#GivingTuesday special: The (Non-Jewish) Black Person’s Guide to Surviving Hannukah


#GivingTuesday is traditionally for non-profits, but it’s a time when the little guy like me has to make a plea too.

Let me share an email with you I just received today:

“​Mr.​T​witty my name is Malik and I would like to know if you can come to my school and teach use how to cook and about African American history ​of​ cooking​. ​Mr.Twitty I am happy that I am about to meet you and l wonder if you can also teach us about being Jewish. PS We are starting a World Religion study next week.

​Good morning Michael,

I greatly enjoyed and was inspired by your workshops and keynote at the CFSA conference in Durham in November. You mentioned that you might soon be in North Charleston. I hope I haven’t missed you already. As you may recall I work at a school for students with behavioral needs and also a great need to connect with the strengths of their history.

The above note is from just one of the many students that would benefit from your straightforward discussion of the history they should be reveling in but are separated from.

Please come share your courage with my students!

I get emails like these all the time from inspired teachers and students. 2-3 times a year we depend on you to fill in the gaps. Great opportunities come up and your donations make it easier to go to schools and communities that otherwise don’t have a budget to bring me out. Sometimes a book is on the market that’s absolutely key to my work. Other times we just need money for copies, postage and other basic office needs. Your donations make it easier to make ends meet and keep moving forward. The Cooking Gene has taken everything I’ve got—all of this to uncover a heritage that was essentially stolen from us over three centuries. And yet I know I am a victor, not a victim. I’m a warrior.

So many of you enjoy what I do here and I enjoy sharing information, recipes and thoughts about the state of the world—from food to racial justice to spirituality to humor. This gives me great pleasure to help make the world a better place. I don’t throw a ball, I don’t sing, I don’t take pictures that earn millions of dollars, I just do the tough work of tikkun olam, and I don’t ask much in return. I appreciate any and all help you can give this #GivingTuesday. 5$ buys 50 copies. Even 5$ is a huge contribution to the efforts I am trying to make to not only educate us about the African cultural contribution to American and global foodways but to inspire people of color to gain empowerment through food and push our progress forward as a people. I want this discussion over food to unite people of different phenotypes and heal the current “racial” divides that plague us. See the golden “donate” button, please go to our PayPal and give what you can. Please help me continue to do this sacred work. On to the edutainment of the day:

The (Non-Jewish) Black Person’s Guide to Surviving Hannukah (And Most other Jewish Holidays)

Humor and Satire Trigger Warning

Disclaimer: Written by a member of the Chocolate Chosen (yes there are many Jews who are of color, of African descent or who self-identify as Black or African American) so don’t get it twisted, or as we say in Yiddish, ton nit bakumen es tvisted…Not all Jews are white, many going back to the beginning of Judaism were certainly not, but all colors of the rainbow. So no mutual exclusivity here. Now on to the fun:

This is a great time to see how the other half celebrates. For African American folk who are not Jewish—see above—one of the most interesting things you can do is visit a Jewish family on a Jewish holiday, in this case we are only a few days away from the celebration of Hannukah. If you want to know more about Hannukah see my blog or see these resources. Know before you go! Hannukah is really a delightful holiday and even though it is not my favorite—that would be Passover and Simchat Torah—its message is really beautiful and simple—we can overcome the absence of light by bringing more in and keeping the flame of love and tradition burning. That having been said—you need to do your homework before you experience Hannukah American style.

1. A lot of Jewish ritual stuff takes place in the home because the home is the Mikdash Me’at (a little Temple)—okay its only rule number one and already I got you spitting. Rule #1 is actually buy tissues and an umbrella—both are necessary for speaking Hebrew as a first timer.

2. Gifts: You’re probably a little worried about what to bring to a Hannukah gathering. You’re pretty good as long as you don’t bring gel rings—they are the fruitcake of Jewish holidays—but a lot less practical. Fruitcake you can use in an architectural way or as a fire retardant. Gel rings—well I can think of a few uses but they wouldn’t be very g-rated or modest so let’s just move on.

