I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, but I thought U would take time to address a few matters and share with you images from this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
First, it’s important that we acknowledge the life of beloved culinary anthropologist and journalist Vertamae Smart Grosvenor. Vertamae was a role model for many and a gorgeous talent and griot of many colors. I have to honor her further, but for now it is important for us here at Afroculinaria to wish blessings upon her family and pray that she rests in both peace and power.
As we remembered Vertamae we climbed the mountain at Monticello and honored our common culinary Ancestors…James Hemings, Peter Hemings, Edith Fossett, Frances Hern–the Black cooks of Monticello who innovated a cuisine that according to none other than Daniel Webster, was “Half-Virginian and Half-French in style, served in good taste and abundance.”
One of my long term mentors and heroes, Dr. Leni Sorensen, former Senior Director of African American research at Monticello asked me to fill in for Paula Marcoux and it was a great afternoon for ourselves and our sold out class who came to learn how to prepare chicken fricassee, okra and tomatoes, apple compote and creamed cabbage out of The Virginia Housewife written by Mary Randolph in 1824, arguably, the first Southern cookbook.
It was a thrill to not only cook in the same space as Edith and Fanny, but to know that the Hemings descendants were there to see me teach and approve of the message I gave on Mulberry Row, site of the former slave quarters at Monticello. I want to thank Soula Pefkaros, Niya Bates, Leni Sorensen, and Tonya Hopkins for the use of their outstanding photographs to tell the story of the day.
Meet the Monticello kitchen with its hearth and stew stoves, powered by charcoal.
Copper cooking utensils and a bake oven tell us that fine cooking was a priority here.
From a rich and diverse garden and from the productive gardens of the enslaved came an astonishing variety of early Southern produce.
We got an early delivery from my friend Pat Borowdowski, the gardener at Monticello.
Heirloom tomatoes grown on the mountain from a Kentucky source.
The bathroom in which I changed into an outfit suitable for James was the same space he originally cooked in.
The only thing Jefferson ever touched in this kitchen was this clock.
We were pleased to have access to Albemarle pippins, a venerable old Virginia apple.
Dr. Leni starts the day by breaking up kindling.
Our utensils are seasoned and ready to go.
We plan the day’s class.
I sit for a portrait.
Dr. Leni cuts up the chickens for fricassee.
We layer the okra and tomatoes.
The chicken bubbles away on the stew stove, with the window providing ventilation.
Close up of the stew stove.
One dish down.
Everything is done.
A crowd of 60 at Mulberry Row ready to watch me barbecue a cotton tail rabbit and make okra soup with chicken.
As farm to table as I have ever been.
Sermon on the bird pepper!
Greeting Marilyn Dobbins, a fellow interpreter , who has for many years brought Mulberry Row to life.
Rabbit seasoned with herbs, onions, hot peppers, salt ready for hominy and soup.
Slightly charred but tender and delicious feller..
Giving a talk on The Cooking Gene to another audience of 60.
That awesome time I got to share the stage with culinary heroes, Chef Patrick O’Connell, Master Horticultural Genius and Seed Saver Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Dr. David Shields, author of Southern Provusions, and Master Farmer, Mr. Joel Salatin!
Hope you enjoyed this!
Love and peace..and soul food, Michael
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