We are now officially, http://www.thecookinggene.com
Keep reading, keep cooking!
Michael and the Team
We are now officially, http://www.thecookinggene.com
We are now officially, http://www.thecookinggene.com
Keep reading, keep cooking!
Michael and the Team
While the rest of my team happily sleeps away until morning, I have insanely elected to stay up and work. Now please understand that I am absolutely insane for keeping such long hours these past few weeks, luckily I have no car so nobody is the worse for my blend of creative insomnia and micro-sleeps. Now would be a really great time to pick up Infinite Jest and give it another try. What I am doing is not healthy and I really should stop, but I am being goaded on like a wolf on blood. What exactly is goading me is quite elusive. (Oh My G-d, lack of sleep has turned me Victorian!) Scratch that–I don’t know what’s making me stay up…the prize of working a tobacco field in the North Carolina summer? Oh no that’s right, playing a slave that cooks…..Or perhaps is it having awkward silence with one’s family’s former owners? Burns, cuts, scratches, mosquito bites, poisonous snakes and people I will not agree with on anything except for how barbecue should taste–and maybe not even that? WHY AM I UP!!!!!??? These things are not rewards!
You know you’re up too late and not really focusing when the Kevin Trudeau infomercial almost sounds interesting and believable. My good friend and closest ally, known by his alias and alternate identity, Joseph Ricardo Beauregard Jefferson Jackson Wyndello (the Third….as he signs all his letters..) reminds me all the time that when the pain of not creating becomes greater than the pain of not creating–you are in the zone. I have almost hit that point where what this project would mean to other people totally outweighs my own personal dreams. Creating community gardens in food deserts or sharing my heirloom seeds or helping people who share my bloodlines reconnect with their African origins or bringing people of different backgrounds together over quality, hearth-prepared traditional and healthy food—maybe that’s why I’m doing this. Maybe somebody will do something to help the victims of tornadoes or hurricanes….or feed someone who is hungry…something small and phenomenal–just to make this worth it. I will confess to you that right now I do feel the kind of chill that only 4 o’clock in the morning can deliver and its lonely—even the dogs have left my side—and I’m scared to death of every possible outcome—I’m scared this will all plotz….I’m scared nobody will hear about this thing…I’m also scared it will just be blah or meh or whatever or any number of slacker words…On the other hand my good angel knows that good things are right around the corner and I’m buffering my soul and getting ready and maturing so that I can take on the blessings a deep part of me knows are on the way.
I do hope that things change. We launch tomorrow, about midday on Indiegogo. I’m absolutely terrified. I cannot sleep. I am working my mind into a hurricane, and my fingers are just about sick of this keyboard. I am praying people get involved in this project and don’t just wish me good luck….I need farmers, fishermen, chefs, restaurant owners, genealogists, elders, geneticists–and I don’t know where they are going to come from to save this project–and I need donors–people who will part for 5-500 bucks to see this pipe dream come true. But, when I think about it–when I get really scared of life I shut down. I’m not shutting down.. I’m staying on…That must be a good sign. Everyday this project loves me back in such a way that I can’t help but love it and that love grows and swells in me like pride. I’m staring my life’s dream in the face—and I know it will all work out–and we will reach our goals and everything will be swell. Deep down I know that…Now, however, I have the kind of excitement that only a kid can have the night before a big trip—with every late night and every sun rise a part of me sees me one step closer to putting on my shoes and getting on the road. I feel like my veins are coursing with lightning. Every time I rummage through a milk crate or file cabinet I find another piece of this journey to come buried in my past–a family narrative, a bit of research, a map, an old book I just had to have but didn’t know why. In bits and pieces, it all starting to make sense. I’m at the crossroads of all the arrows pointed to this annoying, sleepless moment In a few hours the dawn is coming, so I have to be ready. “Ten thousand biscuits in mah hand, I’m gwine to sop my way to the Promised Land.”
Special and Heartfelt thanks goes out to the Ebony Hillbillies for allowing us to use their music in our video for Indiegogo. Rique and I have done interpretation for several years on Pinkster Day at Phillipsburg Manor in Tarrytown and I had NO idea that he was one of my heroes until he mentioned I learned he was a founding part of the Ebony Hillbillies–a fantastic Black string/folk music band if there ever was one! Their music will bring you to your feet and bring you to tears! Anyhow this post is an update to thank him and thank his musical family for being the soundtrack to my work. They have inspired The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Otis Taylor and so many others to pick up the banjo, the fiddle, the quills, washboard, bass, the fife, the drum and the rattle and bones and bring the soundscape of our ancestors back to life. G-d Bless all of them for that and G-d Bless Rique and the EH! BE SURE TO GET THEIR NEWEST WORK: Barefoot and Flying!
