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The Unbound Book Festival comes to downtown Columbia each spring. They aim "to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives."

Crystal Wilkinson on kitchen ghosts: "We cook. We share our food. We heal."

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Crystal Wilkinson is the author of the 2024 book, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts. While she was in Columbia for the Unbound Book Festival, she visited KBIA’s Jessica Vaughn Martin and Nina Mukerjee Furstenau to do some cooking.

The three cooked chicken n' dumplings and spoke about kitchen ghosts – the spirits of important people that inspire how you cook in the kitchen.

“Who's your kitchen ghost?"

Crystal Wilkinson: My grandmother, my whole life, she raised me since I was six weeks old, and, you know, you think about her a particular way, but through this book, when I was writing it, I had an opportunity to think about her as a mother.

And then when I thought about how old she was, and when this journey of cooking and cleaning and milking cows and fetching water and slaughtering chickens and hogs and gardening and raising children and all those things – and she was 14.

Everyone has a kitchen ghost. I was on a radio show when it first hit me, like, it was hitting me with audiences, but I was on a radio show and the host had taped people, people had called in, and the question was: “Who's your kitchen ghost?”

And so, she was interviewing me, and then they would play like three or four – after a couple of questions, they played three or four of those people, and I was just weeping.

One of the most wonderful compliments I got was, I was in West Virginia and there was this chef, and as soon as I walked in the place, she said, “Oh, I wanted to meet you, me and your kitchen ghost have been fighting all day.”

She gave me the biggest hug, and then she started bringing out dishes that she had made from the book and added some things that her mother may have added.

It was the highest form of flattery, and I was just overjoyed with it. So, I think that people have to add their own flair to it all.

Jessica Vaughn Martin: So, both times that I've made this, my book flips to this page here and it says, “We cook. We share our food. We heal,” and I just think that is such a special reminder to everyone who reads this and everyone who's making these things.

Alex Cox

Alex Cox is a Junior in the Missouri School of Journalism. They're a reporter and producer for KBIA.
Nina Mukerjee Furstenau is a journalist, author, and editor of the FoodStory book series for the University of Iowa Press. She was a Fulbright Global research scholar (2018-19), is on the board of directors for Media for Change, and has won the MFK Fisher Book Award and the Grand Prize Award for Culture/Culinary Writing from Les Dames d'Escoffier International, a Kansas Notable Book award, and more. Nina hosts Canned Peaches, a podcast created with KBIA, The Missouri School of Journalism, The Missouri Humanities Council, and Harvest Public Media
Jessica Vaughn Martin is a food journalist and gastronomic enthusiast. Her work centers around the people involved in food and agriculture, and the idea of food as memory, tradition, and cultural roadmap. She is a co-founder of Leftovers Community, an emerging food media platform that celebrates and sees potential in the scraps of life: leftover food, overlooked places and unheard voices. Jessica is an alumna of the Missouri School of Journalism and a former contributing editor for Feast magazine; she has also contributed to Food Network, Farm Journal, and COMO magazine, among other publications. Most recently, she’s taken a dive into audio, managing the Canned Peaches and River Town podcasts for mid-Missouri’s local NPR affiliate, KBIA. She lives in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her young family in an old bungalow, where she’s running out of space for her growing collection of vintage Missouri cookbooks.
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