Quotes Part Two: New Gems

So we have more good stuff:

Angola Peas—Ocra—Coffee.

Monroe, La., December, 1851.

To the Editor of the American Farmer—

I have sent to N. Orleans a small package to be forwarded to Messrs. R. Sinclair, Jr. & Co. of your city—in which there is a bundle containing two papers of seeds for you—which you are at liberty to distribute or make such use of as you deem proper. The paper contains a few Jingola

Peas. I send these, as 1 have never seen any at the North. We consider them a very delicate pea; they are quite prolific and hardy—delight in poor land and dry weather—require no sticking and do not run. The plant grows about 3 feet high; they should be sowed in drills 4 feet apart and 8 to 10 inches in the drill; the pod is about the size of a pipe-stem, and black when ripe, and should be gathered at least once a week after commencing to mature. They continue bearing till frost. Plant as soon as frost is over in the spring.

The other paper is the seed of the Dwarf Ocra; this being the first I have ever seen, it may be new to you. It is a great bearer—earlier than the tall varieties—grows from 12 to 18 inches high—pods ordinary size, and requires much less ground to supply a given quantity than the tall sorts. Sow in drills 3 feet apart and leave one stock in each place about 18 inches apart.

“Gombo” (a soup made of Ocra) being the “national” dish of our Creoles, we deem any improvement in its production important, and as some of your citizens may have learned the art of making it properly, and of course relish it, I consider it my duty to encourage the extension of its cultivation and use, for I do not believe there is any vegetable, if properly cooked, that can compare with it for usefulness or health, or as easily raised.

Besides its value as a vegetable, the ripe seed is the only substitute for coffee, which will defy the most inveterate coffee-drinker from distinguishing from the real “Simon Pure.” If the seed be allowed age (say 1 year) before using, I do not believe one person in ten could designate it from the best Rio. It must, however, be carefully parched, and not burnt.

In making Coffee, we never boil it, but make it in a “grequc” or dripper. By boiling, nearly all the aroma is lost, whereas by dripping in a tight vessel, nothing escapes, and you have all the rich flavor which naturally belongs to it. The strength of the beverage can be regulated so as to suit any taste; and last, though not least, it is by far the most economical mode of using it. As a good cup of coffee for breakfast is one of the most difficult things to be found, I will remark that the method pursued by us is to parch the berries very carefully, and on no account to allow a single grain to be burnt, for that will render the whole hatch bitter. When parched, it should be kept in a close tin cannister and only as much ground at a time as is wanted immediately; then dripped very strong.— Boil sweet milk well, but do not allow it to scorch; put \^ part of coflee to % of boiled milk in the cup, and then you will have such coffee as will be grateful to the palate. It should be borne in mind that coffee loses much of its virtues if kept long after being parched, and is nearly valueless if ground long before using. If, therefore, good coffee is wanted, parch frequently, and only grind when to be used.

Yours respectfully, “Creole..”

[We thank our correspondent for the seed, which, when received, we will be happy to distribute among our friends who may desire to obtain them. We hope our correspondent will not neglect to fulfil his promise in his private note, to give us the result of his experiments, whether favorable or otherwise.—Ed. A. Far.]

Do you get that?  We have evidence for pigeon peas–normally associated with the Caribbean and Central/West Africa as early as 1851.  Mr. Creole calls them “Jingola” peas, and the paper calls them Angola peas.  They are an African cultigen that spread early to Asia/the Indian subcontinent early on.  They are popular in Latin America and the Caribbean–Goya sells them dried–and you can grow them from the dried seed if its not unbroken! More evidence of the African contribution and plants that were under the radar!

He’s also talking about the okra cultivar, “Stubby,” one of the many okra varieties found in West Africa.  There is another type of cultivated okra other than Hibiscus esculentum, but we will talk about that later!  What is very cool about this “dwarf” okra–short and fat is that a number of the people brought to Louisiana were from the Fon and Ehve ethnic groups–the peoples who seeded the practice and worship of the Vodun–yes now you know what I’m talking about–what later people erroneously called “Voodoo.”  To quote my friend Fran (of Betumiblog),  Among the Ewe people of the Volta Region, there is a short fat type of okra known as Anlo fetri after the region that type originated. It can be seen in the picture at the blog posting linked to above.  The Ewe word for okra is “fetri,” and the word for soup or stew is “detsi.”  Among the Anlo Ehve, okra is “fetri,” among the Fon it is “fevi,” and indeed that word was preserved in New Orleans.

