Tag Archives: South

Eating and Cooking Like the Witch of this Place

For me, part of being “the Witch of this place,” is growing, cooking, and eating the foods of my landbase, watershed, food shed. Like every place, the South has foods that are traditional to each holiday. G/Son comes to my house at Yule and grabs several ham biscuits. “Oh, I like these little sandwiches,” he says. A friend comes back from a Richmond funeral and tells me about fried chicken, bourbon, peanut soup, and spoonbread. On the Fourth of July, we eat watermelon. In months with an R, we warm ourselves with oyster stew. In late Summer/early Fall, my extended family goes to Annapolis and picks crabs on picnic tables covered with brown paper.

And, on New Years’s Day in the South, you eat hoppin john. I make mine the way that my momma, raised in Florida, made it. Peppers, onions, ham, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and greens. I add garlic, although I don’t think my momma did, and heat, this year from fish peppers. In good years, you add ham and in leaner years, you add a ham hock, or a ham bone, or maybe only the thought of ham. You eat it to have good luck all through the new year. (I think that, for a lot of my ancestors, just being able to scratch together a filling meal months after the last harvest was an indication of good luck. And I eat hoppin john to, in part, honor their survival and their struggle, to take into the cells of my own body the foods that my ancestors ate.)

Click on the Afroculinaria link in my blog roll and read Michael Twitty’s fascinating discussion of the (largely African) history of hoppin john (and the magical symbolism of each ingredient).

May 2015 bring you health, growth, magic, poetry, prosperity, a sense of place, and true friends. This is my will; so mote it be.

The Brits have a wonderful saying about starting as you “mean to go on.” What’s the first thing that you’ll eat in 2015?

We’re All Standing on the “Self-Defining Ground of the Slave Quarter” Today


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.

You should read the whole thing.

Paula Deen should go.

Picture found here.