Food, Community & Government

Ancestral Foodways: Keeping Recipes Alive

Michael W. Twitty

Lesson time 09:51 min

Michael breaks down his process for engaging with family in the kitchen in an effort to chronicle family foodways, or food pathways. He teaches what to do and what not to do when it comes to learning in the kitchen.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Be Present • Ask Questions • Recalling Family Foodways


[THEME MUSIC] - You know, I have a saying that your food is your flag. Your plate and your palate go hand in hand. And understanding that makes your life feel so much more richer or fuller. See, that's why the food-- the food stories are so important because they give us those elements of life that we could understand. We barely-- some of us barely know our ancestors names, if that. When they were born and when they died, what their birthday was-- those things weren't recorded. And, to be honest with you, peasant people, rustic rural people, enslaved people, people who were cogs in the Industrial Revolution all kind of have the same story of anonymity. But this is how I give them back their existence. People's recipes can be incredible windows into their stories as lived at the time but also the legacies that they pass down. But you can actually take a recipe and deconstruct, well, when do those ingredients show up? How will the recipe change over time? If there are things that we use that are semi-homemade or semi-processed now, what would they have been generations ago? At one time, there was no such thing as vegetable oil being offered. Soybeans were not being grown, so what was that chicken frying in? And what kind of meat went in those greens, if any meat at all? What kind of peas were they? Why was this cake only made this time of year? What would it have taken to produce something special, like a dessert or a confection, when you didn't eat that way during most of the calendar year? And so, there's all these beautiful and incredible and exciting questions you can divine just from a recipe. Let's look at Hoppin' John, for example, the southern bacon, peas, and rice dish. Red cowpeas were first introduced to the US by way of the transatlantic slave trade. Here, they meet and mix with Carolina Gold rice to make Hoppin' John. The recipe wasn't officially recorded until nearly 200 years later. And, by the 1910s, when hurricanes ravaged the low country, this type of rice, which required extensive manual labor to produce, was left by the wayside. The red cowpea was hyperlocal and was replaced by the black-eyed pea on the mainland during the Great Migration. During the Great Depression, federal shopping guidelines recommended a version of this inexpensive dish, Hoppin' John with tomato sauce. And the recipe is published in newspapers around the country, helping skyrocket the dish's popularity. And so, by analyzing and breaking down those pieces of information, we're able to ask deeper questions about where our family has been and who we are and why we cook the way we do. And it doesn't matter how many times you turn it upside down, read it backwards, read it forward, analyze every word, it always has new stories to tell. And, for me, that is the most exhilarating part of this work is that, no matter how many times I leave and come back, those recipes have volumes to speak about the lives of our ancestors. And what's ...

About the Instructor

Through years of unearthing his African American heritage, bestselling author of The Cooking Gene Michael W. Twitty discovered undeniable ties between his ancestors’ past and his own palate. Now he’s teaching how you can get a taste of your family history through food. Explore the migrations that informed the ingredients in your kitchen—then re-create the dishes that helped shape who you are.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Michael W. Twitty

James Beard Award–winning author of The Cooking Gene teaches how to trace your culinary roots through the food your ancestors ate.

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