3. Gelt—when Jews offer you “gelt” its not that thing they offer their children when they don’t call home enough or put mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich, gelt is actually those delightful coins you probably already buy every December but never knew what they were for. They are a much more acceptable gift than gel rings—see above.

4. Kugel—Kugel tastes a lot better than it sounds. Kugel is like the Jewish macaroni and cheese only it not but it is, but…look it has raisins in it. Don’t get alarmed the cheese is not o “gubmint” origin—you will have to explain that to your hosts unless of course they are the Chocolate Chosen, its usually cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc. mixed with egg noodles, sugar, and cinnamon. Try it, you’ll like it, its nourishml.

5. Gefilte Fish—there is no good reason to serve gefilte fish during Hannukah unless there is a dare going on. Gefilte Fish is the Jewish equivalent of chitlins in terms of “Keeping it 100%” I guess I’m really not Black or Jewish because I don’t like either lol. They both show a big commonality in Jewish and Black food—people took would they had and made it work—for someone—not necessarily me.

6. Candles—whether they are Shabbat candles or candles in the hannukiyah—it’s not really a menorah like they taught you in second grade—just let them burn—they got this—don’t blow them out. That gets really awkward.

7. Jewish people start the meal with a short prayer that seems very rushed and quick. No diss. Don’t worry—the long winded, fall asleep in your plate prayer that usually takes place in Black households before the meal takes place after the meal when you have ITIS.

8. Please explain to your Jewish hosts who are not Chocolate Chosen that ITIS is not a Black terrorist group they should be concerned about but rather a food induced sleeping coma.

9. Latkes sound like that dude on “Taxi,” for the old school folk, but they have nothing to do with him. Again they sound worse than they taste. They actually taste pretty dang good. Translation of Latke—“hash brown.” No, I’m serious, they’re just hash browns that had a bris.

10. Don’t ask what a bris is. Someone will choke on their latke.

11. Schvartzeh is the attack word. You probably won’t hear it because its really not appropriate but just remember what Uncle John taught you—“Know the word for Black in every language.”

12. Bubbie guide—Bubbie is Yiddish for (Nana/Big Mama/Grammy/Grammah/M’Dear) Bubbies come in various flavors:

a. Stay away from Old School Bubbie—you will know her by the fact the word “colored” may come out of her mouth inadvertently. The rose perfume is a dead giveaway. She’s the lady at the shul I visited that thought I was the coat boy. She’s a dying breed so don’t be too concerned.

b. Matchmaker Bubbie is really nice but she’s probably going to set you up with her zaftig granddaughter. She’s done her homework about Black men. Beware there may be a rabbi and a mohel awaiting in the shadows to perform an expedient conversion. Don’t drink anything she gives you.

c. Matchmaker Bubbie’s pal is Rainbow Bubbie. If you’re LGBT and you’re going over your partner’s family’s house for the first time, she’s your best friend and she will smother you like Sunday chicken in gravy or stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce. She’s the old Jewish lady all the gays love, and she will do selfies with you two, talk about her PFLAG membership and talk about how she wishes a kayn-a-hora on Kim Davis. And no that’s not a character from Orange is the New Black.  She has the same color scheme in her makeup and attire as a Siamese Fighting Fish.

d. Hip Bubbie is probably my favorite. She’s retired but works more now than she ever did when she was working. She docents, is a theater usher just to see the newest philosophical plays, does tai chi, and can salsa dance. She only has one flaw—she once thought Sean Puffy Combs was named “Cohen,” “What Jewish woman names her son, “Puffy?” (Nope not a joke that actually happened…I choked on my latke.)

e. Yiddishe Mama Bubbie is the one who never leaves the kitchen and never actually eats. Of her the Yiddish saying that “a Grandmother needs wheels,” is most appropriate. She will be the most familiar to you because her and Black Grandma are kissing cousins. She’s going to feed you to capacity and watch over you to make sure everything goes down okay.

