Mar 102017
 

Harriet Tubman

Sojourner Truth

Today is set aside by the Lutheran Church in its calendar of saints to honor Harriet Tubman (born Araminta “Minty” Ross), who died on this date in 1913, and Sojourner Truth (born Isabella (“Bell” or “Belle”) Baumfree) – noted anti-slavery activists.  It is also known as Harriet Tubman Day, a U.S. federal holiday that is mandated to be observed nationally, but with special observances locally in the states of New York and Maryland.  In light of Ben Carson’s recent remarks claiming that slaves were (involuntary) immigrants with dreams of a prosperous future, I feel the need on this date to forcefully correct this serious, but deliberate, misstatement of the truth about slavery and its ongoing repercussions throughout the U.S.

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – 1913) was an abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made around thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, who was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. As a child in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten by masters to whom she was hired out.  One day, the adolescent Tubman was sent to a dry-goods store for supplies. There, she encountered a slave owned by another family, who had left the fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that she help restrain him. She refused, and as he ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at him. He struck her instead, which she said “broke my skull”. She later explained her belief that her hair – which “had never been combed and … stood out like a bushel basket” – might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, she was returned to her owner’s house and laid on the seat of a loom, where she remained without medical care for two days. She was sent back into the fields, “with blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn’t see”. Her boss said she was “not worth a sixpence” and returned her to her former owner, who tried unsuccessfully to sell her. She began having seizures and would seemingly fall unconscious, although she claimed to be aware of her surroundings while appearing to be asleep. These episodes were alarming to her family, who were unable to wake her when she fell asleep suddenly and without warning. This condition remained with her for the rest of her life. She was a devout Christian and throughout her life experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.

In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or “Moses”, as she was called) “never lost a passenger”. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America, and helped newly freed slaves find work.

When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war; she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. After she died in 1913, she became an icon of American courage and freedom. On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait gracing the $20 bill.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797 – 1883) was  born into slavery in Rifton, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first Black woman to win such a case against a White man. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God has called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her.” Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” but the written version is a variation of the original speech re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect. Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army. After the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.

Truth was one of the ten or twelve children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree (or Bomefree). Colonel Hardenbergh bought James and Elizabeth Baumfree from slave traders and kept their family at his estate in a big hilly area called by the Dutch name Swartekill (just north of present-day Rifton), in the town of Esopus, New York, 95 miles (153 km) north of New York City. Charles Hardenbergh inherited his father’s estate and continued to enslave people as a part of that estate’s property.

When Charles Hardenbergh died in 1806, nine-year-old Truth (known as Belle), was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely, near Kingston, New York. Until that time, Truth spoke only Dutch. She later described Neely as cruel and harsh, relating how he beat her daily and once even with a bundle of rods. Neely sold her in 1808, for $105, to Martinus Schryver of Port Ewen, a tavern keeper, who owned her for eighteen months. Schryver sold her in 1810 to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Although this fourth owner was kindly disposed toward her, considerable tension existed between Truth and Dumont’s second wife, Elizabeth Waring Dumont, who harassed her and made her life difficult.

Around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert’s owner (Charles Catton, Jr., a landscape painter) forbade their relationship; he did not want the people he enslaved to have children with people he was not enslaving, because he would not own the children. One day Robert sneaked over to see Truth. When Catton and his son found him, they savagely beat Robert until Dumont finally intervened, and Truth never saw Robert again. He died some years later, perhaps as a result of the injuries, and the experience haunted Truth throughout her life. Truth eventually married an older slave named Thomas. She bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in childhood, Diana (1815), fathered by either Robert or John Dumont, and Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (ca. 1826), all born after she and Thomas united.

The state of New York began, in 1799, to legislate the abolition of slavery, although the process of emancipating those people enslaved in New York was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the state emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.” However, he changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated but continued working out of her sense of obligation to him.

Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants into their twenties. She later said “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state’s emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for $20. She lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.

Truth learned that her son Peter, then five years old, had been sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been abused by those who were enslaving him. Truth had a life-changing religious experience during her stay with the Van Wagenens, and became a devout Christian. In 1829 she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson, a Christian Evangelist. While in New York, she befriended Mary Simpson, a grocer on John Street who claimed she had once been enslaved by George Washington. They shared an interest in charity for the poor and became intimate friends. In 1832, she met Robert Matthews, also known as Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him as a housekeeper at the Matthias Kingdom communal colony. Elijah Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Truth were accused of stealing from and poisoning him. Both were acquitted of the murder, though Matthews was convicted of lesser crimes, served time, and moved west.

In 1839, Truth’s son Peter took a job on a whaling ship called the Zone of Nantucket. From 1840 to 1841, she received three letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent five. Peter said he also never received any of her letters. When the ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth never heard from him again.

1843 was a turning point for Truth. She became a Methodist, and on June 1, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She told friends: “The Spirit calls me, and I must go” and left to make her way traveling and preaching about the abolition of slavery. At that time, Truth began attending Millerite Adventist camp meetings. However, that did not last since Jesus failed to appear in 1843 and then again in 1844. Like many others disappointed, Truth distanced herself from her Millerite friends for a while.

In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported women’s rights and religious tolerance as well as pacifism. There were, in its four-and-a-half year history, a total of 240 members, though no more than 120 at any one time. They lived on 470 acres (1.9 km2), raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In 1846, the group disbanded, unable to support itself.

Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year, she purchased a home in what would become the village of Florence in Northampton for $300, and spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854, with proceeds from sales of the Narrative and cartes-de-visite entitled “I sell the shadow to support the substance,” she paid off the mortgage held by her friend from the Community, Samuel L. Hill.

