Finding this compelling tome at the library, I now have held on to it so long I am in deep trouble there...Dense, full of superlative, detailed research, this book by Jessica B. Harris, author of several other works on foodways and cooking, and a professor at Queens College, New York, lays out how slaves and their descendants influenced what we all eat today in the USA.
Much as Mr. T. Jefferson did not literally grow and harvest the plants he introduced to Americans at Monticello, neither did Martha Washington turn out the meals for America's first prez. Hercules, a house "servant" who rose in the ranks to oversee all of Washington's kitchens, and the foreign chefs who worked there alongside slaves, did.
"The smooth running of many of the founding fathers' households rested on the strong black backs of the enslaved...It was there in the sound agricultural judgement of the farmers as well as in the capable hands of notonly the chefs but also the kitchen staff. the enslaved grew the squashes and tomatoes, prepared the broiled shad and macaroni pie, set the tables, served the food, and cleaned up afterward."
Thomas Jefferson brought his chef, Sally Hemings' brother James, with him to Paris where Hemings studied with the best, as a free man. Back in the US, Hemings asked for and received his freedom, and then went his own way, turning down the job of chef at Jefferson's White House.
In roughly the same period, Hercules, a most respected and admired man, a "favored" slave living at the most comfortable level, escaped and was never tracked down, despite major efforts by Washington and his family.
Feeding the high table was one thing. Making do as they could for their families, was another. Having survived a journey across oceans, packed together like sardines, and typically fed corn cakes and mashed fava beans, enslaved Africans made much of pigs trotters, chitterlings, grits and sweet potatoes. They created and popularized fried chicken, mac/cheese, Virginia gumbo, catfish soup, succotash with okra and tomatoes, smothered pork chops, fried porgy....
(Just recently, I was introduced to porgy at my local bait/fish store. "You'll like it more than grouper," she said. Now that I am hooked, so to speak, having had it twice, they have had none come in. )