Deetz, a former chef, digs deep into the history of Virginia’s enslaved cooks, painting a vivid picture of their lives and their influence, both on plantation life and American cuisine.
I am an avid podcast listener and recently heard an episode of The Nod in which culinary historian and blogger Michael Twitty discusses his new book The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. The interview and book address, among other things, the often-overlooked but important role that slaves had in the development of American cuisine.
Hearing his interview reminded me that I have a chocolate cake recipe handed down to me by my husband’s Deep South grandmother. It’s labeled (by me), “Dee Dee’s Chocolate Cake.” When she passed it along to me, though, she told me that it was really a recipe that her African American childhood housekeeper used to make by sight and feel. They spent an afternoon measuring out the ingredients so Dee Dee could continue making it after she moved out of her parents’ house. I regret that I wasn’t aware enough then to ask and label the recipe with the name of the woman who really deserved credit.
Thankfully, a number of new or recent books continue to illuminate and correct the record on how African and African American cooks, enslaved or otherwise, had a profound influence on the food we eat. Here are a few to get you started.
Follow culinary historian, chef, and blogger Twitty on his “Southern Discomfort Tour” in which he explores and uncovers his ancestry and the question of who “owns” Southern cuisine.
Images, descriptions, and recipes from over 150 cookbooks by African American authors, predominantly women, from the 19th century to the present uncover the impact and influence of African American cooks on American food.