In 1851, Truth joined George Thompson, an abolitionist and speaker, on a lecture tour through central and western New York State. In May, she attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous extemporaneous speech on women’s rights, later known as “Ain’t I a Woman.” Her speech demanded equal human rights for all women as well as for all former slaves. The convention was organized by Hannah Tracy and Frances Dana Barker Gage, who both were present when Truth spoke. Different versions of Truth’s words have been recorded, with the first one published a month later by Marius Robinson, a newspaper owner and editor who was in the audience. Robinson’s recounting of the speech included no instance of the question “Ain’t I a Woman?” Twelve years later in May 1863, Gage published another, very different, version. In it, Truth’s speech pattern had characteristics of Southern slaves, and the speech included sentences and phrases that Robinson didn’t report. Gage’s version of the speech became the historic standard version, and is known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” because that question was repeated four times. It is highly unlikely that Truth’s own speech pattern was Southern in nature given that she was born and raised in New York, and she spoke only Dutch until she was nine years old.

Over the next 10 years, Truth spoke before numerous audiences. From 1851 to 1853, Truth worked with Marius Robinson, the editor of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle, and traveled around that state speaking. In 1853, she spoke at a suffragist “mob convention” at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City; that year she also met Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1856, she traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to a group called the “Friends of Human Progress.” In 1858, someone interrupted a speech she was giving and accused her of being a man; Truth opened her blouse and revealed her breasts. She was that kind of woman.

Now tell me, do these two (admittedly brief) narratives confirm Ben Carson’s ludicrous image of slaves as hard working immigrants with dreams of prosperity, or something else?

Tubman worked as a cook part of her life and it is recorded that she sold gingerbread to raise money. No recipe of hers exists of course, but there are plenty available online. They are all very much alike. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7322/favorite-old-fashioned-gingerbread/  Gingerbread actually comes in two styles, cake and biscuit.This recipe is for the cake version which is what I normally make.

Shortnin’ bread may have been a plantation slave treat, although it is primarily known from a racist ditty, written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. No reliable recipe exists, of course, but the moderate consensus is that it was very simple, and cheap. The best guess is that it was a mix of flour (or cornmeal), shortening, and sugar (or molasses) that was kneaded into a dough and then baked in a heavy, lidded skillet or fried.  This recipe uses butter instead of shortbread and brown sugar. It is really just a speculation, but it’s not bad.

©Shortnin’ Bread

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar (or molasses)
1 cup flour

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cream the butter and sugar together. If you are using molasses put the butter and molasses together in a pan over low heat and stir until the butter is melted.

Add the flour and stir to mix thoroughly. When the mixture has formed a pliable dough turn it out on to a floured surface and knead until it is soft.

Roll the dough to about ½” thickness and cut into strips.  Place in a greased skillet, cover, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough turns golden.  You can also do this on the stovetop over medium heat.

Mar 092016
 

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On this date in 1841 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its judgment in United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 518, a case resulting from the rebellion of Africans on board the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839. It was an unusual freedom suit that involved international issues and parties, as well as United States law. It has been described as the most important court case involving slavery before being eclipsed by that of Dred Scott.

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On June 27, 1839, La Amistad (“Friendship”), a Spanish vessel, departed from the port of Havana, Cuba (then a Spanish colony), for the Province of Puerto Principe, also in Cuba. The masters of La Amistad were the ship’s captain Ramón Ferrer, José Ruiz, and Pedro Montez, all Spanish nationals. With Ferrer was his personal slave Antonio. Ruiz was transporting 49 Africans, entrusted to him by the governor-general of Cuba. Montez held four additional Africans, also entrusted to him by the governor-general. As the voyage normally took only four days, the crew had brought four days’ worth of rations, not anticipating the strong headwind that slowed the schooner. On July 2, 1839, one of the Africans, Cinqué, freed himself and the other captives using a file that had been found and kept by a woman who, like them, had been on the Tecora (the ship that had transported them illegally as slaves from Africa to Cuba).

The Mende Africans killed the ship’s cook, Celestino, who had told them that they were to be killed and eaten by their captors. The slaves also killed Captain Ferrer; the struggle resulted in the deaths of two Africans as well. Two sailors escaped in a lifeboat. The Africans spared the lives of the two masters who could navigate the ship, José Ruiz and Pedro Montez, upon the condition that they return the ship to Africa. They also spared the captain’s personal slave, Antonio, a creole, and used him as an interpreter with Ruiz and Montez.

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The crew deceived the Africans and steered La Amistad north along the coast of the United States, where the ship was sighted repeatedly. They dropped anchor half a mile off eastern Long Island, New York, on August 26, 1839, at Culloden Point. Some of the Africans went ashore to procure water and provisions from the hamlet of Montauk. The vessel was discovered by the United States revenue cutter USS Washington. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney, commanding the cutter, saw some of the Africans on shore and, assisted by his officers and crew, took custody of La Amistad and the Africans.

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Taking them to the port of New London, Connecticut, he presented officials with a written claim for his property rights under admiralty law for salvage of the vessel, the cargo, and the Africans. Gedney allegedly chose to land in Connecticut because slavery was still technically legal there, unlike in New York. He hoped to profit from sale of the Africans. Gedney transferred the captured Africans to the custody of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, at which time legal proceedings began. The parties to various lawsuits were as follows:

Lt Thomas R. Gedney filed a libel (a lawsuit in admiralty law) for rights to the African captives and cargo on board La Amistad as property seized on the high seas.

Henry Green and Pelatiah Fordham filed a libel for salvage, claiming that they had been the first to discover La Amistad.

José Ruiz and Pedro Montez filed libels requesting that their property of “slaves” and cargo be returned to them.

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, representing the Spanish Government, filed a libel stating that the “slaves,” cargo, and vessel be returned to Spain as its property.

Antonio Vega, vice-consul of Spain, filed a libel for “the slave Antonio,” on the grounds that this man was his personal property.

The Africans denied that they were slaves or property, and that the court could not “return” them to the control of the government of Spain.

As you might surmise, this was an exceptionally complex case. There were matters of sea law, international law, U.S. law, Spanish law, and local law to consider. These matters included the ownership of the vessel and cargo, whether the Africans were slaves or not, whether the killings were justified or murder, and so forth. I’m going to pare things down a lot, and cut to the chase.

A case before the circuit court in Hartford, Connecticut, was filed in September 1839, charging the Africans with mutiny and murder on La Amistad. The court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, because the alleged acts took place on a Spanish ship in Spanish waters. It was entered into the docket books of the federal court as United States v. Cinque, et al.