How about this semi-racist jewel from the American Cotton Planter, 1855 out of Alabama:

The Kitchen Garden.

 If you have succeeded in forcing any in the hot bed, the Early York and the Battertca, may be put out first, as they do best in our latitude set out as early as possible. Raddishes, Lettuce and Cabbage for summer may yet be sowed. Beets, Carrots and Parsnips may yet be planted and do veiy well. Toward the middle of the month you may plant beans, the Early Six Weeks first, and quickly after the running or pole Beans—and shortly after the Carolina or Sewer Beans. About the last of the month you may, if the weather be open and shiney, plant a portion of your Okra Seed. This superb vegetable is of the family of Cotton, and is quite as easily nipped by the frost. It should be raised largely on every plantation; it is fine food, easy of digestion, and may be eaten in a variety of ways. It is an especial favorite with negroes. Plant some more corn for roasting ears—melons, squashes, and cucumbers. Plant a good large patch of melons, so as to give them out to your negroes at noon, cool and good ripe—you will be pleased with its influence. You may also plant Peppers, Egg-Plant, Tomatoes, d’e. The Tomato is a fine, healthy vegetable also. It is worth ra’sing to feed fowls on ; they may be grown like peas, among your corn. By the last of the month you may plant your summer supply of Beans, all the running varieties. It will also be the proper time for planting largely of the Squash or Simblin ; these are most excellent vegetables for negroes; they are also fine for hogs, and when the land is made rich, they bear profusely. 

Commentary: Many of the Alabama planters had come from Virginia and the Carolinas.  The use of term “simblin” suggests a Virginia origin for our writer and his traditions.  “Peas,” in this sense may well refer to cowpea vines, which reflect both Native American and African traditions in being planted in corn hills to grow up the stalks.  The term for Carolina Limas, “Sewer,” or “Sieva,” “Seewee,” or “Sivvy.” Now…there is no real plausible reason they are called that…Unless you consider that Lorenzo Dow Turner found that among the Gullah beans were called “sibi,” specifically lima beans.  In Wolof, part of the huge Senegambian contingent that influenced early Sea Island culture and life (and also as a trade language in later generations),  the word for beans is “seb” and usually when a noun is identified it is followed by”bi” or “ji” etc. so “nyam bi” (is) cassava, and “seb bi” is) beans. So remember that Gullah is being taught to whites to some degree who are raised by Blacks who speak Gullah–the white kids are hearing “seebee,” “seh-bee,” “sivvy,” etc.  Yet another link to our heritage coming from West Africa!

Back to Dr. Wright in Jamaica:

Capsicum.

Capsicum annuum.— Cockspur Pepper.

— baccatum.— Cherry Pepper.

grossum.— Gourd Pepper.

— fiutescens.—Bird Pepper.

i (varietas.)—Hen Pepper.

galeiiculum.—Bonnet Pepper.

These, and some other varieties, are called Negro Peppers. The bird and hen peppers are indigenous; the others are cultivated in gardens; and all of them have the same sensible qualities, differing only in degrees of pungency. The bird pepper is the smallest, but hotter than any of the others. All the capsicums may be preserved in vinegar, and form the best of pickles.When nearly ripe they become red; and if gathered at this time, dried, and powdered, make Cayenne pepper. Some mix common salt; but this is improper, as it disposes the whole to deliquesce, and darkens the colour.Capsicum has a warm and kindly effect on the stomach. It has all the virtues of the oriental spices, without producing those complaints of the head which they often occasion. In food it prevents flatulency from vegetables; but the abuse of it occasions visceral obstructions, especially of the liver.

And we still love our hot sauce :)  Notice these were all called “Negro peppers,” including the cherry pepper grown in the gardens of white Annapolis silversmith and innkeeper William Faris during the late 18th century.

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About michaelwtwitty

I am a Judaics teacher and Culinary Historian focusing on the foodways of Africa, enslaved African Americans, African America and the African and Jewish diasporas.
This entry was posted in African American Food History, Food and Slavery, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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