On a day when I found, as a Southern American and a member of the Supreme Court bar, a lot to cry about, chef and historian Michael Twitty‘s letter to cooking show personality Paula Deen brought a different kind of tear to my eye. As is often the case, Twitty’s writing begins and ends with the creation and preservation of a sense of place.
You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.
. . .
[Noting that his studies of Southern cooking have taught him the value of reconciliation, Twitty contnues:] I would like to invite you to a gathering at a historic antebellum North Carolina plantation. We are doing a fundraiser dinner for Historic Stagville, a North Carolina Historic Site. One of the largest in fact, much larger than the one owned by your great-grandfather’s in Georgia. 30,000 acres once upon a time with 900 enslaved African Americans working the land over time. They grew tobacco, corn, wheat and cotton. I want you to walk the grounds with me, go into the cabins, and most of all I want you to help me cook. Everything is being prepared using locally sourced food, half of which we hope will come from North Carolina’s African American farmers who so desperately need our support. Everything will be cooked according to 19th century methods. So September 7, 2013, if you’re brave enough, let’s bake bread and break bread together at Historic Stagville. This isn’t publicity this is opportunity. Leave the cameras at home. Don’t worry, it’s cool, nobody will harm you if you’re willing to walk to the Mourner’s Bench. Better yet, I’ll be there right with you.
Paula Deen should go.
Picture found here.