Various parties filed property claims with the district court as putative owners of the African captives, the ship, and its cargo: Ruiz and Montez, Lieutenant Gedney, and Captain Henry Green (who had met the Africans while on shore on Long Island and claimed to have helped in their capture). The Spanish government asked that the ship, cargo and slaves be restored to Spain under the Pinckney treaty of 1795 between Spain and the United States. Article IX of this treaty holds that “all ships and merchandises of what nature soever, which shall be rescued out of the hands of pirates or robbers on the high seas, shall be restored, entire, to the true proprietor.” The United States filed a claim on behalf of Spain.

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The abolitionist movement had formed the “Amistad Committee”, headed by New York City merchant Lewis Tappan, and had collected money to mount a defense of the Africans. Initially, communication with the Africans was difficult, since they spoke neither English nor Spanish. Professor J. Willard Gibbs, Sr. learned from the Africans to count to ten in their Mende language. He went to the docks of New York City, and counted aloud in front of sailors until he located a person able to understand and translate. He found James Covey, a twenty-year-old sailor on the British man-of-war HMS Buzzard. Covey was a former slave from West Africa.

The abolitionists filed charges of assault, kidnapping, and false imprisonment against Ruiz and Montez. Their arrest in New York City in October 1839 outraged pro-slavery rights advocates and the Spanish government. Montez immediately posted bail and went to Cuba. Ruiz, “more comfortable in a New England setting (and entitled to many amenities not available to the Africans), hoped to garner further public support by staying in jail. Ruiz, however, soon tired of his martyred lifestyle in jail and posted bond. Like Montez, he returned to Cuba.” Outraged, the Spanish minister Cavallero Pedro Alcantara Argaiz made “caustic accusations against America’s judicial system and continued to condemn the abolitionist affront. Ruiz’s imprisonment only added to Argaiz’s anger, and he pressured Forsyth to seek ways to throw out the case altogether.” The Spanish held that the bailbonds that the men had to acquire (so that they could leave jail and return to Cuba) caused them a grave financial burden, and “by the treaty of 1795, no obstacle or impediment [to leave the U.S.] should have [been] placed” in their way.

On January 7, 1840, all the parties, with the Spanish minister representing Ruiz and Montez, appeared before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut and presented their arguments. The abolitionists’ main argument before the district court was that a treaty between Britain and Spain of 1817 and a subsequent pronouncement by the Spanish government had outlawed the slave trade across the Atlantic. They established that the “slaves” had been captured in Mendiland (also spelled Mendeland, current Sierra Leone) in Africa, sold to a Portuguese trader in Lomboko (south of Freetown) in April 1839, and taken to Havana illegally on a Portuguese ship. As the Africans were victims of illegal kidnapping, the abolitionists argued they were not slaves and were free to return to Africa. Their papers wrongly identified them as slaves who had been in Cuba since before 1820 (and were thus considered to have been born there as slaves). They contended that government officials in Cuba condoned such mistaken classifications.

Concerned about relations with Spain and his re-election prospects in the South, the Democratic President Martin Van Buren sided with the Spanish position. He ordered a U.S. schooner to New Haven Harbor to return the Africans to Cuba immediately after a favorable decision, before any appeals could be decided.

The district court ruled in favor of the abolitionist and Africans’ position. In January 1840, it ordered that the Africans be returned to their homeland by the U.S. government, and that one-third of La Amistad and its cargo be given to Lieutenant Gedney as salvage property. (The federal government had outlawed the slave trade between the U.S. and other countries in 1808; an 1818 law, as amended in 1819, provided for the return of all illegally traded slaves.) The captain’s personal slave Antonio was declared the rightful property of the captain’s heirs and was ordered restored to Cuba (Sterne said that he willingly returned to Cuba.) Smithsonian sources say that he escaped to New York, or to Canada, with the help of an abolitionist group).

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In detail, the district court ruled as follows:

It rejected the claim of the U.S. Attorney, argued on behalf of the Spanish minister, for the restoration of the slaves.

It dismissed the claims of Ruiz and Montez.

It ordered that the captives be delivered to the custody of the President of the United States for transportation to Africa, since they were, in fact, legally free.

It allowed the Spanish vice-consul to claim the slave Antonio.

It allowed Lt. Gedney to claim one-third of the property on board La Amistad.

It dismissed the claims of Green and Fordham for salvage.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, by order of Van Buren, immediately appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Connecticut District. He challenged every part of the district court’s ruling except the concession of the slave Antonio to the Spanish vice-consul. Ruiz and Montez, and the owners of La Amistad, did not appeal.

The circuit court of appeals affirmed the district court’s decision in April 1840. The U.S. Attorney appealed the federal government’s case to the United States Supreme Court. John Quincy Adams, former president of the United States and at that time a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, had agreed to argue for the Africans.

On March 9, Associate Justice Joseph Story delivered the Court’s decision. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty was ruled off topic since the Africans in question were never legal property. They were not criminals, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued, but rather “unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly and wrongfully carried on board a certain vessel”. The documents submitted by Attorney General Gilpin were not evidence of property, but rather of fraud on the part of the Spanish government. Lt. Gedney and the USS Washington were to be awarded salvage from the vessel for having performed “a highly meritorious and useful service to the proprietors of the ship and cargo.”

When La Amistad came into Long Island, however, the Court believed it to be in the possession of the Africans on board, who had never intended to become slaves.

Upon the whole, our opinion is, that the decree of the circuit court, affirming that of the district court, ought to be affirmed, except so far as it directs the negroes to be delivered to the president, to be transported to Africa, in pursuance of the act of the 3rd of March 1819; and as to this, it ought to be reversed: and that the said negroes be declared to be free, and be dismissed from the custody of the court, and go without delay.

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Abolitionist supporters took the survivors – 36 men and boys and three girls – to Farmington, a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Their residents had agreed to have the Africans stay there until they could return to their homeland. Some households took them in; supporters also provided barracks for them. The Amistad Committee instructed the Africans in English and Christianity, and raised funds to pay for their return home. Along with several missionaries, in 1842 the surviving 39 Africans sailed to Sierra Leone.

