Last week, culinary historian Michael Twitty came to my synagogue. He's been a researcher for the Smithsonian, a living history interpreter, an author, and has even put together a collection of heirloom seeds for Landreth that represent those that came from Africa and the Caribbean and became familiar to the Southern table.
From Southern Jewish Life Magazine: "In what he is calling the Southern Discomfort Tour, he plans to visit plantations where his ancestors were enslaved, meet long-lost relatives and dine with the descendants of “the people who owned my family,” some of whom he is likely related to through his white great-great-great-grandfather, Capt. Richard Henry Bellamy, who fought for the Confederacy and was captured in Vicksburg.
He also plans to say Kaddish at the graves of ancestors and learn more about the Jewish roots in his family, and Jewish influences in his culinary research."
And of course he did the beautiful mishmash of Jewish and Southern food. Black-eyed pea hummus...benne wafer hamantaschen:
The first thing I said to Av after meeting Michael was that he needed to go meet Joe Minter and see his art environment. So I called Hilda, and the next day:
...then, we took him and Jacob, his photographer, to lunch. Terrific. We shared with him stories about 'our' food -- like potlikker infused matzah balls and fried pickle latkes and beignet sufganiyot.
He’s sat down with Creole chefs in Louisiana, women whose ancestors came from Russia and stayed kosher in the middle of the South, and people who know how to pick medicinal herbs and plants out of the woods.
“We’re trying to gather up all this indigenous knowledge before it disappears.”
Michael's on a tour to teach, and to learn. If you'd like to have him speak to your group, find him here.