For more about the Ebony Hillbillies please visit their site: http://www.ebonyhillbillies.com/
Disclaimer: While the blogosphere has pumped up the Tennessee Tea Party’s mandate to advocate for changes to Tennessee’s American history textbooks-much like the folks in Texas wanted to change the history books, the story is really a year old. The point here is that there is a reason for this project and others efforts to educate people about slavery and its effects in American society and culture. —MWT
Before we go much further here is the quote from a member of the Tennessee Tea Party on American history textbooks in the state:
“Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
Translation: We are angry that multiculturalism is now a well integrated approach to the way we study history and culture in this country. The emphasis of our history prior to the poison of Civil Rights and the late 20th century was just fine. The books were perfect—white male and might make America right– and that’s just a fact. This is not a country for the “others,” its ours. People of color, women, sexual minorities, know your place and shut up.
and this gem:
“No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Keywords–”actually occurred,” “Founding Fathers,” “majority of its citizens,” “…including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Translation: Racial chattel slavery as perpetuated against people of African descent and the annihilation and removal of Native Americans, are no reason to violate postulate 1: white male and might make America right…We wish to absolve American society as a whole even though those directly unconnected benefited from these practices. In addition to the Founding Fathers, we would like to include all great men of European American heritage who made this country work for them and them alone and we would like to de-emphasize the role that enslaved Africans and African Americans and Native Americans played as Founding Fathers and Mothers themselves….
Bigger Translation: your ancestors don’t count, your stories don’t count, your history doesn’t count…you…don’t count…
So if you’re asking why we’re doing this project—we are giving a face and a name to a small subset of these groups who really lived and breathed and were effected by the complex internal struggles of the Founding Fathers and the “majority,” who obviously struggled with not only slavery and “Indian Removal,” but with their own complex emotions about their relationships with people of color. How do you eat with people, play with people, grow up with them, have sex with them, laugh at their jokes, imitate their dances, their words, EAT THEIR FOOD and develop a taste for their tastes and yet have a society that is legally dedicated to their permanent and indefinite submission and subjugation. That’s extremely complex and its a story that was going on all across the Americas, and would eventually play out in the century of colonization in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
I am leading this small team of Black, White and Latino searchers because I don’t want to hate anybody. I don’t want to hold a grudge against anyone…I don’t want to get in the face of the people who owned my family and cuss them out. I want to know if the Table of Brotherhood is real. I want to know if reconciliation is real. I want to know if healing is real. I’m doing this for my ancestors. They need to know their lives meant something more than just the money they helped make but never saw. Their lives were more than a sideshow, entertainment, scapegoat experiences. I don’t want to promote hate–and the best way to make sure that happens is to tell the truth and fight ignorance like the words of these arrogant, idiotic, hateful apologists for the cultural genocide of my people. I don’t hate them–I just want to love them with the truth.
A few years ago a Virginia legislator angrily suggested that Virginia need not express regret for slavery and the Commonwealth bore no legacy from the institution. Virginia did express regret, but this person….felt no need to apologize, express regret or otherwise except responsibility. I am the descendant of enslaved Virginians—and hearing what he said was akin to Holocaust denial. You cannot be in peace, reconciliation and wholeness when you deny the truth.
Our foodways are the one thing we can’t deny. They didn’t get here out of thin air—they were created by specific people in a specific institution and in specific place. This is the truth. We’re putting a face on an aspect of enslaved people’s culture and lives that can be comprehended, that lets us into their interior world, and forces us to connect the enslaved with the lives we live today–not only in what we eat but the lived experienced of all people–all Americans who eat what they eat partly out of their rootedness in the Old Country as well as the American and global culinary experience. This project is about giving access to a world that if the Tea Party members in Tennessee would have it–would disappear from our cultural memory.
I teach about the Holocaust in my Hebrew school. How interesting huh, an African American Jew teaching about the Holocaust–genocide and orchestrated hatred–what it means for people to have complex issues with a group that lead to acts of oppression…and yet those people resisted, joined forces with others for freedom, and constantly and consistently denied the alternative reality of their oppressors. As we make our way through Elie Wiesel’s Night, I remind my students that power is in the story as much as in the survival expressed in those pages. Many of the survivors of the Shoah wear a “Zakhor” pendant in Hebrew on their lapels. Zakhor means “to remember” or “memory.” Without that memory we are doomed to a recycled oppression. To me what goes on our plates is zakhor in edible form.