The case was of considerable importance in the lead up to the U.S. Civil War, not least because it magnified the cracks in the Union, and pointed out the significant inconsistencies in the law – notably that the Atlantic slave trade was illegal, but the ownership of slaves was still legal in many U.S. states, especially in the South, and these states had no intention of giving up their slaves. Hard times were coming.

In honor of the freed Mende people I offer a simple recipe from Sierra Leone, their homeland. Cassava has been a staple in Sierra Leone for centuries – both leaves and tubers. You can also use the starch, called tapioca, as a thickening agent or as a general ingredient. There is a big problem with cassava, however. Cassava is classified as either sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, both bitter and sweet varieties of cassava contain antinutritional factors and toxins, with the bitter varieties containing much larger amounts. They must be properly prepared before consumption, as improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication, which can lead to paralysis, and, in the worst cases, death. Fortunately, in Western markets the sweet varieties predominate. They do contain cyanide in small quantities, but it is easily removed by fully cooking the leaves or tubers. This particular cassava leaf stew is extremely sumptuous and would only be made for special occasions. Of course, there are endless variations. Palm oil is causing havoc to the environment these days in many areas, so, if you use it make sure it is from a sustainable source. Peanut butter is also a very traditional ingredient, but some people use coconut milk instead. Maggi cubes, courtesy of British colonialism, are now the ubiquitous replacement for beef stock.

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Cassava Leaf Stew

Ingredients:

300g cassava leaves, pounded
300g beef, cubed
3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter
200 ml palm oil
1 whole fish (tilapia or mackerel)
2 onions, finely chopped
3 fresh okra, finely chopped
hot chile, to taste
beef stock (or Maggi cubes)
2 tbsp dried crayfish, ground
salt

Instructions:

Put the meat, whole fish, salt and 2 cups of water or broth in a cooking pot. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish, let it cool a little, and separate the fish from the bones. Set aside.

Add the cassava leaves to the pot along with the peanut butter dissolved in a cup of warm water.

Add the onion, chile pepper and several more cups of broth. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Return the fish to the pot along with the crayfish powder and okra. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should not add so much broth that the stew is soup-like. This takes practice. If necessary, reduce the sauce until it is thick.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

Feb 122016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. Contemporary GOP politicians like to tout Lincoln as one of the founders of the Republican party, but this rhetoric is hopelessly misleading. Lincoln is as far from the modern Republican party as you could ever imagine. Lincoln must be turning in his grave at the sight of what his party has become.

Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, and grew up on the western frontier in Kentucky and Indiana. He was largely self-educated, became a lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, and then a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for twelve years. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846, where he promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. Because he had originally agreed not to run for a second term in Congress, and because his opposition to the Mexican–American War was unpopular among Illinois voters, Lincoln returned to Springfield and resumed his law practice. He reentered politics in 1854 and became a leader in building the new Republican Party, which had a statewide majority in Illinois. In 1858, while taking part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent and rival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, but lost the U.S. Senate race to Douglas.

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In 1860, Lincoln secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. With very little support in the slave-holding states of the South, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. His victory prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America before he moved into the White House — no compromise or reconciliation was possible regarding slavery and secession. Subsequently, on April 12, 1861, a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter inspired the North to enthusiastically rally behind the Union in a declaration of war. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats, who called for more compromise, anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Politically, Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully planned political patronage, and by appealing to the people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

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Lincoln initially concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war. His primary goal was to reunite the nation. He suspended habeas corpus, leading to the controversial ex parte Merryman decision, and he averted potential British intervention in the war by defusing the Trent Affair in late 1861. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant. He also made major decisions on Union war strategy, including a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, moves to take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and using gunboats to gain control of the southern river system. Lincoln tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond; each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another, until finally Grant succeeded. As the war progressed, his complex moves toward ending slavery included the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.

Lincoln reached out to the War Democrats as part of his effort and unifying the nation and managed his own re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the war’s conclusion, Lincoln pushed a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness, which, I am sad to say, lingers to this day. In some quarters in the South, the Civil War is still referred to as the War of Northern Aggression. On April 14, 1865, five days after the April 9th surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Here is my post on the assassination http://www.bookofdaystales.com/assassination-of-abraham-lincoln/ . You’ll find a wealth of primary source material here.

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Lincoln is an easy shot for a foodie blogger because there’s a wealth of material on his eating habits, his wife’s cooking, meals at the White House, and whatnot. I rather went to town on this stuff when I posted about Lincoln’s assassination, and you can review it, if you care to, in the link above. There’s also quite a few recipes there including Mary’s Courting Cake (and frosting), and terrapin stew. Here’s some more primary references included in secondary sources:

During several years of collecting material for The Presidents’Cookbook…we ran into all sorts of controversy concerning President Lincoln’s habits, his likes and dislikes, when it came to food. Judging from menus of the state balls and banquets given at the White House during Lincoln’s Administration–some of the most elaborate in our history–one might conclude that Honest Abe was a gourmet to end all gourmets. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Giving the opposite side of the picture, certain observers of the times…said flatly that Lincoln was almost entirely indifferent to food, ‘Except that he liked apples and hot coffee.’ The President’s bodyguard wrote, however, ‘Mr. Lincoln was a hearty eater. Her never lost his taste for things that a growing farmer’s boy would like. He was particularly fond of bacon.’ Probably like most of our strongest Presidents (excepting Jefferson), Lincoln relied on food to feed the furnace. Undoubtedly he ate well when served a tasty meal but was usually so preoccupied that he gave little thought to food. One thing seems certain: hew was a gentle man at the table and uncritical. His stepmother said, ‘He ate what was before him, making no complaint.’ A companion of his lawyer days, Leonard Sweet, wrote, ‘I never in the 10 years of circuit life I knew him heard him complain of a hard bed or a bad meal of victuals.

