In the Monticello Kitchen: A Photo Essay

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 AncestorsJames Hemings, Peter HemingsEdith 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.

Divas Forever!

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 

#Dont forget we need your support, please consider sending a small donation to our PayPal at koshersoul@gmail.com  

This work is NEVER ending and your help keeps us going. 

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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, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Elders and Wise Folk and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to In the Monticello Kitchen: A Photo Essay

  1. Thanks a lot!!!! I’m Ivorian but I think I these information will be better for my cuisine…

  2. K.C. Wise says:

    You are incredible. I’m a longtime follower, but rarely get a chance to comment–I’m terrible, I know. I just have to say how phenomenal your work is and how grateful I am for it. Living all the way up in Massachusetts, I’m probably not going to be able to attend your seminars in the near future, BUT, I want to put a plug in for Black cuisine here in Massachusetts: there is a lot of research going on about Concord, Massachusetts’ slave history and I’m sure there has got to be some recipes to be found! If you ever come up this way, I hope you’ll let someone know!

    Really, I’m just posting to say thank you. Thank you for your work, these pictures, and inspiring people to step into their kitchens with an eye toward history. I’ll place my hands on my own cast iron skillets today with renewed vigor, and a hunger to seek new dishes to make for my family. I’d LOVE to grill some rabbit, but the price is outrageous up here! $32 for a rabbit! Whaaaa?

      • K.C. Wise says:

        SEE!? That’s what *I* said!!! I mean, just for ONE? Ain’t that crazy? I used to be able to get them so much cheaper… but this is the rich suburbs of Boston and nobody knows no better. ūüôā Gonna have to get my fix next time I’m down that way (I’m from Maryland originally). My great-grandmother made a roasted rabbit and gravy that people still talk about. See, now I’ve got a craving!

        Anyway, again, you are wonderful. Your blog is amazing. Your research and care for this knowledge is incredible. Sending my deep and profound respect from far, far away.

  3. Pingback: In the Monticello Kitchen: A Photo Essay

  4. DeAnna says:

    Hi Michael! Loved the photos, and I know Dr. Leni from Chef Walter Staibe’s show “A Taste of History” when they did a show at Monticello. I would have loved to have been there when you did this magnificent dinner! Have you met Chef Staibe (City Tavern in Philadelphia) yet? He’s fabulous, and I think y’all would get along like peas and carrots! Keep writing Dear – you are wonderful!

  5. Kim says:

    beautiful majestic pictures-thanks for sharing this

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