It has been two days and I’ve gotten four hours of sleep. No rest for the weary. The Ancestors are working me overtime.
Our Indiegogo Campaign launches on Wednesday, February 1, 2012. Yes, the first day of African American Heritage Month. We are posting the link and blogging the page here and at http://www.Afroculinaria. We are asking in advance that even the chance visitors to this site among you would take the opportunity to post our link to your Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media networks you belong to and consider emailing or texting our link to others you know that may be interested in our project. The five of us are really super excited and can’t believe that we all got drawn into this project from such diverse directions–history, cooking, genealogy, spiritual work, visual arts, photography, performing arts, social justice work and all points between.
We look forward to bringing The Cooking Gene-Southern Discomfort Tour to you and we’re excited to see how this campaign on Indiegogo.com shapes up so that we can make it happen. This is the first journey/project of its type and we are proud to say that a multicultural team is bringing it to life through food, writing, photographs, video and hopefully communities transformed through dialogue, action and food. Feel free to re-blog our posts and see the project blog for the many ways you can help. I am glad to say that people along the route are just starting to contact us about when we are coming to town. Please help us get the word out, please note if people in your network can help us get this off the ground, and contact us if you have a connect we need to explore in order to make this a rich culinary journey through family history.
Love and Peace
SWEET POTATO PUMPKIN
Although it sounds exotic, the sweet potato pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata) was the late fall glory of the African Virginian’s table and as our ancestors were sold South they carried its seeds with them. Thomas Jefferson stated clearly that it was “On account of the extreme resemblance of its taste to that of the sweet potato, it may be originating form your islands…it is well esteemed at our tables, and particularly valued by our Negroes.” A few years later, George Washington would echo Jefferson’s letter to Samuel Vaughn, writing Anthony Young in England in 1792—”We have lately had introduced a plant of the melon species which…we have called a pumpkin…its taste ..is that of the sweet potato…It is but yet little known…but it is particularly valued by our Negroes..” Cushaws produced from the late summer into the late fall, taking the place of sweet potatoes while they were out of season. The word cushaw is derived from an Algonquin word, although the plant itself ultimately derives from the indigenous peoples of Central America and the West Indies, possibly Jamaica. In Jamaica they replaced the edible gourds that West and Central Africans were used to. When African Virginians moved across the Piedmont into the Appalachians, they brought the sweet potato pumpkin with them, and like the banjo (Kimbundu: mbanza) it became part of Southern Appalachian culture. Cushaws are made into cushaw butter, pie filling, puddings, and are cooked on their own. Striped green and creamy white, the “potato pumpkin,” made it into The Virginia Housewife, having attained popularity across lines of class and race.
1 medium sweet potato pumpkin or cushaw
1 teaspoon of salt
½ cup of molasses
¼ cup of butter
a few dashes of spiced rum
1. Cut the top off of the pumpkin and pare off the rind. Scoop out the seeds and reserve them for other dishes or for seed saving. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut the sweet potato pumpkin up into small chunks and place in a pot or Dutch oven with water to cover. Add the salt. Boil gently until just barely fork-tender.
3. Drain from the water and place the cushaw in a Dutch oven. Mix with the molasses, butter, and rum and bake for 35 minutes.
I want you to meet someone.
I want you to meet Babatunde. That’s not really his name—Babatunde is a Yoruba name meaning “Father Has Returned.” This man, one of our ancestors–was not Yoruba. According to the caption in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural Hisotry, he lived in the mid-18th century near Annapolis, Maryland and he had filed teeth. It’s rare that you get to see the skull of one of these first African/Americans. This man, whomever he was, our Ancestor, survived the Middle Passage. He probably worked in the Chesapeake tobacco fields, and while I don’t know if he had children or died at an early age–he was there living the history we have reduced to “the slaves.” He never saw his homeland again. Babatunde cut wood, hauled logs off and cleared brush, made mounds with a broad hoe and weeded them, transplanted thousands of tobacco seedlings, helped lift 1,000 hogsheads, tended his own garden, pounded corn, hunted, fished, provided for his family. Babatunde wasn’t one man or one human being–he lies here—standing for thousands of men, women and children whose faces we cannot see, cannot know.
