Cheryl Day is one of today’s most prominent Southern voices in the world of baking. In addition to writing best-selling cookbooks, she is a restaurant owner, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice (SRRJ). When Cheryl isn’t writing and releasing cookbooks, you can find her in Savannah, GA, running the show at Back in the Day Bakery with her husband. Like her cookbooks, the bakery is a way to share Cheryl’s love of baking from scratch.
In her most recent cookbook, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking, Cheryl honors the Black women who invented Southern baking and didn’t receive the credit they deserve. With over 200 recipes, you can learn to make everything from biscuits to layered cakes, puddings, pies, and beyond. We sat down with Cheryl to talk about her restaurant, cookbooks, work with SRRJ, and more. Please welcome Cheryl Day as our newest FACE of the South!
In addition to writing cookbooks, you also own Back in the Day Bakery with your husband. How did the bakery come to fruition?
We opened in Savannah in 2002, and it came out of my love for baking. My husband and I came here to visit and fell in love with Savannah. We thought this would be a great place for the type of bakery we wanted to open, with home-spun-style baked goods and American baking.
What are the signature recipes that make Back in the Day so popular?
We’re known for biscuits, old-fashioned cupcakes, pies, old-fashioned layer cakes — basically everything in the American baking canon.
Where do you find inspiration for your recipes, and how do you decide which ones to include in your cookbooks?
I’ve written five cookbooks, and the first cookbook had family recipes. All of my recipes are inspired by those family recipes and Southern baking. My latest cookbook, which has about 250 recipes, pays homage to the Black women who created Southern baking. I researched from my personal background and DNA — from my great-great-grandmother, who was born enslaved and a baker, and my grandmother, a baker. Then I researched community cookbooks and old Southern historic recipes, and that was the base — how can I pay homage to these women who haven’t received any credit for creating Southern baking?
On Southern baking, how do you think baking in the South differs from other regions?
There are definitely recipes that are historically from the South, but if you took the whole picture of American baking, it’s baking made from scratch and old-fashioned layer cakes and pies. There’s obviously farm-style baking from all over the country, but the recipes I bake are recipes that originated specifically from these women in the South.
Where can we find you when you’re not in the kitchen baking?
I like gardening. I use a lot of botanicals in the jams that I make. We started our business line of jams during the pandemic — that was our big pivot project. I like to sew, watercolor, and teach baking classes — that’s something I’ve been doing lately. With the virtual baking classes, it’s been fun creating a scratch-baking community of folks who like to bake. We gather online and bake pies, cakes, and biscuits together — that’s something I really enjoy.
When you want someone else to do the baking, where do you go? Do you have a favorite bakery?
I’m very fortunate that I live with another baker, my husband. We recently got a pizza oven, so you’ll often find us in our backyard making all kinds of fun things in the pizza oven. There are also bakeries that I love all over the country. I love to visit bakeries when I travel, and I have several favorites. I’m originally from Los Angeles, so I love Fat + Flour. I also love The Little Tart Bakeshop in Atlanta — Sarah O’Brien is the owner and one of the co-founders of the Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice with me. I also love Tandem Coffee & Bakery in Portland, MA.
Can you tell us more about the work you’ve done with Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice (SRRJ), since you co-founded it in 2020?
We’re partnered with The LEE Initiative, and we raise money for and give grants to Black-owned restaurants. Our most recent donation was from Heinz Corporation for a million dollars. We were able to give about 75 grants to Black-owned restaurants all over the country that were on the brink of being erased from the Black community. We decided to raise money and give grants to these folks to make sure that they can continue to thrive.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A mantra that I live by is something my mom said to me. She always said, “This or something better.”
That, to me, means keeping the door open for opportunities. Sometimes an opportunity comes your way, and if it doesn’t work out, you think your world is going to end. My mom always taught me that you have to be open to what’s best for you.
I also love a quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I always think about that because I like to think of myself as a great connector with people, and that’s something that I like to live by.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Good food, connecting with people, and learning new things.
Meet more inspiring women from across the South by visiting our FACES archives!