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How Enslaved Chefs Helped Shape American Cuisine

Smithsonian – Black cooks created the feasts that gave the South its reputation for hospitality

“…Black cooks were bound to the fire, 24 hours a day. They lived in the kitchen, sleeping upstairs above the hearth during the winters, and outside come summertime. Up every day before dawn, they baked bread for the mornings, cooked soups for the afternoons, and created divine feasts for the evenings. They roasted meats, made jellies, cooked puddings, and crafted desserts, preparing several meals a day for the white family. They also had to feed every free person who passed through the plantation. If a traveler showed up, day or night, bells would ring for the enslaved cook to prepare food. For a guest, this must have been delightful: biscuits, ham, and some brandy, all made on site, ready to eat at 2:30 a.m. or whenever you pleased. For the cooks, it must have been a different kind of experience. Enslaved cooks were always under the direct gaze of white Virginians. Private moments were rare, as was rest. But cooks wielded great power: As part of the “front stage” of plantation culture, they carried the reputations of their enslavers—and of Virginia—on their shoulders. Guests wrote gushing missives about the meals in they ate while visiting these homes. While the missus may have helped design the menu, or provided some recipes, it was the enslaved cooks who created the meals that made Virginia, and eventually the South, known for its culinary fare and hospitable nature…”

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