Tag Archives: Slavery

Black-Eyed Peas, Tradition, and the New Year

When it comes to ushering in a new year filled with good fortune and prosperity, certain foods are said to bring good luck. Every culture has variations, but a recurring theme is that black-eyed peas—resembling coins or closed circles signifying the end of one year and success in the next—symbolizes a positive direction in the upcoming year.

One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the Southern slaves had to celebrate with on the first day of January, 1863—the day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. From then on, peas were always eaten on the first day of January.

In Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, Kelley Fanto Deetz draws upon archaeological evidence, cookbooks, plantation records, and folklore to present a nuanced study of the lives of enslaved plantation cooks from colonial times through emancipation and beyond. Deetz not only uncovers their rich and complex stories and illuminates their role in plantation culture, but celebrates their

deetz

living legacy with the recipes that they created and passed down to future generations.

Below is an excerpt from Bound to the Fire:


Ingredients and recipes tell the history of enslaved cooks, from their ancestral homes in West Africa, throughout the middle passage, and into Anglo kitchens, where their talent became irreplaceable.

[. . .]

It is challenging to tease out the precise influences of West African foodways in the colonial Virginia. Colonists were transferring a plethora of foodstuffs, some of which were West African in origin, and quickly became part of the Virginian and Atlantic cuisine. What culinary historian James C. McCain calls the Atlantic Circulation, also known as the “Columbian Trade” drastically transformed the global markets, which were previously semi-bound to land. 

Black-eyed peas, okra, millet, and yams are some ingredients which directly transformed both the new colonies’ crops as well as the dinner table. However, the essence of culinary influence is not simply found in these key ingredients, but rather in the techniques of the African cook, whose memories, creativity, and effort transformed crops into cuisine. While many different factors helped flavor the plantation cuisine, the Igbo’s use of okra is one of the most prevalent legacies in Southern foodways. Used as a thickening agent, enslaved cooks relied on this ingredient and one can assume it became a good substitute for a roux. Presumably enslaved cooks had knowledge, either first-hand or passed down, of making certain foods from their homeland. For example, palm wine was a common staple in many parts of West Africa, as was fried foods and stews. Their organic culinary knowledge was easily transferable to the needs of elite plantation culture.

[. . .]

Enslaved plantation cooks singlehandedly transformed American food, and gave birth to Southern cuisine. The West African ingredients and cooking techniques passed down through generations melded with the European methods and ingredients and allowed cooks to author distinct menus. These contributions are undeniable, yet often their cultural roots were ignored, and forgotten.

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The Civil War: What Did the Women Think?

There are a lot of books out there about the Civil War, so it can be hard to know where to start if you want to learn more. If you’re looking for some unique books about the time period, you’ve come to the right place! These three books follow the lives of four women throughout the war by looking at the writings they left behind.

Cover of Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War   Cover of Cecelia and Fanny  Cover of Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary

  • Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire: First published in 1867, McGuire’s diary provides an intimate view of daily life in the South during the war. She wrote about her hardships, past triumphs, and family activities alongside reports of military rumors and life behind the lines of battle. Her actual entries are pretty fascinating, but James I. Robertson provides additional information that helps explain where Judith’s story fits in the wider narrative of the conflict.
  • Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress by Brad Asher: Letters from Fanny Ballard to her escaped former slave, Cecelia, illuminate the friendship these two women maintained throughout the upheaval of the Civil War. Fanny’s family lived in urban Louisville, and her letters provide a rare glimpse into the urban context of slavery and the resulting social atmosphere of the city. It was pretty rare for an escaped slave to become friends with their former owner, and rarer still that letters exist between the two. Another unusual aspect of this book is that it focuses on slavery in an urban context, instead of plantation slavery.
  • Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary by Josie Underwood: The politically prominent Underwood family of Bowling Green, Kentucky, played a vital role in ensuring Kentucky remained in the Union – despite the facts that they disapproved of Lincoln and owned slaves. Twenty years old at the start of the war, Josie details her opposition to the Confederate occupation of her city and her heartbreak that so many friends and family members were on opposite sides. Josie also wrote about her daily life, arguments with her family, and her personal hopes with the future – she was like any young woman today struggling to find her place in the world.

The Civil War section of your bookseller of choice can be intimidating at first, though more options means more chances to find the story you’re looking for. Hopefully these books help you along in your quest for Civil War knowledge!

If you’ve read these three, which one was your favorite? Or, if you haven’t, do you keep a journal for history? Let us know in a comment below!