13. Avoid the celery soda. You won’t like it. You will find it hard to hide the “What the hell is this?” look.

14. Although you may be tempted to do so, evaluate the Black Jewish guest if you are not already in a Chocolate Chosen environment. They are so busy trying to stay Black and prove they got this Jewish thing down that they can be thoroughly annoying.

15. Black child rearing and Jewish child rearing aren’t quite the same. Jewish children are to be both seen and heard. This takes some getting used to. You will see a number of offenses committed that would not be lawful in a Black household, but remember, when in Rome.

16. Mitzi, the poodle will try to kiss you in the mouth. Tell her “Nisht git,” and remind her Black people don’t do that.

17. Master Hebrew expressions and Blessings before you get there. You will be a Boss.

18. Much of Hannukah food is deep fried. If from Down South you will feel right at home—Jewish homes on Hannukah smell like like Black homes on Sunday afternoon. There’s even an ancient Jewish fried chicken recipe.

19. If you’re eating with a Rabbi you will notice something delightfully interesting. Every rabbi is a comedian in the same way every Black comedian is a preacher.

20. Be prepared for the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners given by Uncle Saul.  Control your eye roll.

21. Just like Uncle James will ask every white guest about white stuff—be prepared to be the ambassador of your people when Uncle Saul asks you about Black stuff—just make sure your host acts as a buffer.

22. Josh, Sarah, Melissa or David will ask you if you know how to duggie or know how to ride the quan…its not their fault…it’s a bar/bat mitzvah thing. Apart from the obligatory hora and chair dance—most b’nai mitzvoth in America are essentially the largest gatherings of white people doing Black dances in America. They will take a selfies with you to prove their coolness and show Mr. Twitty that other Black people other than him have been to their house.

23. Inevitably someone will claim to have participated in a Civil Rights march, protests, demonstration, voting drive. 2/3 of the time this will be the truth.

24. Do not participate in any Mah Jong (Mah zhong) games. This is the Jewish old lady equivalent of bid whist and spades. You will not win. They will hustle you naked. Stay away.

25. Blacks and Jews love to talk about food while they eat, that will pretty much be half of the dinner conversation.

26. Blacks and Jews are also the only peoples I know who use food to talk about their past while they eat it. Back in the Old Country= Back Down South…

27. You might get matzoh ball soup—relax—the rest of the matzoh was sustainably used in other dishes.

28. Gribenes=cracklins or pork rinds only its chicken skin.

29. Just like Black people have pictures of African kings and queens and such on their walls many (Ashkenazi) Jews have pictures of old Hasidic rabbis and scenes from old Eastern Europe. That’s about where the deep connection stops.

30. Guide to most Jewish meat—its chicken—that’s all you really need to know. If its not, its brisket—you know brisket..

31. If you get to go to a synagogue service, the Rabbi doesn’t need your “mmms” and “Amens” “Yes, Rabbi tell it!” and other call and response. Control yourself.

32. Dreidel is essentially a gambling game, don’t hustle the kids of all their gelt. I know you watched the fourth season of The Wire, but…

33. Bring your hot sauce and various condiments but don’t let anybody see them—Ashkenazi Jewish food is not known for its vibrant seasoning. If you are in a Sephardi household this will be unncessary—in fact you will encounter hot peppers, okra, black eyed peas and all sorts of familiar stuff.

34. Jelly doughnuts during Hannukah are the stuff. Eat as many as Bubbie will allow. Challah is also the bomb. Babka is good too—go for the chocolate rather than cinnamon.

35. Jewish loud and Black loud ain’t the same loud, you will see what I mean.

36. There are lots of pretty songs associated with Hannukah that you never get to hear at the store and a lot of nice songs sung around the table. It’s okay to hum and sing the chorus if you catch it. Singing and clapping around the table is like the best part of the meal for me after the chicken.

