Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Food of the Enslaved

Food of the Enslaved

The food of Black Slaves in the Caribbean affected the cuisine of the pirates 300 years ago, and its influence has continued, becoming an integral part of the cuisines of both the Caribbean and Southern America.

When slaves were first taken from Africa. African foods came with them. This was done by the salve=traders, not out of any form of compassion, but because their cargo, kidnapped, shocked, and grieving, often refused to eat unfamiliar foods. Okra, yams, and peanuts, and more were brought with the slaves.

Having arrived in the New World, African cooks began to use local foods in their cooking. Often, their own food was made from the leftovers or unwanted parts of the owner’s food. Organ meats (hog maw, or the stomach lining of a pig,) vied with chitterlings (the cleaned intestines of the pig) as a popular protein. Less-desireable meats like fatback and hog jowls were also popular.

Various types of beans, often paired with rice, were popular in North African cuisine, and were carried into the Americas. Following is a recipe for a bean-themed snack called Akara.  


2 cups of black-eyes peas
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
Parsley and spices to taste
Fat for seep frying

Put the dried peas into a mortar and grind them until they are about the consistency of coarse coffee grounds. Add finely chopped onion and continue to grind. Add spices – parsley, and perhaps some hot peppers, and grind until it is a consistent texture.

Add boiling water to make a thick paste. Allow to sit for several minutes.

While the bean paste is resting, pour oil into a frying pan to a depth of about 1” and heat. To cook – drop spoonful’s of the bean mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Once drained and cooled, these bean cakes can be eaten by hand.

 Enslaved Africans also sometimes had access to leftovers from their owners’ tables. The following recipe is based on a type of African “falafel” that originated among African Muslims from the area of Senegal. It incorporates Northern African flavors.


About 4 cups of stale cornbread.
1 medium sized onion, chopped
Dried sage, rosemary, thyme and red pepper to taste
Fat for frying (butter or lard)

Put the spices into the bowl with the chopped onion to re-hydrate for a few moments, using the onion juice.

Crumble cornbread into the bowl with the onion and spices. Knead together. If the mixture seems too dry, you may wish to incorporate a small amount of water or broth. Fry the mixture on a pan liberally greased with butter, lard, or bacon grease. 

The finished product should be similar to stuffing.

Okra is a vegetable of African origins, having probably originated in or around Ethiopia. The vegetable was often fried, or made into soups or stews. In Africa, the seeds were also toasted and served as snacks. It was brought to the Caribbean as early as the 1600’s, and traveled to the American South from there. Deep-fried okra is popular today, but had not yet been invented at the time of the pirates.

Okra Soup

4 cups of okra, sliced thin
4 cups of diced onion
3 cloves of garlic, coarse chopped
Flour for dredging
Butter or lard for frying
4 medium tomatoes
About 8 cups rich broth.

(Note: in the 18th century, many Europeans were afraid to eat tomatoes, because they are members of the nightshade family, and presumed to be poisonous. North Africans, however, had already figured out how wonderful tomatoes are, and ate them regularly.)

Create a rich stock from a mix of chicken and beef, and add rosemary, thyme and sage. Stud an onion with cloves and add to the stock. Boil for at least an hour. Then remove and discard the onion and cloves.

Mix the onion and garlic, dredge in flour, and fry in fat until soft and beginning to brown.
Add to the stock and simmer. Add the sliced okra. Chop and add the tomatoes. Simmer for 1 hour.

You may add some chopped protein – pork or turkey – while the soup is cooking.

Three great recipes, based on African foods and firmly rooted in the slave culture of the 1700’s. Any pirate would be pleased to eat such delicious dishes – and many of them probably did.

This post is strongly influenced by the series “Food of theEnslaved” on Jas. Townsend and Son’s YouTube Channel, featuring Michael Twitty, a food historian. 


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