“Fast Gourmet: Honest Abe’s favorite Food,” Poppy Cannon, Chicago Daily Defender, (February 8, 1968, p. 22)

Just as so much about [Abraham Lincoln’s] life has been shrouded in latter-day myth and legend, making it difficult to assess the truth about the man, so, too, have his food habits and tastes been the subject of controversy…It seems to us that the food truth about Lincoln must lie somewhere between these extreme points of view…One aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s characteristically gentle nature was apparent in his approach to food… Temperamentally…Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were totally unlike…This was strikingly apparent when it came to food and food history. Although both came originally from Kentucky, they reflected two completely different Kentucky traditions. Mary had been raised in the lush bluegrass region of the state, where gracious, comfortable living and rich, elaborate cooking were legendary. Abe grew up on the frontier, where he ate very plain food, partly for economic reasons, partly because of the frontier tradition. Corn dodgers, cakes made of coarse cornmeal, were a staple. Wild game provided the protein a growing boy needed. During the days of young manhood, where he boarded at the Rutledge Tavern in New Salem, his diet consisted largely of cornbread, mush, bacon, eggs, and milk. Several friends of that period recalled later that if Abe was partial to any one food it was honey, a great delicacy for him at the time.

The Presidents’ Cookbook, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (1968: 236-7)

Family meals at the Lincolns’ were routine. Early in the morning the President liked a “good hot cup of coffee.” But often he would forget about breakfast until 9 or 10A.M. John Hay, one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, occasionally ate with the President. He noted that the frugal repast might consist of “an egg, a piece of toast, coffee, etc.” On occasion breakfast was a single egg. For lunch, Hay reported, Lincoln “took a little lunch–a biscuit, a glass of milk in winter, some fruit or grapes in summer…He ate less than anyone I know.” Lunch was usually eaten irregularly.

The Presidents’ Cookbook, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (1968: 239)

Abraham Lincoln dined in a spartan fashion…He would rather nibble fruit. His wife Mary tried everything to make Abe eat but was frustrated time and time again to see the finest foods left all but untouched on his plate. One of the few entrees that would tempt Lincoln was Chicken Fricassee. He liked the chicken cut up in small pieces, fried with seasonings of nutmeg and mace and served with a gravy made of the chicken drippings. Mary Lincoln set a table at the White House, which included such food as Aspic of Tongue, Pate de Foie Gras, Turkey stuffed with Truffles, and all sorts of wild game, such as venison, pheasant, or canvasback duck. But all too often the President merely picked at his food.

(A Treasury of White House Cooking, Francois Rysavy (1972: 250)

The ‘gingerbread story,’ which [Lincoln] had mentioned . . . in one of the debates with Douglas, touched young and old. …’When we lived in Indiana,’ he said, ‘once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often, and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled the gingerbread and came into the house to get my share while it was still hot. My mother had baked me three gingerbread men. I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them. There was a family near us poorer than we were, and their boy came along as I sat down. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme a man?’ I gave him one. He crammed it into his mouth in two bites and looked at me while I was biting the legs off my first one. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme the onter’n.’ I said to him, ‘You seem to like gingerbread.’ ‘Abe,’ he says, ‘I don’t s’pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better’n I do–and gets less’n I do.’

(Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Carl Sandburg, (1926:2, 290)

So there you have it. The bacon mentioned here could have been any manner of pork salted or cured. Corn cakes, mush, etc., are all standard frontier fare that you’ll still find on Southern tables. Corn cakes are much like some styles of cornbread, only they are cooked on a griddle instead of baked. This recipe is serviceable although I am not sure how “authentic” it is.   The mix of cornmeal and flour makes them light. If you want you can just use 2 cups of cornmeal and eliminate the flour.

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Kentucky Corn Cakes

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tbsp sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1 tbsp corn oil
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 tsp salt

Instructions

Place the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, and salt in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, corn oil, and fresh corn and mix together. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ones without beating too much.

Pour a ladleful of the mixture on to a hot greased griddle. Cook on medium-high heat for 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve the cakes warm with butter and honey.

Nov 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1900) of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind. As always I will be honest and say up front that I dislike the book and the film, but I think it’s worth celebrating her life. She did make an impact. When I say I “dislike” the book and the film, I need to be a little nuanced. I’ve tried to watch the film three times and just can’t keep watching it. The book is typical of the endless 19th-century novel that once I put down I can’t pick up again. It is important to realize, however, that the book and the film are completely different animals. The film is vastly simplified and, if possible, overly romanticized. Lots of people adore both, however. I’m not sure why. They both represent visions of the Old South I find repellent.

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Mitchell was a Southerner and a lifelong resident and native of Atlanta, Georgia. She was born into a wealthy and politically prominent family. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, was an attorney, and her mother, Mary Isabel “May Belle” (or “Maybelle”) Stephens, was a suffragist. She had two brothers, Russell Stephens Mitchell, who died in infancy in 1894, and Alexander Stephens Mitchell, born in 1896. Mitchell spent her early childhood on Jackson Hill, east of downtown Atlanta. Her family lived near her grandmother, Annie Stephens who had been a widow for several years prior to Margaret’s birth; Captain John Stephens died in 1896. After his death, she inherited property on Jackson Street where Margaret’s family lived. Mitchell’s relationship with her grandmother would become quarrelsome in later years as she entered adulthood. However, for Mitchell, her grandmother was a great source of “eye-witness information” about the Civil War and Reconstruction in Atlanta.

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You’d have to say that Mitchell’s image of the South and, especially, the Old South was deeply influenced by her own childhood and the people she spoke to. As my old professor of Southern History said, there are “many Souths.” Privileged white Atlanta is one of many. One important image of “the South” was fixed in Mitchell’s imagination when at six years old her mother took her on a buggy tour through ruined plantations and “Sherman’s sentinels,” the brick and stone chimneys that remained after Sherman’s “march and torch” through Georgia. Mitchell would later recall what her mother had said to her:

She talked about the world those people had lived in, such a secure world, and how it had exploded beneath them. And she told me that my world was going to explode under me, someday, and God help me if I didn’t have some weapon to meet the new world.

Mitchell said she heard Civil War stories from her relatives when she was growing up:

On Sunday afternoons when we went calling on the older generation of relatives, those who had been active in the Sixties, I sat on the bony knees of veterans and the fat slippery laps of great aunts and heard them talk.

