The Cooking Gene Spice Collection
4 Spice Blends by Michael W. Twitty
“It is my pleasure to introduce Black joy in a bottle, a spice collection based on the journeys of my Ancestors, from Africa to America, The Cooking Gene Spice collection. Each spice mixture represents a different stage in the historical journey of African American foodways and honors the lives of Black men and women who signify the flavors of each point in time. All of the people honored here passed on outside of the status of being in bondage. ” – Michael W. Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene
The Cooking Gene Spice Collection
Since the 16th century, people of African descent have shaped and defined the American palate. Their greatest impact on that palate is in the flavors we brought in our taste memory as a people in exile. Africans and their descendants, through many challenges and trials, have had an exuberant cultural expression based on taking pleasure in a culture created out of many origins; rooted in honoring ancient traditions, a dynamic sense of improvisation, and a creative fire that transformed the best and the worst in a cultural alloy unmatched. It is my pleasure to introduce Black joy in a bottle, a spice collection based on the journeys of my Ancestors, from Africa to America, The Cooking Gene Spice collection. Each spice mixture represents a different stage in the historical journey of African American foodways and honors the lives of Black men and women who signify the flavors of each point in time. All of the people honored here passed on outside of the status of being in bondage.
Michael W. Twitty
Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian and food writer from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com. He’s appeared on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates and most recently Taste the Nation with Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi. HarperCollins released Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, in 2017, tracing his ancestry through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom, a finalist for The Kirkus Prize and The Art of Eating Prize and a third place winner of Barnes&Noble’s Discover New Writer’s Awards in Nonfiction. THE COOKING GENE WON the 2018 James Beard Award for best writing as well as book of the year, making him the first Black author so awarded. his piece on visiting Ghana in Bon Appetit was included in Best Food Writing in 2019 and was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award. His next book, Rice will be out with UNC press in 2021. Koshersoul, his follow up to The Cooking Gene, will be out in 2022 through HarperCollins.
- West African Heritage Mix
- Hercules and Hemmings Kitchen Pepper
- Mr. Wesley Jones Antebellum BBQ Spice
- Hazel C. Todd Chicken Seasoning
Named for Ayuba Ibn Sulayman, a Fulani noble who was captured, enslaved brought to Maryland, emancipated and sent back to his home in Futa Djallon in Guinea; and Duchess Quamino, an enslaved and later free Black woman, born in Ghana in 1739 who was an esteemed baker and cook in colonial Rhode Island. I wanted to celebrate two Black lives that represent both resistance and cultural persistence. So few lives of West and Central Africans in early America are documented and I wanted these two Ancestors to stand in for the thousands who would give rise to a nation within a nation.
Based on my travels in 8 nations in contemporary West Africa, this part of the collection is inspired by the spicy, ruddy, earthy flavors this region of Africa is known for. Think peanut-based groundnut stew or grilled suya–a type of West African kabob dish, specifically from the southern Sahel and savanna, the kind of foods that Ayuba would have known in his homeland; or the okra soups and leafy green dishes and fish or grilled seafood or corn Duchess knew in Fante land. It’s a nice addition to Jollof rice or to finish fried plantains without being overpowering.
One of the greatest joys of writing The Cooking Gene was introducing folks to kitchen pepper, an 18th century American descendant of the quatres epices, a Medieval spice mixture that harnessed the flavors of Africa, the Middle East and south and east Asia. Some of those same spices were also prominent in West Africa, while others were comparable to local spices gathered and used in everyday cooking. To colonial Americans kitchen pepper was a versatile way to add flavor to dishes from the everyday to the celebratory. For Black cooks on the eastern seaboard into the interior and along the southern coast, kitchen pepper reigned for two centuries as a mixture of sweet and pungent spices that give depth and savor to simple comfort food. Imagine a pinch or two in mashed potatoes or in gravy in place of black pepper in a recipe or in a pot of stock. Kitchen pepper helps elevate and vary home cooked, especially Southern, meals.
Hercules (Washington) and James Hemings were two of America’s greatest early chefs, and they were both born enslaved on Virginia tobacco plantations and each labored for one of the two most well known figures of the American revolution and its aftermath, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. Hercules, a celebrated chef, cooked for Washington both at Mount Vernon and at the Philadelphia residence where Washington served part of his presidency. He was a man of fine dress and manners and an entrepreneur. He liberated himself on Washington’s birthday and we believe made it to New York where he lived out his days as a free man.
James Hemings, brother to Sally Hemings and half brother to Jefferson’s wife, was trained to cook at the age of 19 in France. He became literate, multilingual and mastered the haute cuisine of the French court. Upon returning to America, James labored for seven years to train his brother to earn his emancipation from Jefferson, and spent years traveling in Europe and cooking up and down the eastern seaboard. James Hemings can easily be described as America’s first master chef, with many of his culinary creations merging his training with the ingredients not only of early America but those rooted in his African-Virginian heritage.
Barbecue is rooted in ancient Native American and West African traditions and found its New World creole origins in resistance to colonialism and enslavement. The mixture of traditions from the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean to those of the early Southeast, combined with those of West and Central Africans and later influences from British and German cooking combined in the catalyst hands of the Black cooks who perfected the art is crystallized by the story of Wesley Jones.
Wesley Jones was interviewed by the Works Projects Administration in the 1930s along with thousands of other elders who could tell posterity more about this painful chapter in American history. He was born enslaved in South Carolina and was a barbecue man. He traveled around cooking for barbecues which were not only used by white planters for parties but used by politicians to garner favor with their constituents. On rare occasions, barbecues were held at holiday times like Christmas, Easter or Whitsuntide, cornshuckings, and weddings for the enslaved community. In his narrative, Mr. Jones describes the mop he used for the barbecues and his ingredient list describes culinary and medicinal herbs like garlic, basil and coriander alongside the usual suspects of sage, red pepper and onion. To taste this spice mix is to taste one very complex version of barbecue from the 19th century. Because Mr. Jones left this legacy to us, we are able to taste a very precious piece of our past.
My grandmother Hazel C. Todd (“Grammy”) was an amazing cook. At first she didn’t know how to make much, her mother Mary and father Joseph had a lot of kids and my great grandmother, affectionately known as “Big Mama,” didn’t really do to much culinary training. She learned a lot by watching her father who made the large Sunday midday meal after church and after she married my Grandfather gleaned a lot from her aunties and the ladies in her circles. She really knew how to impart the taste of Alabama in her food.
A survivor of the Jim Crow South, my Grammy was dedicated to Civil Rights and Pan Africanism. She used to tell me, “sit up straight like Mr. Garvey!” Her food—her chicken and greens and candied yams and homemade rolls were always a hit and she gave away a lot to friends and neighbors even though she never really had a lot. One of the first things she taught me to master was her fried chicken and I’m sure this herby, spicy melange will perk up fried chicken, fish, seafood, hush puppies and oven or air-fried goodies too! The trick is to season the protein or veggie well not the flour. My grandmother was keen to remind me the spices would burn in the hot grease.
Are these blends salt free?
Yes! These blends are not only salt free but they are free of any preservatives, fillers or gluten. Please note Mr. Wesley Jones Antebellum BBQ Blend has a touch of sugar in it.
Are these blends certified organic?
Unfortunately we do not have any certifications at this time but most of our spices are organically grown and all of them are non gmo. Each ingredient can be traced back to its origin. Email email@example.com for any questions.
Do you have recipes to go with these blends?
We are working on it! We have an ever expanding recipe library of chef tested recipes. Recipes using these spices will be up soon. Click here to learn more. Please shoot us an email if there are any recipes you would like to see at firstname.lastname@example.org.