In the early 1600s, European settlers began to build plantations in the American colonies. They grew tobacco and indigo to sell in Europe.
Not all Europeans who wanted to sail to the colonies could afford to pay their passage. Plantation owners offered these people free passage to the colonies, plus food and shelter when they arrived. In return, they became indentured servants. They promised to work for the plantation owners with no salary for four to seven years.
In the late 1600s, there was a shortage of indentured servants coming to the colonies. Plantations owners still needed many workers to tend their crops. In 1690, slave traders began to bring Africans to the colonies. Many of these Africans were kidnapped, chained and taken from their homelands forever. Plantations depended on cheap labor. Buying and enslaving Africans was less expensive than keeping indentured servants.
On the plantations, everything was separate for the slaves, even the cemeteries. Families crowded into small cabins and led difficult lives. They worked six days a week. They learned not to complain; if they did, punishment would follow.
The food for slaves was chosen by their masters. Each week, slaves received small amounts of milk, cornmeal, pork and sometimes molasses. Slaves often received spoiled or unwanted meat. Pigs' feet, intestines and skins were typical slave rations. Slaves used spices to make food taste better. Many slave women had one cooking pot and a single spoon for stirring. They had to be creative with food to feed the whole family.
The slaves' gardens contained some of the foods introduced from Africa. As the plantation owners' wives and the slave women developed a way of life, the use of African crops became a part of plantation life. African slaves taught plantation owners how to grow and cook foods including okra, rice and peanuts. They also raised eggplant, black-eyed peas and sesame seeds. The slaves called sesame seeds "benne," the name still holding today.
Slavery was a stormy road as Africans came to America unwillingly. Their survival skills and ability to adapt cannot be forgotten. Their hard work is a story worth telling not only in February, but a story worth sharing as people of all colors and nationalities work to make this country the grandest on earth. Most of the sharing can begin in the kitchen.
Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at email@example.com.
Benne Seed Wafers
Makes: 100 wafers
1 block butter or 3/4 cups cooking oil
2 cups brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup benne seeds, toasted
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add beaten egg. Then add flour, sifted with salt and baking powder. Add vanilla and benne seeds. Drop about 1/4 teaspoon on greased cookie sheet.
Bake quickly; allow to cool 1 minute before removing from pan.
1/2 small onion
1/4 small green pepper
1 cup okra
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 cup rice
2 cups water
Seasoning to taste
2 slices bacon, cooked
Saute onion, green pepper and okra in bacon drippings over low flame. Add rice, cold water and seasonings. Cover and let steam until done (about 35 to 40 minutes).
Diced cooked bacon may be served on top of the rice.
Chitterlings were often provided to slaves during their Christmas celebrations. Booker T. Washington recalled in "Christmas Days in Old Virginia" that hog-killing time came in early December and for days afterward the slave cabins were supplied with delicious sausage, chitterlings and side meats.
20 pounds chitterlings
3 large onions
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 bell peppers
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
4 quarts water
Wash chitterlings in a large pot of warm water. Pull off all but a small amount of excess fat. Split the chitterlings open; remove all particles and debris. Clean thoroughly. Wash in several changes of water to ensure cleanliness. In a large pot with a tight lid, combine all ingredients and simmer, covered, for 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until tender. When done, cut into 1-inch pieces. Serve hot with white rice.