On summer vacations, she visited her maternal great-aunts, Mary Ellen (“Mamie”) Fitzgerald and Sarah (“Sis”) Fitzgerald, who still lived at her great-grandparents’ plantation home in Jonesboro. Mamie had been twenty-one years old and Sis was thirteen when the Civil War began.

Gone with the Wind was first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. The story is a Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, with the title taken from a poem about lost love written by Ernest Dowson.

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Gone With The Wind was popular with U.S. readers from the outset and was the top U.S. fiction bestseller in the year it was published and in 1937. As of 2014, a Harris poll found it to be the second favorite book of U.S. readers, just behind the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide.

Gone With The Wind is Southern plantation fiction of a certain type that I despise. Its portrayal of slavery and African-Americans is abominable, as well as its use of a racial stereotypes and ethnic slurs. Slavery in Gone With The Wind is a backdrop to a story that is essentially about other things. Southern plantation fiction (also known as Anti-Tom literature) from the early 19th century culminating in Gone With The Wind is written from the perspective and values of the slaveholder and tends to present slaves as docile and happy.

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The characters in the novel are organized into two basic groups along class lines: the white planter class, such as Scarlett, and the black house servant class. The slaves depicted in Gone With The Wind are primarily loyal house servants, such as Mammy, Pork, Prissy, and Uncle Peter. House servants are the highest “caste” in Mitchell’s caste system of the slaves. They stay on with their masters even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and subsequent Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 sets them free. Of the servants that stayed on at Tara, Scarlett thinks to herself, “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy.” This may be superficially endearing, but condescending at heart.

The field slaves make up the lower class in Mitchell’s caste system. The field slaves from the Tara plantation and the foreman, Big Sam, are taken away by Confederate soldiers to dig ditches and apparently never return to the plantation. There were yet other field slaves, Mitchell wrote, who were “loyal” and “refused to avail themselves of the new freedom,” but there are no field slave characters in the novel that stay on the plantation after they have been emancipated. This “loyalty” or lack thereof, is true slaveholder wishful thinking. What field hand would want to be loyal to a master who beat him, raped his wife, and sold his children?

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The crude stereotypes in Gone With The Wind – southern belle, rascally but brave and lovable scoundrel, loving mammy etc. etc. – continue to be perpetuated in modern consciousness in the South, not least because of this novel which portrays a world that never existed, but which some people believe in and wish could be restored. I can’t believe the nonsense spewed by contemporary southern politicians who argue that slavery was essentially a good thing. My blood simply boils. That Mitchell encourages this mindset is horrifying to me.

Let me not pass over the inherent sexism in the novel either. Marriage was the goal of all southern belles, and all social and educational pursuits were directed towards it. Regardless of war and the loss of eligible men, young women were still subjected to the pressure to marry. By law and Southern social convention, household heads were adult, white propertied males, and all white women (and all African Americans) were thought to require protection and guidance because they lacked the capacity for reason and self-control. Scarlett’s Reconstruction-era pursuits belie the facts. A woman of the period could not have run a sawmill. If women worked outside the home at all, which was looked down upon, it was as teachers or nurses, under the control and guidance of men.

All right, enough said.

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Southern fried chicken seems like a suitably stereotypical recipe to complement Gone With The Wind. I’ve never made it because that was the province of my wife and her mother’s family – all from the Kentucky mountains. My mother-in-law’s fried chicken was masterful, and we always asked her to make it when we visited from New York. You can find recipes galore, but they won’t help you to make the “real thing.” It’s the lifelong experience and family tradition that makes it. It’s very hard to explain. I mean, I can tell you what to do, but without that family history, you are not going to get it right.

The basics are that you cut a frying chicken into 8 pieces – drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breast. Soak the pieces in buttermilk overnight. (I don’t know why this bit works, but it does). Heat lard or vegetable shortening in a cast-iron skillet to about 325°F. The fat should about half fill the skillet. Good cooks just know when it reaches the right temperature – amateurs use a thermometer. Drain the chicken pieces and dredge them in flour seasoned with pepper and salt. Fry until golden on all sides, then drain on wire racks. Paper towels will only keep the chicken greasy. You are looking for a crispy outside and a tender, juicy inside. Maybe after 3 or 4 generations you’ll get it right. Serve with corn on the cob, cole slaw, potato salad, and cornbread.

Oct 122015
 

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In most countries in the Americas, today used to be some version of “Columbus Day” because it was the date in 1492 that Rodrigo de Triana, lookout on the Pinta in Columbus’ flotilla, sighted land in the New World. Now, in almost of all of Latin America, and a few cities in the U.S. the name of the day has been changed to reflect the cultural realities of the arrival of Columbus in the New World. The negative view of Columbus has several strands. First, it is now obvious that his arrival was not good news for the indigenous populations which were enslaved and/or killed wholesale. Second, it is abundantly clear nowadays that Columbus was not some dreamy eyed-adventurer, but a cold, calculating profiteer.

Though Christopher Columbus came to be considered the “discoverer of America” in U.S. and European popular culture, his true historical legacy is more nuanced. America was first discovered by its indigenous population, and Columbus was not even the first European to reach its shores as he was preceded by the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows. But the lasting significance of Columbus’ voyages outshone that of his Viking predecessors, because he managed to bring word of the continent back to Europe. By bringing the continent to the forefront of Western attention, Columbus initiated the enduring relationship between the Earth’s two major landmasses and their inhabitants. It was not that Columbus was the first, but he was the first to stay.

Historians have traditionally argued that Columbus remained convinced to the very end that his journeys had been along the east coast of Asia, but recently they have started to question this view. His journals from the third voyage call the “land of Paria” a “hitherto unknown continent.” On the other hand, his other writings continued to claim that he had reached Asia, such as a 1502 letter to Pope Alexander VI where he asserted that Cuba was the east coast of Asia. He also rationalized that the new continent of South America was the “Earthly Paradise” that was located “at the end of the Orient”.

