Culinary historian Michael Twitty is like an archaeologist piecing together the foods African slaves brought to this country and the imprint they left on American traditions.
Twitty recently took a tour of the South to highlight slaves’ culinary heritage.
Twitty’s interest in food and his family’s food customs started early. As he said, “I asked my grandparents a lot of questions.”
But his work as a food historian began in earnest when he published a small book in 2006, “Fighting Old Nep: The Foodways of Enslaved Afro-Marylanders 1634-1864.” Twitty explained that he pieced together the slaves’ food traditions with “a triple deck of information,” knowing what they cooked and ate in west and central Africa, how they gardened and fished here and cooked over open fires and with the same rustic tools.
Twitty eventually started a blog called afrofoodways.com, and in 2010, he launched afroculinaria.com, a website that explores the food traditions of Africa, African-Americans and the African diaspora.
Then last year, Twitty decided to travel the South, including to places in North Carolina where his enslaved ancestors had lived. His “Southern Discomfort” tour went from his home in Maryland to New Orleans and then from his home to near Columbia. He documented his travels at thecookinggene.com. He had an eerie experience in a South Carolina grocery store, south of Charlotte.
“I remember walking into a grocery store. I felt like I was related to everybody in that store. I could hear people calling out names on the loudspeaker that were in the (nearby) graveyard and in my family tree,” Twitty said.