Back to food is a return to love and family. My parent’s Brooklyn brownstone was on the “over-ground railroad.’ How America’s largest migration happened was “over-ground,” according to The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Recently I asked my brother if he ever wondered why all of those people lived with us when we were growing up. “I thought it was normal,” he said. Back then, in the 50s and 60s, it was normal for strangers to stay in your home. Racial segregation was lawful. Black folks rarely stayed in hotels or ate in restaurants! We used the Green Book to find safe places when traveling. My paternal grandmother’s Rockaway summer resort ‘The Cherokee,’ was listed in that directory! Click here to see samples.
Ms. Wilkerson’s book helped me realize the moral, historical and political context of my parent’s humble home. Their Southern and island hospitality was about love and caretaking. For years we welcomed many hopeful travelers—from the Deep South, Caribbean, Central America, and Africa. My Guyanese maternal grandfather sponsored several of our foreign student boarders. We even adopted a few white radicals from Ireland! Me, my siblings and parents crowded into rooms on cots and bunk beds to accommodate elders, married couples, artists, maids, porters, nurses, teachers, and assorted extended family—‘cousins of your grandmother’s best friend, and your aunt’s white husband’s cousins from Ireland.”
At The Table: Everything centered at the dining table. Our galley kitchen could feed an army but seated only a few. My Mississippi father was a professional baker. My Trinidadian mother was a serial entrepreneur: SuSu banker, daycare center owner, tailor, and caterer. She also held a day job at a local hospital. Southern and Afro-Asian-Indo Caribbean Diaspora food was our general menu. Besides eating, the dining table was a place for storytelling, activism, celebrations, doing homework, and more. I wish today’s youth could benefit from the daily meals and conversations my generation experienced! The dining table was also where we learned culture and home training–table manners, discipline, proper order, behavior and language.
Cooking Genes: A seat at our table was a boisterous, multi-lingual place where West Indian English, Ebonics, Spanish, Chinese, Patois, and Louisiana Creole were spoken. Jazz, blues, Gospel and classical piano and vocals, Calypso records, folk music, tap dancing, radio shows, and Red Fox comedy albums, were normal sounds at home. Our home was also a rehearsal studio with four pianos, an extension of my paternal grandmother’s Harlem music schools. Those colorful, diverse long-term guests shared food, tall tales, talents, garden tips, health remedies, and a strong work ethic. Food aromas were constant. Everyone seemed born with cooking genes. Callaloo, Curries, Rotis, Buss-Up Shot, Gumbo, Beans and Rice, Potato Salad, Peach Cobbler, and Sweet Potato Pie, were standard fare. Every bowl of food provided a history lesson about slavery, colonialism, migration, and immigration. Each cook owned their unique culinary skills, techniques, and preparation styles. I have eaten many types of fried chicken, gumbo, beans and rice, curries, pies and cakes. ‘Soul’ food deserves more respect in the cuisine world. For a fresh perspective on cooking genes, check my friend’s new book called #TheCookingGene by Michael W. Twitty. Click here for more information.
Cooking Lessons: Sometimes our guests cooked their own tribe foods. But most times my parents, both home chefs, cooked daily meals. My Trinidadian cousin Sandy and I learned to cook by doing. We grated coconuts to make real coconut milk. We made thousands of Jamaican meat and veggie patties! We used upside down teacups as cookie cutters to make the pastry patties that were filled with deliciousness. As a baker’s daughter I grew up playing with dough. I learned to cook Creole Southern and Chinese-Caribbean meals by observing and assisting in the kitchen. We were a loud, crazy-mixed-up family that attracted nosy neighbors. They were happy to receive tasty bribes to go away! But they always came back for more.
Happy Tuesdays: Back to earth! With anxieties about hurricanes and immigrant children getting deported, I need Tuesdays– my new happy day! That’s when my local CSA- Community Supported Agriculture, kicks in (blue tent in photo). For the next 10 weeks, Farmer Pedro & Family @LaBarajaFarm will deliver produce from their land in Goshen, just fifty miles away. A recent delivery included: carrots, beets, red onion, celery, potatoes, corn, kale, tomatoes, lemon grass, and peaches!
To learn more about CSA, click here. Actually, we are taking in too much food for two people. So, my husband and I share with friends and family. In addition, we get more food from my local senior center. They offer veggie bags for $8! Thank you to Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President. To learn more about NYC senior veggie bags, click here.
To see what I’m cooking, check Silvera88, my Instagram page, and SilverGingko, Food is Culture, my Pinterest page. I try to embrace a full food spectrum: food is love, food=culture, food is medicine, food social justice, gardening and sustainable agriculture.
In the Garden: I’m grateful that my tiny garden, assorted containers on the roof, is alive with growth. A surprise bloom, buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies, chirping birds, wild weeds, are simple things that inspire me. Jamaica Kincaid’s book ‘My Garden Book’ is one of my favorite garden books. To check it out, click here.
What are your favorite books about gardens, food, or farms?