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Columbus is often attributed with refuting a prevalent belief in a flat Earth. However, this legacy is a popular misconception. To the contrary, the spherical shape of the earth had been known to scholars since antiquity, and was common knowledge among sailors. Coincidentally, the oldest surviving globe of the earth, the Erdapfel, was made in 1492 just before Columbus’ return to Europe. As such it contains no sign of the Americas and yet demonstrates the common belief in a spherical Earth.

The scholar Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to America in the years following Columbus’ first voyage, was the first to actively speculate that the land was not part of Asia but in fact constituted some wholly new continent previously unknown to Eurasians. His travel journals, published 1502–04, convinced German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller to reach the same conclusion, and in 1507—a year after Columbus’ death—Waldseemüller published a world map calling the new continent America from Vespucci’s Latinized name “Americus”. According to Paul Lunde, “The preoccupation of European courts with the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the East partly explains their relative lack of interest in Columbus’ discoveries in the West.”

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Historically, the British had downplayed Columbus and emphasized the role of the Venetian John Cabot as a pioneer explorer, but for the emerging United States, Cabot made for a poor national hero. Veneration of Columbus in America dates back to colonial times. The name Columbia for “America” first appeared in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament. The use of Columbus as a founding figure of New World nations and the use of the word “Columbia”, or simply the name “Columbus”, spread rapidly after the American Revolution. Columbus’ name was given to the federal capital of the United States (District of Columbia), the capital cities of two U.S. states (Ohio and South Carolina), and the Columbia River. Outside the United States the name was used in 1819 for the Gran Colombia, a precursor of the modern Republic of Colombia. Numerous cities, towns, counties, streets, and plazas (called Plaza Colón or Plaza de Colón throughout Latin America and Spain) have been named after him. A candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, celebration of Columbus’ legacy perhaps reached a zenith in 1892 with the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas. Monuments to Columbus like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Columbus Circle in New York City were erected throughout the United States and Latin America extolling him.

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More recent views of Columbus have tended to be much more critical. The combined effects of Columbus’ forced labor regime, war, and slaughter resulted in the near-total eradication (98%) of the native Taino of Hispaniola. De las Casas records that when he first came to Hispaniola in 1508, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….” The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe.

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Disease played a significant role in the destruction of the natives; however there is no record of any massive smallpox epidemic in the Antilles until 25 years after the arrival of Columbus; rather, the natives’ numbers declined due to extreme overwork, other diseases, and a loss of will to live after the destruction of their culture by the invaders. When the first pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped out much of the remaining native population. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island.

Columbus’ treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse; his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops’ efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.

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The historian Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive slave trade; in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves to Spain, 40% died en route. Historian James W. Loewen asserts that “Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual… other nations rushed to emulate Columbus.” When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor: he ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk’s bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.

The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus’s men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus’ governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead. The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.

There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe.[120] Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles’ largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading “the Great Pox” across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.

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Two years ago on this date I celebrated Día de la Raza in this blog. You can find the post here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/dia-de-la-raza/ Here is an excerpt:

The most common name for the date in Spanish is Día de la Raza. The day under this name was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917 (since changed to Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural), Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, Chile in 1922, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad, and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena. In Uruguay it is called Día de las Américas. Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by many nations and individuals in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas by indigenous peoples. In the U.S. Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Hispano activists, particularly in the 1960s.

Argentina’s name, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural, attempts to be balanced, mirroring, in part the United Nations’ decision to name the day Spanish Language Day. This title still salutes the colonists over the indigenous peoples, but it downplays Columbus in favor of promoting a sense of multiculturalism. This passage is taken from a UNESCO site:

Las Naciones Unidas celebran el Día del idioma español. El objetivo es promocionar y apoyar aquellas iniciativas que promuevan el plurilingüismo y multiculturalismo así como crear conciencia entre los funcionarios, de la historia, la cultura, el desarrollo y el uso del español como idioma oficial. La decisión de celebrar los Días de los idiomas fue aprobada por el Departamento de Información Pública de las Naciones Unidas en la víspera del Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna, celebrado anualmente el 21 de febrero por iniciativa de la UNESCO. Esta es una oportunidad para poner de relieve la importancia del idioma español dentro de la organización para la consecución de sus objetivos y la difusión de su labor a un público más amplio.

So, although the U.N. specifically honors Spanish on this date, the underlying message is that every culture and every language should be celebrated.

There is no doubt that the cultigens of the New World – potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pole beans etc. – transformed world cuisine. None is more important to me than the chile pepper which now exists in hundreds of varieties. Chile peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BCE. The most recent research shows that chiles were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in the region that extends across southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.

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Peru is still a center of diversification of chiles where varieties of all five domesticates were introduced, grown and consumed in pre-Colombian times. Bolivia is, however, where most diversity of wild Capsicum peppers are consumed. Bolivians distinguish two basic forms: ulupicas, species with small round fruits including C. eximium, C. cardenasii, C. eshbaughii, and C. caballeroi landraces; and arivivis with small elongated fruits including C. baccatum var. baccatum and C. chacoense varieties.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them “peppers” because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chiles were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. Christian monks experimented with the culinary potential of chile and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.

Chiles were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chiles to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. The spread of chiles to Asia was most likely a natural consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. It was introduced in India by the Portuguese towards the end of 15th century. Today chiles are an integral part of many Asian cuisines.

The chile pepper features heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g., vindaloo, an Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). The name “vindaloo” is derived from the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos, a dish of meat (usually pork) marinated in wine and garlic. The Portuguese dish was modified by the substitution of vinegar (usually palm vinegar) for the red wine and the addition of red Kashmiri chile peppers with additional spices to evolve into vindaloo. Nowadays, the Anglo-Indian version of a vindaloo is marinated in vinegar, sugar, fresh ginger, and spices overnight, then cooked with the addition of further spices.

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I’m partial to vindaloo and used to make it all of the time. Since living in Argentina and China I have not been able to get all the necessary spices but here’s a decent recipe from memory. Spices can be varied according to taste. You do not have to overwhelm the dish with chiles, but it should be hot.

