmother Hannah Queen Grubbs, who was an enslaved pastry chef, is the central theme of her other new project. Day’s first solo cookbook, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking, features more than 200 recipes for Southern baking staples, including biscuits, cornbread, pies, jams and more. “It’s a love letter to all the Black women and Southern bakers who never got credit for creating these recipes,” she says. The book’s introduction pays homage to Malinda Russell, who published the first known cookbook by a Black woman, and to the enslaved Africans whose names we may never know — but without whom today’s Southern baking wouldn’t exist. “I’m being quite bold in saying Black women created this food, and it’s remarkable to think about how many of them, like my great-great grandmother, who couldn’t read until her 50s, have paved the way. Their oral histories and heirloom recipes really created the Southern baking canon.”
Day didn’t anticipate that her new projects would unwittingly unravel a thread that brought her back to her roots, but she’s grateful for the re-centering they have provided. “When I learned that my great-great grandmother was known for delightfully colored frosting on little cakes, I looked around the bakery and thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s exactly what I do,’” she says. “It was such a moment of clarity I didn’t even realize I needed. All along, it was in my DNA.”
JAM THUMBPRINT COOKIES // This simple, classic buttery cookie is the perfect vehicle for your favorite jam, but don’t fret if it’s not homemade: good-quality store-bought jam works fine. Makes 24 cookies.
2½ c unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 egg room temperature
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
12 tbsp (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 c granulated sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 c good-quality jam, homemade or store-bought
1. Position the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment. Sift together the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the egg and vanilla. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter, sugar, and salt together on medium speed until light and fluffy, three to five minutes. Add the egg mixture and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing until just combined.
3. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand (if using) and finish mixing by hand to make sure no bits of flour or butter are hiding on the bottom of the bowl and the dough is thoroughly mixed.
4. Use a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to form the cookies (about 1 rounded tablespoon each) and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch between them to allow for spreading. Using your thumb, make a well in the center of each cookie, then fill with a generous teaspoon of the jam.
5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through and switching their positions, until the cookies are lightly golden on the edges and the jam is bubbling. Let cool completely on the pans on wire racks. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.