Skip to main content

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

michael w. twitty food historian
Image used with permission by copyright holder
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
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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. 

Elizabeth Dahl
Elizabeth Dahl is a southern girl in the heart of Los Angeles who lived far too long before learning what an incredible food…
The 9 best movies to watch over Father’s Day weekend
Watch these films together and bond with your dad or father figure
Family watching TV together

In between grilling burgers and brats and checking sports scores, celebrating fatherhood presents a chance for men (and masculine-identifying people) to enjoy the people who appreciate and support them. Bonding over a great story on the big screen that both dads and children can relate to brings the entire family together for some fun!
Sure, they’ll still have to take out the garbage and clean the garage. But when the paternal figures in your life get an opportunity to rest on their day, the best Father's Day gift you can give is quality time. If his favorite hobby is watching movies, then you're in luck! Here are some Father's Day movies to watch with dear old Dad (Gramps, or Freat Grandpa). 

Daddy's Home (2015)

Read more
How to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary
These tips will help you sleep better and feel rested in the morning
A redesigned bedroom with hardwood floors and a wood ceiling

Of all the rooms you'll spend time in over the course of your life, one of the most important is your bedroom. It’s where you start and end your day, and your mood when you wake up can affect your performance and attitude as you head out to take on the day.

When getting ready for bed at night, if you take the stresses of work and life to bed with you, you’re just not going to sleep well. As the place where you rest, recharge, and recenter yourself, your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a calming place that allows you to fully let go, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.

Read more
This is how long a Tempur-Pedic mattress lasts – plus, how to extend its lifespan
Tips to help your investment last longer
Tempur-Pedic Tempur Adapt mattress

Buying a Tempur-Pedic mattress is a process that should be done with an ample amount of care and consideration. Not only can mattresses be quite a significant financial investment, but because they serve as your foundation for sleeping night after night for what should be many years, it’s extremely important to buy a high-quality, comfortable mattress. After all, a poorly made mattress will break down prematurely and may fail to provide the support, pressure relief, temperature regulation, and comfort you need to get restful sleep. A bad mattress can even cause back, shoulder, hip, or neck pain, and if it does an inadequate job of arresting the transfer of motion, you may find yourself constantly disturbed by a bed partner's restlessness.

Tempur-Pedic mattresses are among the upper echelon of mattresses in terms of quality, comfort, and effective design, which is why they are consistently one of the most popular mattress purchases every year and adored by nearly every customer. Each Tempur-Pedic mattress model is specifically designed to precisely adapt to the weight, shape, and temperature of your body to eliminate potential pressure points and intimately contour to your body to provide maximal cradling support and comfort. The materials and construction of each mattress minimize motion transfer and enhance airflow and heat dispersion.

Read more