Have a Happy (first) Hannukah!

Posted in Cultural Politics, Jewish Stuff, Pop Culture and Pop Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Survive Black Thanksgiving as a Non-Black Guest

How to Survive Black Thanksgiving: A Users Manual for Non-Black Guests/In-Laws and Black Folks that Don’t Have No Home Training, I.E. Culture


Shameless plug warning: http://afroculinaria.com/michaels-forthcoming-book-the-cooking-gene/

1. DO NOT arrive empty handed to Black Thanksgiving. Store bought isn’t great, but if you aren’t sure how Black holiday food works, it’s better than getting the church lady look when you bring candied parsnips over. See rule 2.)


2. The answer is ALWAYS sweet potatoes. Neauxp, no pumpkin, parsnips, rutabagas, butternut squash, nah-unh…sweet potatoes aka “yams.” (Not really yams)

3. As with our close cousin “Southern White Thanksgiving,” we don’t call cornbread “stuffing,” stuffing….we call it “dressing.” Calling it “stuffing,” is a dead giveaway you don’t know the quality of what you brought over. Throw that boxed stuff away.

4.  Bruce Almighty (wink wink) didn’t create “yams,” De Lawd did, so buy the ones that don’t come in a can when you follow rule 2.

5.  Macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs and bechamel sauce? Really? And it’s not even “urunge?” Neauxp…. not Black Thanksgiving approved.

6.  Potato salad year round is a thing. Don’t ask who made it, just know their hands are clean. Potato salad is yellow, has paprika and eggs so don’t be confused.

7. Expect an elder to ask a young child to dance, perform, recite a poem or read from the Bible against their will for the entertainment of other elders.

8. Grace will last a while when Daddy/Grandaddy so and so or Big Mama, Nana, Grammy or M’Dear says it, so make sure you don’t starve yourself prior to arrival.

9. Black people hate it when you’re not a cheerful eater, so load up your plate. Strategy: if you’re used to white food just try to load up on stuff you’ll actually eat and tuck in the obligatory candied yams and collard greens where necessary. Save room for dessert. Candied yams or sweet potato casserole with marshmallows is NOT dessert.

10. Like any ethnic household expect people to talk about food while eating food.
You will likely be eating roast turkey, barbecued turkey, deep fried turkey, glazed country ham, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes mashed and covered with marshmallows, corn, cornbread, yeast/potato rolls, black eyed peas, rice, gravy, potato salad, cranberry sauce from the can, sweet potato pie, cornbread dressing, “fried apples” (think Boston Market apples), chitterlings, apple crisp, chess pie, fill-in-the-blank cobbler, ice cream, caramel cake, deviled eggs, “green salad,” and something almost Afrocentric..

11. DO NOT be that “other” that goes “Well it’s not just Black people that eat/do….” What the hell is that supposed to really mean??? a. You don’t think we have a unique culture unless we do “magical, innate, instinctual things y’all “can’t” do? b. You don’t seem to grasp that each culture puts it’s own spin on common themes. c. You’re showing that you believe in the “Black Box” (newsflash..we can be just as universal and influential as anyone else) d. You are desperate to have the newest college student in the family demonstrate their newfound skills in oppression deflection learned in Introduction to African American Studies. In any case, saying nonsense will get you “the look that Mr. Johnson gave Ray.” (Ask your host for the story once the Moscato gets flowing.)

12. Speaking of college…expect the student to have a newfound prejudice against pork, meat in general or cooked food, all of which will cause palpitations for the cook and rolled eyes.  We are used to this, but know the “special plate,” is for the newfound #Hotep/poor righteous teacher, Natural sister/brother, or boho in the room…not for you.  It may seem achingly familiar and inviting, but unless you want a “the look that Mr. Johnson gave Ray” (ask the host once the Moscato gets flowing) along with lectures on how the white man takes everything, leave the special plate alone.

