Cooking Gene Spice Collection by Michael W. Twitty
SHIPS MARCH 2021
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.
The Wesley Jones mix is perfect for rubbing meats for low and slow barbecuing as well as for grilling fish and seafood. It’s not especially hot and has really good herbaceous notes; they play well with the wood-smoked peppercorn we enhanced the mixture with.