Pork Vindaloo

Ingredients

2 lbs fatty pork, cubed

paste
16 dried Kashmiri chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon white vinegar
salt to taste

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced, or more to taste
2 inch piece fresh ginger root, minced
2 green chile peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1/4 cup white vinegar

Instructions

Put the paste ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth paste. In a mixing bowl thoroughly mix the paste and pork, then place the mixture in a plastic bag, expel all the air, seal, and refrigerate overnight.

Next day heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are golden. Add the pork mixture and continue to sauté until the meat takes on color. Cover with water or light stock plus the vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and simmer partly covered for about an hour, or until the pork is tender. The sauce should reduce somewhat but still be plentiful.

Serve with plain boiled basmati rice, flat breads, and chutneys.

 

Jul 012015
 

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Today is Keti Koti (Sranantongo for “the chains are cut”) Emancipation Day – the end of slavery – in Suriname. The day is also known as (Prisiri) Maspasi, meaning “Emancipation (Festival)”. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles in 1863. However, slaves in Suriname would not be fully free until 1873, after a mandatory 10 year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay but without the many formerly state sanctioned abuses. After 1873 many slaves left the plantations where they had suffered for several generations, in favor of the city of Paramaribo.

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The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of South America’s ‘Wild Coast.’ The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony. They cultivated crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially.

In 1650 Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados, fitted out a vessel to settle a colony in Suriname. At his own cost he equipped a ship of 20 guns, and two smaller vessels with things necessary for the support of the plantation. Major Anthony Rowse settled there in his name. Two years later he went in person, fortified and furnished it with things requisite for defense and trade. ‘Willoughbyland’ consisted of around 30,000 acres (120 km) and a fort. In 1663 most of the work on the 50 or so plantations was done by native Indians and 3,000 African slaves. There were around 1,000 Europeans there, joined by Brazilian Jews, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English.

The settlement was invaded by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on 26 February 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured the next day after a three-hour fight and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On 31 July 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern-day New York). Willoughbyland was renamed Suriname. This arrangement was made official in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, after the British had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667. In 1683 the Society of Suriname was set up, modeled on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert to profit from the management and defense of the Dutch Republic’s colony. It had three participants, with equal shares in the society’s responsibilities and profits—the city of Amsterdam, the family Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the Dutch West India Company. The Van Aerssen family sold its share in 1770 and the Society came to an end in 1795 when this kind of trade and business was abolished.

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In South America, slavery was the norm, even though countries such as Argentina kept this part of their history under wraps for many generations (Buenos Aires was a major slave trading port). There were not enough indigenous people as workers and consequently the Atlantic slave trade supplied the workforce for the plantations. The plantations produced sugar, coffee, cocoa, and cotton, which were exported for the Amsterdam market. In 1713 for instance most of the work on the 200 plantations was done by 13,000 African slaves. Their treatment was terrible, and slaves periodically escaped to the jungle from the start. These so-called Maroons (also known as “Djukas” or “Bakabusi Nengre”) attacked the plantations in order to acquire things they needed that were in short supply. Notable leaders of the Surinam Maroons were Alabi, Boni, Joli-coeur and Broos (Captain Broos). In the 18th century, three of the Maroon people signed a peace treaty, similar to the peace treaty ending the First Maroon War in Jamaica, whereby they were recognized as free people and received a yearly tribute that provided them with the goods they used to “liberate” from the plantations. A contemporary description of the war between the Maroons and the plantation owners in Suriname can be found in Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam by John Gabriel Stedman.

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Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799, after the Netherlands were incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863, although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Dutch East Indies, mostly Chinese living there, creating a Chinese-Surinamese population. From 1873 to 1916, many laborers were imported from India, creating the Indo-Surinamese. After 1916, many laborers were again imported from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java, creating the Javanese-Surinamese.

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Surinamese cuisine is extensive, given that the current population of Suriname originated in so many countries. Now Surinamese dishes include roti, nasi goreng, bakmi, pom, snesi foroe, moksi meti, and losi foroe, plus many more that originated overseas, but have been amalgamated and transformed. Basic foods include rice, tayer and cassava. Well known dishes are moksi-alesi (mixed boiled rice with salted meat, shrimp or fish, and any vegetable), rice and beans, and the original Javanese nasi goreng and mie goreng.

Within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish. Within the Surinamese community Pom is frequently referred to as a dish of Creole and/or Jewish origin. It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was soon replaced with the root of the tayer plant. Pom combines three main ingredients: chicken, citrus juice and pomtajer (Xanthosoma sagittifolium). Only the latter is indigenous, and although all plant parts are edible, only the underground part of the main stem is used as an ingredient in preparing Pom. The main stem or corm is most frequently designated as pomtajer or pongtaya (lit. the tajer/taya for Pom). Finding it will be your challenge. Without it you cannot make Pom.

The first published description of Pom comes from Encyclopedie van Nederlandsch West-Indië (1914–1917) which describes the dish as follows: ‘the big tajer, of which the stalk grows above the earth, is grated and treated with the juice of bitter oranges, afterwards with chicken or fish, made into a pie, which dish is known as ‘pom’.’

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In a baking dish, put sautéed chicken pieces between two layers of raw, grated pomtajer which is mixed with citrus juice and a sauce made from oil, onions, tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bake the dish in an oven for at least one hour or until the Pom becomes golden brown. Once baked, Pom is cut into pieces and either served hot with rice and vegetables or cooled and placed between slices of bread in a sandwich or bread-roll.

In Amsterdam alone there are over 120 establishments serving Surinamese food. Other Dutch cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague have a growing number of caterers, eateries and take-aways. Most establishments serve Pom, and often also “broodje pom” (pom on a bread-roll), a derivation of the national dish. In particular, “broodje pom” is rapidly gaining popularity and starting to appear on the Dutch menu. It can sometimes even be ordered in Dutch take-aways and for home-delivery. In recent years, more and more recipes for Pom have appeared in Dutch cookbooks, newspapers and on websites. In 2007, an exhibition about Pom was held at Imagine Identity and Culture, an Amsterdam-based centre for the representation of migration and cultures as seen from their own perspective.