Wednesday, Jul 4, 2012
The sounds of children beating traditional African drums and the smells of roasting pig and simmering peas recently spread across the grassy field in front of the slave cabins at Melrose, a unit of Natchez National Historical Park.
In recognition of the impact of enslaved Africans on Southern culture and in conjunction with annual Juneteenth celebrations, on Saturday, June 16th Natchez NHP co-sponsored a day-long experience with noted African American culinary historian Michael Twitty in conjunction with the Alcorn State University Farmer’s Market, the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture, and the Friends of the Forks of the Road Society.
Twitty is blogging his way through the Deep South on his “Southern Discomfort” tour, discovering his cultural roots along the way and connecting people of all ages to their food heritage. For more information on his journey, the historical experiences he is highlighting, and great photos of his time in Natchez, see www.afroculinaria.com or www.thecookinggene.com.
The day began at the local farmer’s market, where Twitty engaged local produce shoppers in a lively discussion about food origins and traditional foodways from across the South. Participants learned that the proper size for harvesting okra is your little finger and that some heirloom tomato species were brought to the United States by Haitian refugees in after the 1791 slave uprising.
Then Twitty’s interpretive discussion moved to the Carriage House at Melrose, where master gardeners and food lovers gathered to learn about Southern vernacular gardens, and how the inherited gardening styles differed for Europeans with neatly aligned single-crop rows and beds and for Africans accustomed to a looser, more organic mixture of plants and compost.
Shortly after noon, under the shade of a spreading pecan tree, Twitty began his interpretive demonstration of cooking techniques based on slave narratives from Mississippi and across the south. Children helped with pounding hominy in a carved wooden mortar and greasing the roasting rack.
More than 100 local and out-of-town visitors ranging in age from four to nearly 90 relaxed in the shade of trees and a tent and visited with each other over the course of the long afternoon much as their ancestors might have on a festive day. They watched from nearby benches while Twitty balanced iron pots of local vegetables from an iron spit over the coals of an open fire, buried a Dutch oven with peach cobbler under the coals, and mopped sauce onto chickens and an entire pig slowly roasting alongside.
The day’s surprise guests included a visit by Civil Rights leader, James Meredith who first integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962.