African-American Food Historian Michael Twitty Serves Up History in Colonial Williamsburg

michael w. twitty food historian
As part of Colonial Williamsburg’s celebration of Black History Month, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty has created two dishes that typify 18th-century foods and that highlight the African American culinary heritage that kept colonists fed.

Through Twitty’s creations, you’ll be literally tasting history: both meals are direct descendants of foods that slaves in the US would have eaten.

Clearly, your world becomes a bit more interesting as soon as Michael Twitty is introduced into it. You’ll certainly never look at food the same way again. Twitty has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of food, its cultural context, and the importance of its preservation. Through his writing, recipes, and heritage cooking methods, the centuries of people behind your favorite dishes suddenly come to life.

Twitty runs the hugely successful food blog, Afroculinaria, published his first cookbook, The Cooking Gene, and teaches Judaic studies. He also finds time to give a face to the thousands of forgotten enslaved chefs of the South who shaped an entire culinary culture by acting as a chef historical interpreter at places like Old Salem in North Carolina, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and now at Colonial Williamsburg.

Michael Twitty Colonial Williamsburg

At Chowning’s Tavern you can tuck into Twitty’s Virginia BBQ Mop Ribs, a vinegar-based barbecue sauce that combines traditions from the West Indies, Jamaica, Africa, and even Native Americans. While enjoying these succulent ribs, you can reflect on the dish’s significance in the Underground Railroad.

Twitty explains: “Historically, BBQ was commonly cooked in the wilderness while traveling the Underground Railroad over a sapling grill constructed of oak and hickory logs that had burned down to a hot bed of coals, located over a hole in the ground. This dish celebrates enslaved African-American’s fight for freedom and is still enjoyed today, although the preparation varies.”

michael twitty historical interpreter colonial williamsburg

Also try his Chesapeake Crab Gumbo at the Sweet Tea & Barley. Louisiana may have the corner on gumbo these days, but it’s actually a 17th-century West African dish. The name evolved from the West African word for okra, so fittingly Twitty’s gumbo is a delicious combination of okra, local crab, hot pepper, and tomatoes, served with rice.

Likewise, for enslaved cooks, okra was a common thread in their cooking as part of a concerted effort to import familiar food to the Southern states that were reminiscent of home,” Twitty says.  “The vegetable was most often prepared as gumbo – a peppery stew that was eaten with rice, millet, hominy or corn mush, and of course, is still served today.”

If you can’t make it to Colonial Williamsburg, you can find history and recipes on Twitty’s blog, as well as in his forthcoming cookbook. Michael Twitty makes learning utterly delicious. 

Travel

The Best Places to Explore and Things to Do in Ecuador

There are a lot of beautiful places, great outdoor activities, and delicious (and adventurous) food to try in Ecuador.
Food & Drink

What Is Baijiu: 4 Brands to Try Right Now

Baijiu is one of the most-consumed spirts in the world. It's time to learn why.
Food & Drink

The Best Hot Toddy Recipe in the Observable Universe

Here's a video guide on how to make a hot toddy and the history behind this delicious hot cocktail.
Food & Drink

Lodge Wants You to Cook It All In Cast Iron on Your Next Camping Trip

Lodge released a new, versatile cast-iron set that can cook just about anything in the great outdoors.
Culture

Why We Have the (Objectively Terrible) Daylight Saving Time

Love it or hate it, you can't escape Daylight Saving Time — and it all started because a guy wanted to collect more bugs.
Culture

6 Essential Tips for Hosting Friendsgiving This Year

Friendsgiving is the special day when people (usually young, often single, frequently broke) gather together to celebrate the blessings of a “family” they’ve chosen for themselves.
Culture

The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

These docs are entertaining, but also edifying. For your convenience, we’ve broken them up into categories.
Culture

The Ultimate Luxury Gift Guide You Can’t Afford (But Wish You Could)

You must have been a very good boy this year.
Culture

See The Manual Podcast Crew Live at the Portland Podcast Festival

Come see The Manual podcast crew live in Portland this November!
Culture

The Dos and Don’ts of Flirting and Falling in Love, According to Movies

We analyzed 33 movies for the best and worst advice on dating.
Culture

10 Best Gifts For Book Lovers: Get Lit This Holiday Season

Even if you have no idea who their favorite author is or whether they’ve already read ___ book, these gifts feel personal because a book lover is emotionally connected to the act of reading.
Culture

The Manual Shop

The Manual Shop is your one-stop shop for all the best products for men.
Culture

How to Mod a Nerf Gun: The Grown Man’s Guide to the Hammershot (With Pictures)

With a screwdriver and spring, your ‘90s Lock ‘n’ Load can become a high-power blaster.