13. At all costs, do not put your fork on anyone else’s plate or take food off a plate, especially that of a larger person like myself. It will be your last Thanksgiving on earth if you do. All requests must be submitted in writing two weeks prior in advance.

14. Avoid Uncle Pete. He smells like whiskey for a reason and will go up in flames if anywhere near open flame. Do not go to his car with him. He keeps his nickels and dominoes in a Crown Royal bag after he “dranks that brown.”

Sit next to Aunt Pearl. She’s the first college graduate and is sadiddy as hell and “think she better than the rest of the family.” She’s the one that looks like Prince at the award show. Sitting next to a white person will validate her feelings of personal achievement.

15. Leave all white soul food at home including green or red or pink gelatin based “salads,” casseroles and “hot dish,” see rule 1. We don’t like food that twerks, bubbles long after cooking or sounds like it cannot be cis-identified. Green bean casserole…naw gurl..

16. White Southern country food is passable but put some paprika in it and you should be good to go. And some season salt, maybe a lil’ garlic or onion powder and a dash of hot sauce….maybe some sugar…

17. Say “yes Ma’am a lot.” No first names unless you are invited to use them.

18. We love Non-Black guests. So be prepared for the “Naw we don’t do handshakes,” and deep breast hugs. Get air before you go in.

19. Your new name is “..ummm…Baby.” Or “Michael’s white Friend.” Caveat…if you’re LGBT and this is your bf/gf house, “FRIEND” means partner…and everyone will say it with a lilt…that’s as good as its gonna get. #yayequality

20. There may be a scuffle between women over who fixes which man’s plate. Do not move. It will resolve itself. If you see yourself in rule 19..i.e.. you are a gay boy…don’t be cute…let Tyrell’s Mama make you a plate, don’t make his plate or let her see you making his. She ain’t ready for all that…having you over is already a big step.


21. Gluten what?

22. Speaking of gluten, the ITIS (no it’s not a Black terrorist organization you need to rush home and warn the other white folks about) is what happens when carbs and that thing in turkey that makes your body conspire against your ability to be conscious.

23. Keep the rhubarb pie at the Walton’s house with John Boy. See rule 2.

24. Don’t play food anthropologist around Big Mama you will just annoy her taking food pics. We don’t do food pics for home cooked food. No….she won’t understand why you’re doing it..

25. Even if you are completely secular pepper your speech with religious statements or sayings just to humor Big Mama and dem. Say mmm-mmm-mmm a lot.

26. If you’re vegan, bring your own food and enough to share..even if nobody else eats it. Remember rule 12. The college child will take some while you’re not looking.

27. Bring extra foil…trust me. Do not bring your own Tupperware.

28. The to go plate is tradition. Leave room in your trunk. If you loved it..do not eat it until you get home, if you didn’t share with someone who’s hungry.

Shameless plug warning two: http://afroculinaria.com/michaels-forthcoming-book-the-cooking-gene/

29. The family Pitt bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, boxer or bulldog knows YOU will give them food at the table or kiss them in the mouth. Dont. This will get you “the look that Mr. Johnson gave Ray.” (Ask your host once the Moscato gets flowing.)

30. Don’t ask questions about Shanda’s boyfriend. They are happy to have him home.

31. White people get to sit in the front room on the plastic covered furniture. Take this as a badge of honor. No one else gets to go in that room–ever.

32. The cranberry sauce must be brought to the table in the form of the can it came from for quality assurance purposes….on fine china.

33. If you see green bean, collard green or white potato cans in the kitchen or pasty grey chitlins, run like hell, those Negroes can’t cook.

34. Dinner will not start on time. But show up on time.

35. If you are Asian or Latino expect to be drafted into any remaining cooking.

36. Uncle John, who resembles his bulldog, will ask you about why white people, or “Spanish” or “Chinese,” people do certain things etc. Ignore him.
But dont ask him why Black folks do stuff..the bow tie will come out real fast.  Pour him more Moscato.

