Infused. Our lives, our country, our food are infused with Blackness. One way to get a sense of this is to read Michael Twitty’s amazing food history, The Cooking Gene, subtitled “A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.”
Bringing ingredients, recipes, and sensibilities from Africa, enslaved people created a culinary culture which, over time, much time, basically became the cuisine of the South. Often claimed by White mistresses and even published in cookbooks as their own invention, the cooking of enslaved chefs used what was available in new ways, found ways to sneak new spices and tastes into old foods, and created a unique food history.
So here was one really wonderful takeaway – aside from the intricate history-telling and personal dimensions of this book. Kitchen pepper. Kitchen pepper (which I’d never heard of) is basically a spice mix that varied depending on what was available and affordable. But, trust me, this recipe included in Twitty’s book is amazing. Use it on plain sliced carrots, sauteed in butter and olive oil, and you will love carrots forever. Here it is.
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Mix well. Store in a dry, cool place. Use sparingly.
Our knowledge of American history is so stunted, so abbreviated, a series of bullet points with dates to remember. There are people who lived their lives, chefs who created kitchens that flowered with smells and aromas and savoriness that we can only imagine. And they did this, not because they were forced, because doing what slavers were used to would have been good enough, but because their cooking was an expression of themselves.
So concoct the kitchen pepper. It’s easy. Smell it cooking on your sauteed carrots and connect to history. It’s not all dates on a page. It’s people.