How Enslaved Chefs Helped Shape American Cuisine
August 14, 2018 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Black cooks created the feasts that gave the South its reputation for hospitality

"We need to forget about this so we can heal,” said an elderly white woman, as she left my lecture on the history of enslaved cooks and their influence on American cuisine. Something I said, or perhaps everything I said, upset her.
posted by poffin boffin (11 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you found this article interesting, and have not yet had a chance to pick up a copy of The Cooking Gene, by Michael Twitty (online as @KosherSoul) you really must. It just came out in paperback - after the hardcover came out last summer and subsequently won him two James Beard Awards.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:35 AM on August 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


If you found this article interesting, and have not yet had a chance to pick up a copy of The Cooking Gene, by Michael Twitty

From Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria: The Text of the Jacques Pepin Lecture at Boston University, which is about The Cooking Gene and more.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


From Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria: The Text of the Jacques Pepin Lecture at Boston University, which is about The Cooking Gene and more.

Heh. I thought this was a link to a speech that Jacques Pepin gave about Mr Twitty's book. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that it was a speech by Twitty as part of a series of lectures named for the famous chef.
posted by NoMich at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of sections from Recollections of a Southern Daughter: A Memoir by Cornelia Jones Pond of Liberty County, an infuriatingly bland and privileged little memoir that waxes nostalgic for the good old days of growing up as a wealthy white plantation owner's daughter in antebellum Georgia. As summarized in the UGA Press introduction,
[Cornelia Jones Pond's] story of the slave cook, Mum Chloe, is instructive: during the Yankee invasion, Chloe at first refused to help her masters, so that later when she wanted to return to her place, William Jones angrily came down and kicked her out of the kitchen. In days to follow, however, the Jones women watched longingly as Chloe passed by. The last we hear is that Chloe has been "received back into favor." Father's principles do not hold forever against household needs, especially for women with children to feed, women who had never learned how to cook.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:47 AM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


"We need to forget about this so we can heal,”

If we descendants of West African slaves had a dollar for every time we've heard this sentiment expressed in some form or another, either from a single white person in America or someone speaking for them collectively, we'd have enough money to own all the land on which our ancestors once involuntarily toiled. A form of it even shows up in the comments on the article.

Anyway, thank you for sharing this piece. It's a line of reasoning that backs what I've long suspected.

It's interesting that nowadays, we acknowledge how much physical labor is involved in cooking safe and delicious food for large numbers of people (thanks in no small part to the late Anthony Bourdain) and we also talk about how cooking for people brings us closer together, but then you look at things like this and consider the erasures necessary for it to require so much effort to uncover the facts, you have to wonder, as I do for the umpteenth time, at the threads of sickness that are woven into American history.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:01 PM on August 14, 2018 [46 favorites]


In the present day South, this tradition still exists. It isn't slavery, but I have been to many a lavish holiday meal, both in private houses and restaurants or clubs, that was prepared and served almost entirely by black people. I assume that these people have families of their own they would rather spend the day with, but instead they spend a good part of it catering to privileged whites.
posted by TedW at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


My old grad school classmate Fred Opie writes and podcasts about race and food.
posted by maurice at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2018


Since Anthony Bourdain has been mentioned, I happened to catch a bit of an episode of 24-hour layover where he was in Atlanta and they discussed how after the civil war, the only people who knew how to cook were slaves and slave-less poor whites and how that influenced the cuisine of the south today. I was always intrigued after hearing that so this post scratches an itch I’ve had for a while now!
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:44 PM on August 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I mean, my assumption as someone who isn't American is that of course Southern American cuisine is derived from black slaves, because basically everything worthwhile that came out of the South was made by black slaves, because they had a lot of black slaves and those slaves did all the work.
posted by Merus at 5:26 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


"We need to forget about this so we can heal”

Urgh how come it's always the person on the recieving end who has to do the hard work. The next time a white person says that to me I'm going to punch them in the face and then smile and say: "You need to forget about this so we can heal”
posted by Ned G at 5:28 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


I mean, my assumption as someone who isn't American is that of course Southern American cuisine is derived from black slaves, because basically everything worthwhile that came out of the South was made by black slaves, because they had a lot of black slaves and those slaves did all the work.

And yet, white people having fucking plantation themed weddings is still (kind of a big) thing.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:37 AM on August 15, 2018


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