Saturday, September 29, 2012

Historian of African American Foodways Dies At 82

Historian Eugene Genovese (1930-2012) died at age 82 on Wednesday September 26. His work focused on the antebellum South. As a graduate student in studying history the 1990s his book Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made published in 1972 had become required reading because it had been a paradigm shifting revisionist work that celebrated the rich culture of enslaved Africans instead of viewing them as victims. More importantly today view the book as the first attempt of a preeminent historian to interpret African American foodways. Using southern periodicals, slaveholder’s papers and publications, travelers’ accounts, slave narratives, folklore materials, WPA interviews, and traditional archival material the book’s section, “Kitchens, High and Low” provided an African centered interpretation of the question what has shaped African American foodways. He argued West African cooking traditions such as “highly spiced cooking” shaped the cuisine and African Americans “contributed more to the diet of the poorer whites than the poorer whites ever had the chance to contribute to theirs.” For example, today folks in the state of Florida are most associated with adding lime or lemon to their tomato based barbecue sauce and Carolina pit barbecue seems closet to how West and Central Africans barbecued before the start of the African slave trade. African pit masters of old used an abundance of hot peppers, lemon and or lime. In the antebellum South lack of regular access to meats “except they steal hogs which belong to the planters, or their negroes,” wrote traveler Frederick Law Olmsted prevented poor whites from being thought leaders when it came to barbecuing.  And cooking can best be described as something white elites like Thomas Jefferson did not know how to do and left to their enslaved cooks. Virginia slave Louis Hughes maintains “slaves could barbecue meats best, and when the whites had barbecues slaves always did the cooking.

Barbecue Stories With Recipes:

1 comment:

Warigia said...

Eugene Genovese will be sorely missed. I have his book on mu shelf. Thank you for letting us know about his passing. Good insight into his historical contribution to food.