Delia’s papa, Hercules, faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge: how to bake a birthday cake for his master, President George Washington, without sugar?
Food writer Ganeshram applies her considerable expertise to this historical tale of culinary ingenuity. How, exclaims Papa, can the larder be stocked with West Indian nutmeg, Mexican chocolate, African coffee, English cheese, Italian olives, Indian mangoes, and Arabian oils—but no sugar? Fortunately, the president has a taste for honey, and Papa improvises successfully. A full double-page spread is devoted to the preparation and combination of ingredients, presented as a team effort. Every last one of the enslaved kitchen crew is smiling, as they are throughout. Brantley-Newton explains those smiles in the backmatter, noting that the real-life Hercules and his staff evidently took pride in their work for the president: “There is joy in what they've created through their intelligence and culinary talent.” Ganeshram confronts Delia’s and Papa’s bondage on one page, when Delia tells readers proudly that “Papa is the slave President and Mrs. Washington trust the most.” A full-page author’s note goes into detail about Hercules’ life, informing readers that he escaped in 1797, leaving Delia still enslaved. The book is a sorry contrast to Emily Arnold McCully’s The Escape of Oney Judge (2007), which explicitly tells the story of one of Martha Washington’s enslaved servants who took freedom.
Children whose grown-ups do not address the material in the notes with them will be left with a sorely incomplete understanding of both the protagonists' lives and slavery itself. (recipe) (Picture book. 5-8)