Culinary Historian Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene Project: Southern Discomfort Tour

The Discomfort Tour

We love food historian Michael Twitty’s Afroculinaria blog. Michael brings out the hidden food history of African Americans, who were the real cooks and gardeners to the reknowned hosts and hostesses of the South. Michael points out that many African Americans can trace their family histories through many generations, and that the food and seeds those families maintained is a big part of that.

Plus, he’s a crazy good cook over an open fire!

Now Michael’s embarking on The Cooking Gene Project: Southern Discomfort Tour. This May through July, he’ll be traveling the South, from Maryland to Louisiana, exploring these culinary traditions. We hope you’ll consider joining us in supporting the project through the fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo.

Michael Twitty Hauling CottonA Southern Meal

Michael Twitty sent us some words about the project:

From the Ground Up: Growing a New Future with The Cooking Gene Project: Southern Discomfort Tour  

When I first started working on early African American food culture and recreating that culture through culinary history and living history reinactments I stumbled upon a "little" company devoted to preserving, promoting and marketing the edible antiques of the Southern pantry.  Ten years ago I didn’t know what an "heirloom" was, I just knew my Grandfather grew some "old time" watermelons down on his farm in South Carolina, or that my Grandmother had an envelope with collard seeds behind when she left this world.  That was about it.  Then I wanted to re-create how enslaved people ate—and Home Depot’s garden department wasn’t cutting it.  Working on a project where I thought to recreate enslaved people’s gardens, I hit upon a new path–I had to grow what they grew or close to it–and I had to figure out how to cook it when it came to harvest.  Enter Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. 

Ten years later I’ve had the opportunity to develop my message and my approach to teaching about early African American foodways and their impact on our culinary history and gardenways.  Every day presents new lessons and insights from the distant past.  Now I am embarking on a journey to the Deep South to look for more heirlooms, to encourage community gardens and farmers to grow more African American heirlooms, to promote racial reconcilliation and healing and to find out more about my enslaved Ancestors.  The Cooking Gene Project blends contextual genealogy, heirloom gardening, culinary history and social justice into one cohesive project that looks at the impact of enslaved African Americans on Southern/American culinary history while looking at the long term influence and legacy and what it means for our contemporary best practices in food, community development, health and spirit.  Having been an Edna Lewis Lecture guest speaker for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello and a three time presenter at the Southern Exposure Heritage Harvest Festival, discussion with fellow heritage-food enthusiasts have fermented into a project like this where we look back in order to move forward.  I hope in being able to trace my Ancestors experience through food I can encourage others to do so and help bring us all to a greater understanding of our common culinary DNA. 

Our team could really use your help.  We only have a few days left to reach our funding goal.  By visiting our Indiegogo page we hope you will consider contributing to our campaign.  This year’s Heritage Harvest Festival will benefit from the project with a special class on using heirloom gardening to promote contextual genealogy.  We want to teach people how to use food to trace their roots–no matter what their background!  The past ten years have been just the start of a larger learning and sharing experience and we have so enjoyed learning with and from our friends at SESE and growing the plants that teach people about our heritage while making a way for a better future for all.  Please be sure to visit our campaign site and contribute whatever you can.  Our project is the only one of its kind and we hope if you follow us on the blog you will join us for some of our "Southern Discomfort Tour!"

Free Screenings – 18 Short Films from The Virginia Food Heritage Project

Join us for the World Premiere of the first Virginia Food Heritage Short Films. These 18 short films on Central Virginia food traditions will be screening in Charlottesville on both Wednesday, May 2nd, at 7pm, and Thursday, May 3rd, at 5pm, with a discussion to follow the screening on Thursday.

Learn more at The Virginia Food Heritage Project, and come celebrate our culinary heritage!

The Joy of Sowing Seed – Straight into the Garden!

April brought us cooler days than March, but warm, settled weather is just around the corner. We’re busy hardening off transplants, preparing our beds, and getting ready to sow warm season crops straight into the ground.

Direct sowing seeds outdoors can give big results, fast, without all the fuss of caring for transplants. And many summer crops generally grow better when direct sown, forming deeper, more drought-tolerant root systems. In late spring we direct sow corn, snap beans, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins.

leaming cornbecks big buck okraamish moon stars

We’ll wait until mid-May, when the weather has really settled, to sow melons, watermelons, cucumbers, okra, peanuts, southern peas, cotton, and lima beans. Direct sowing flowers in May lets us easily establish glorious, pollinator-attracting stands of sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds.

Any gardener who has seen tomatillo and ground cherry volunteers come up in the garden knows that these nightshades are hardy enough for direct sowing.

When grown in pots, flats, or nursery beds, many crops will change their root systems – instead of a deep, water seeking taproot, which breaks off during transplanting, these wandering (plant) souls develop shallower and more spread out root systems. Plants sown directly in the ground quickly establish deep roots, so they’re better prepared for summer dry spells. They also don’t suffer transplant shock. And when you thin out all but the sturdiest seedlings, you get to choose the ones best adapted to the strong sun, wind, insects, and other demands of the great outdoors.

To direct sow squash, melons, okra, or any crop that needs a wide spacing, simply "station-sow": sow three or four seeds into each spot where you want to have a plant. You may want to sow a little more deeply than you would for transplants, as this will help prevent the seed from drying out. You’ll need to pay special attention to keeping the ground moist while the seeds are germinating.

Once your seedlings emerge and begin to show true leaves, you’ll want to thin them down to one per station, ideally before they begin to shade each other. Choose the sturdiest, most vigorous seedling to save, and snip or pinch off the others where they meet the ground.

To give direct sown seeds a head start before letting them loose in the great outdoors, simply soak them for a few hours before sowing. The seeds will plump up with water, giving them internal reserves to prevent drying out.

This year, think about direct sowing a crop instead of buying or growing transplants. You might be surprised by how quickly these plants catch up to early transplants, and how they’ll continue to thrive when those early transplants get touched by drought.

Saving the Past for the Future