37. Don’t throw shade at any other Non-Black people in attendance, this is not a competition for “cool.”

38. It’s not dinner time until the speckled roasting pan and Hamilton Beach turkey cutter arrive. (Seeing people of many colors nod in agreement.)

39. Don’t bring generic soda. Faygo, Nehi, RC, Vernors are all fine choices for soda for Black Thanksgiving. Get ready for stories about peanuts and cola. (Note: red kool-aid+soda+”that brown” is what Black people mean by “punch.”)

40. Have fun! We all family! When you come in the house, speak!!!! One of my Facebook friends put it like this: “Say Hello to everybody, Happy Thanksgiving! Then speak to everybody individually.” DO NOT play spades or bidwhist after dinner with your hosts (unless you want to be hustled), just sit back and watch the game with Uncle James and his bulldog–he trusts white people once he is drunk and has the ITIS.

Last Shameless plug: http://afroculinaria.com/michaels-forthcoming-book-the-cooking-gene/


Posted in Cultural Politics, Pop Culture and Pop Food | Tagged , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

How to Make Kush, the Original Cornbread Stuffing | MUNCHIES


Follow this link for a recipe for kush, an irreplaceable African American contribution to Thanksgiving.



Posted in African American Food History, Food and Slavery, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, Recipes, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A People’s History of Cornbread Stuffing | MUNCHIES


Enjoy this introduction to kush, the original Southern cornbread dressing, a dish born between Africa and America with roots squarely in the Old South. There’s a recipe!!!

Enjoy these pics of me making kush on a plantation in North Carolina and stuffing it into quails that were roasted in a cast iron skillet and larded with thick hickory smoked bacon slices.  The rosemary that held things in place was replaced after roasting. I love Vice and I am so glad I was able to share this with y’all this holiday season!






Posted in African American Food History, Food and Slavery, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, Recipes, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Food historian says Bourdain dodged important issues in Charleston show – Post and Courier


I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country,” he wrote. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
–Dylan Roof, may his name be erased.

Hanna Raskin of the Post and Courier interviewed me after a spate of tweets about the season finale of Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, Parts Unknown.

Parts Unknown is one of several shows where Anthony Bourdain leads you on a culinary tour through food, careful to look at the culture of the locals, the political and cultural movements simmering around them, the culture and politics of the professional  kitchen, and perhaps most importantly the taste, the art and aesthetics of food as an expression of the values, intellect and beauty of people who cook it.

Anthony Bourdain is a hero to many, myself included. He is ever confessional, introspective, searching and beneath his scars a very compassionate man. I have praised him in the past because he has traveled to Sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Mozambique, Liberia, Namibia), Haiti, Salvador-Bahia, the Bronx and the Mississippi Delta. He has never shied away from the power of food to tell stories of people searching for dignity, equality, empowerment and fulfillment.
I have had moments where Chef Bourdain has made me weep. I have had moments where he made me question everything I thought I knew about food and the brotherhood and sisterhood of cooks. He has made me think about music and visual arts and the plate, of time honored craftsmanship in the service of the palate. I am still sure he will continue to give these lessons and more and invite us to be open to a world wider than ourselves.

The Charleston episode was disappointing and difficult. Nobody can deny the role Sean Brock and others like Mike Lata have played in putting Charleston on the map of culinary destinations. For this, they have added immensely to the local economy and reshaped the cultural scene in the Holy City.  Sean’s interests, like mine, span centuries and continents, we both value the stories that food tells and the power of the Southern table. In any other guise, we are kindred spirits, and in the deepest Southern sense, kin. The issues at hand are larger than the story of Sean’s career or the mystique built around his personal culinary journey.