What Babatunde ate is a bigger story than the sum total of his daily meals. Forget the soul food connotations for the moment. This isn’t about that–its about power. Power is the ability to define reality. Babatunde’s food story–his food steps–from Africa to America and beyond have a lot to tell us about what an enslaved person went through, how they survived and how they suffered. It tells us further about what we’ve gone through, how we survived and why we suffer. In that skull are locked away wisdom about our health crisis, our hypertension, our stress, our preferences, and our dislikes. Our DNA, our family histories tell us a lot about the past and a lot about the present. The two are intertwined like Da Aido-Hwedo, like the very strands of life.
We have such fear going back to Babatunde’s world. We are afraid of our anger, our pain, our horror. Mostly we’re afraid of our ignorance. We are afraid of what we don’t know about them. It’s the intimidation one faces when they one is confronted with a part of themselves that is mysterious and unconquerable with knowledge. No matter how much I try, no matter how many books I read–I’m stil not “there.” I never will be. Point one. I don’t understand much, I do understand cooking–that’s my way into Babatunde’s world, and I hope it will be the gateway to my ancestors. They have been waiting for me. I have a story to tell. Their story. Now.
I look at you/looking back at me/your hollow sockets following me around the room, out the exhibit door/onto the Mall–the Congo of America where your grandsons were sold south to New Orleans/into the subway/into the streets/into my home.
I catch myself feeling my face/looking for the bumps and lines that will race and sex me when I’m gone/I marvel at you/You were never colored, never Black, you probably didn’t know what a “nigger” was—where you came from no such word existed and so you couldn’t be what there was no name for—maybe they called you Negro, but when the auction bill went out you were African.
On behalf of all of us, I apologize, I implore you to forgive us/We have forgotten You/We didn’t mean to but lye and self-hatred and assimilation got in the way and the generations drifted away from you like leaves in wind-devils/we don’t know You but we love You and when we try to say why/words don’t come out–just imitations of drumbeats, the sound of Whydah birds swirling/telling the captives goodbye.
Who are we to be your heirs?/who are we to the keepers of your recipes and songs?/what will become of your skull if the children don’t know the prayers to send it back across to Guinea?/Your seas were not made of rosewater/Your suns were not made of gold nor copper and the sunsets you saw were red as blood because that was all there was left.
Until we meet the dance circle of the cosmos/I will cook for you and listen to stories about the first palm tree and the chicken that scratched out the earth/food is how I will understand you/yams and okra maize and peppers fish and plantains/I will sweat from my brown and plant your skull and harvest secrets/I will fire the pots and ask about the antelope sacrifice/I will ask what the first thing was you forgot/I will make sure the children and the children’s children remember what that was so it never happens again. I am your Museum./And so will your descendants be.
If you are an executive chef/restaurant owner in a city on our tour—please see the Southern Discomfort Tour page–we want to know who you are and where you are! We want to eat and spend our money at your establishment and possibly cook with you. We want to support local economies, local food and local chefs. Now is the time to get involved with this project–not May when we get on the road, so we want to dialogue with you and make sure this project is co-evolved so everybody knows who is perpetuating heirloom Southern foodways and carrying on our tradition.
Sorry–I don’t buy this “don’t command me to go see a movie just because ……” Go see the damn movie.
Put it to you this way—as a Jew–if this was a movie about the Shoah or other aspects of Jewish history or culture–we could count on our own to support our own–as a priority and not an option. As an African American I want to be able to see that kind of support for projects that tell the story of African American history and culture and inspire pride in our people and all Americans. So if you’re vacillating, go see the movie-NOW. Aaron Macgruder (Creator/Writer of The Boondocks) said it best–”we had a Black president before we had a Black action hero.”
The Tuskeegee Airmen were some of American’s history’s greatest heroes. They had to fight on two fronts—segregated America and racist, facist Germany. We are indebeted to all WWII veterans, but especially those who were of color–African American, Native American, Mexican American and Japanese American who had to battle for the very freedom they were sent to protect.
Tell Anthony Hemingway and George Lucas (we love you George Lucas!) that we are grateful. Tell “Hollywood,” that we are MORE THAN JUST THE HELP! Tell your neighbors that this history is important and needs to be passed on. Tell your children there’s more to life than the stereotypes and negative impressions that we aren’t the heroes, the beautiful ones, the ones with the stories to tell and be retold. We were part of two greatest generations–the one that fought against tyranny in World War II and the long generation that build this country in chains and survived against all odds in American chattel slavery!
After Shabbat–I’m at the theater watching Nazis go down…hope you are too…
Don’t forget about us: http://thecookinggene.wordpress.com/faq/ Same phenomenon……we need to remember, support for our history is not a given, its a community priority.