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. 

Food & Drink

Puerto Rico’s Pork Highway Is a Meat Lover’s Dream

Love pork? Add "La Ruta del Lechón,” or “Pork Highway,” to your bucket list.
Food & Drink

What Is Quinoa and How to Make It in 2 Delicious Recipes

Considered an ancient grain, quinoa is more similar to spinach than it is wheat.
Living

Now Hiring: Earn $130,000 Per Year as a San Francisco Island Lighthouse Keeper

If you're an adventurous type who can cook and drive a boat, this lighthouse keeper gig awaits.
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.
Culture

9 Hobbies for Men to Try in 2019

Some are sports-oriented, others artistic, while still others slant more toward domestic pursuits.
Culture

How Downhill Ice Cross Racer Cameron Naasz Gets Ready for a Red Bull Event

We spoke with Cameron Naasz, reigning two-time Red Bull Crashed Ice champion and professional ice cross race, about what it's like to rush downhill on a pair of skates — and win.
Culture

10 Fine Fellows We Lost in 2018

The past year saw the deaths of many notable people, people for whom the world is richer to have had.
Fashion & Style

Tracksmith’s ‘No Days Off’ Line Makes Running in Winter Warm

This apparel makes it fun to run outside in the snow ... which is insane.
Culture

The 15 Best Quotes About Fatherhood You Will Ever Hear

These might help dads feel like maybe they're not such big screw-ups after all. However, they might also make other guys consider enhanced birth control options.
Culture

Why Low-Impact Exercises Should Be an Essential Part of Your Workout

Odds are, it’s not running or daily workouts causing injury, but the lack of low-impact cross-training.
Culture

Get Your Fitness Into Shape with the Best Workout Apps

Finding time to hit the gym can be tough. Get fit at home or on the go with the best workout apps. All it takes is one click to get started. No gym required.
Culture

10 Great Books You Can Read in One Sitting

If you love a good book and you're looking for one (or 10) that you can read in one go, whether while on a flight or bunked down at home, consider any of these brief but masterful novels.
Culture

Celebrate Muhammad Ali’s Birthday on January 17 with the Best Boxing Movies of All Time

It’s only suiting we celebrate his birthday on January 17 in style: binge-watching boxing movies and slipping into our gloves for a sparring session.
Culture

How to Build Your Own Personal Home Gym for Under $350

With a home gym, there are no monthly membership bills or drop-in fees, and you can customize your workout to whatever you're feeling on the day.