Enter the debate on cultural appropriation and culinary justice. It’s not the import of the meaning of  white and black but rather power and opportunity that are at stake.  We are not here to assign guilt, lay blame or encourage shame. Simply put, it is not sustainable to pretend that the reality of food and illusion of race are not intertwined in American life.  Systemic racism is real as is inequality; and so is the pain of having a heritage that is so uncomfortable and discouraging that many have abandoned it in a cultural compost pile for others to turn into fertile ground. Our story has been used to raise the price point of many menus so much so that the descendants of the enslaved cannot afford to enjoy and appreciate the very edible heritage that was nourished by their Ancestors skills, knowledge and blood.

Charleston saw several flashpoints in the contemporary narrative of American racial angst via the murder of Walter Scott and the assassination of the Emanuel 9 as well as debates over flags, monuments, memory and commemoration.

This isn’t the Charleston Bourdain’s group filmed in…but it is the Charleston that has always had a particularly deep place in the history of race in America. Through this space many of my own Ancestors were brought during the transatlantic slave trade when 4 out of every 10 enslaved Africans brought to colonial North America arrived through this port after a journey through the belly of hell. This is where Africans were brought to make colonial slaveholders rich growing rice, indigo and long staple cotton. This is where many died before having children or creating American identities.

The swamps were malarial and filled with snakes and alligators, snapping turtles and burrowing insects and parasites. Our grandmothers were violated, children were separated from their parents. After violently coerced labor without compensation came the denial of education, opportunity, faith and family life. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.  It was here that the Stono Rebellion was launched that changed the laws of how enslaved people were managed. Long before the current uproar over Black lives matter, rules like this created a climate of pain and fear and resistance to freedom seeking as long as the freedom seeker was Black:


It was here that my sixth great grandmother arrived from the country of the Mende in eastern Sierra Leone. Rice based diets shifted the culinary culture. Dishes from what is now Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Angola and Mozambique mixed with indigenous people, British, French Hugenot, German, and Sephardic Jewish foodways with the new Afri-Creole culture as a base. Denmark Vesey rebelled against slavery and more laws were passed when  Charleston was one of the largest slave trading cities in the Antebellum era.

This is the place the Civil War was started. This is the place where riots helped spawn the Great Migration and Charleston went from being “Negro country,” to a largely white city.

This is the backgound. Charleston is steeped in rice and race. Here like no place else, wealth, elegance and power were forged in the crucible of America’s original sin.

This isn’t the only Charleston they missed on this show.  The Charleston of fine dining is neighbor to food deserts and lack. It is a place where culture has always been the product land and water from the music of Gullah – Geechee to the sounds of the Shout. The land, which is quickly being lost to descendants, is sacred, our stories are sacred as well. It is an area for Black people that is still in need of opportunity and empowerment.

The Nat Fuller dinner, orchestrated by Dr. David Shields and prepared by chefs Kevin Mitchell and BJ Dennis with the assistance of Sean Brock was another Charleston that audiences didn’t get to see. There in the spirit of reconciliation and healing gathered Charlestonians and descendants thereof among with dozens of other enthusiasts and culinarians interested in honoring one of the great moments in American culinary history.

Nat Fuller, a formerly enslaved chef held a reconciliation and reunification dinner in 1865 after the Civil War. The commemorative dinner highlighted a 21st century Charleston and with it, the South, that is interested in embracing it’s past but moving forward in an informed and spiritually significant way. 


We are not here for anger. We are not here for the immortality of furor or the encouragement of bad blood. The test for our future is whether we want to solve our issues or wallow in our mistakes. Charleston is where the reality of food and the illusion of race collide, this is where we have our teachable moment, and quite possibly a television moment.

Posted in Elders and Wise Folk, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Collegiate Live


A nice write up on my trip to Grand Rapids Community College (which has a first rate culinary program I might mention.) Enjoy!


Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

In honor of #SFA15 :Southern Food: A 19th Century Photo Album

I can’t tell you how important I think food is. I’m currently at the 18th Southern Foodways Alliance conference in Oxford, Mississippi.  Coming back to the world’s largest gathering of South-centric chefs, thinkers, academics, entrepreneurs, authors, students, artists, photographers and enthusiastic eaters you can’t help but be made more awake to the unifying pull of the Southern culinary journey. This year’s symposium asks a simple but penetrating question about the South of the popular imagination: “Who’s selling, who’s buying and at what price?” Presenters have come from across the country and the globe to talk about the meaning and import of Cracker Barrel, to sample food by the likes of award-winning chefs like Mashama Bailey and to see a shrimp and grits dunk tank.

The past is often read as a series of moments that we have left behind, unforgiving and simpler than the moments that make up our now. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are ever products of the past–even the popular parts of the reality we now live in are not only shaped by but given life to by elements from times and people who have gone before us.

The South is a place of deeply commodified myths and symbols that are recurring and ever present–a material culture around food has emerged to help us make sense of this world and to anticipate it’s future. In a way, my digital photographs and cell shots of the Southern past are a melding of then, now and later. It is my hope that what seeds we plant now will adjust the tomorrow to come. We can and must be a new Southern people branching beyond out myths and beyond just symbols if we hope to discover that which is truly critical about being heirs to an incredible legacy.  Special thanks to Erika Council for some of these fantastic shots.


The day began in the vegetable gardens, poultry yards, the creek, the smokehouse, the pantry, the pens and the dairy. Food was procured for the days meal which would bleed into the next day.


Gathered fresh from the garden, these vegetables from the heirloom gardens at the Atlanta History Center include Guinea squash (eggplant), cow or field peas, long red cayenne peppers and fish peppers, bull nose bell peppers, okra and Large Red tomatoes.


Alexandra and Jasmine started the fire, stirring hot coals with a palmetto fan until the kindling caught fire.


Once the fire produced coals we were ready to cook.


Meanwhile bacon was rubbed down with molasses, salt, red pepper and saltpetre and smoked over smoldering hickory in the smokehouse.


Our goal was to bring to life a meal in the late summer on a Southern farm where enslaved people lived. The interpreters were quick to point out that a farm with less than 20 enslaved workers was not technically a plantation. On such farms the food was much more likely to not be as stratified although there were still important class, racial and cultural differences in the diets of the enslaved and enslaver.


From behind the enslaved person’s quarter was a garden growing things that brought Africa into the Southern culinary landscape.


In Georgia that included sweet potatoes, tanier/elephant ear, hot peppers, sesame and peanuts.






The same kind of vegetables were documented in this painting from 19th century Georgia.


Imagine that a cook on a small Georgia Piedmont cotton farm had to cook for the slave holder’s family, his or her own family, the other enslaved people, hired workers at harvest time and any guests or family relations of his or her enslaver’s family.


Cornbread was the main bread, made of white meal baked golden. Most of the cornbread was not a risen loaf but flatter, harder cakes or small loaves.


Seldom, or wheat bread was a special food for the enslaved and a daily food for slaveholders.




Poultry were often raised by the enslaved community to sell or trade to the slaveholder or other whites.


If it was cotton picking time, the cook on a small farm was often but not always obliged to put time in the fields while still being expected to prepare food for all.



As sweet potatoes roast by the fire, a vegetable stew starring okra, tomatoes, onions and rice bubbles away. A custard pie, rarely enjoyed by the enslaved workers is checked to make sure it doesn’t burn. If it did, the cook might be severely punished.


To the cook’s relief, the pie is nearly perfect and cools near the windowsill.


The chicken fried and golden, rests on clean linens, awaiting delivery across the way to the dining room of the big house.


The mush and mess enslaved people had to be content with on an average day might consist of whole hominy or grits, corn mush or corn cakes with salt pork or salt fish.


This post is dedicated to our Ancestors, an important part of the colonial and antebellum kitchen in whose capable hands Southern food was molded, invented, innovated, shaped and brought to life.
Thank you.

Posted in African American Food History, Elders and Wise Folk, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food People and Food Places, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments