Recipes from John S. Mattox, Curator, Underground Railroad Museum
JOHN MATTOX'S KITCHEN CORNER
John S. Mattox
UNDERGROUND RAILROAD MUSEUM
Telephone: (740) 968-2080
In South Carolina, rice was a particularly favored food at least in part because rice was grown in the area and many of the slaves came from a rice growing area in Africa. One of the more popular and widespread of these recipes is Hopping John.
Take a handful of cowpeas (black-eyed peas) that have been soaked overnight, one onion, parsley, and a laurel leaf. Let them boil in a quart and a pint of water for an hour or until soft. Add two cupfuls of well washed raw rice. The rice must cook fifteen or twenty minutes. Then add a quarter pound of well fried sausage, a slice of ham and well fried bacon, both cut in pieces and fried. Put your saucepan aside to soak, or dry. Cover closely, be careful it does not burm at the bottom. If rice has to be stirred use a fork, as it turns easily, and still cannot be stirred too much, or it becomes soggy.
From Africa, tastes for foods such as yams, rice, or pea- nuts was carried over straight to this country. Here is a dish that combines coconut, a common ingredient from the parts of Africa where many slaves were taken, with rice in what should be called a sweet snack rather than a dessert. Desserts after full meals are not common in African cuisine.
Rice Balls - Nigeria
2 cups cooked white rice
2 tablespoons freshly grated coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
Mixture of 1/2 coconut oil and 1/2 peanut oil for frying
Place the rice in bowl and add egg, coconut and sugar. The rice mixture should be firm enough to form into small balls. If the mixture is too loose, add a bit of flour to bind it; if it is too firm, add a tiny bit of water. Form the mixture into small balls. Meanwhile, in heavy saucepan, heat oil to 375 degrees. When the oil is hot, drop in the rice balls a few at a time. Fry them for five minutes, turning to ensure that they are browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
Since the African ingredients were not always available, black southern cooks often used the American version available to them. In this case the American version of the yam is the sweet potato. Most people may be familiar with the sweet potato in some form or other but African- American cooks used them in many different forms.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly butter two baking sheets. In a large bowl mix the mashed sweet potatoes and butter with dry ingredients. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and lemon juice until you have a slightly sticky dough. (You might have to use a bit more flour to achieve the right consistency). Coat the dough lightly with a dusting of flour, working it slightly so that the dough is completely covered.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1/2 inch thick and cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter or water glass. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet and bake them for fifteen to seventeen minutes, or until they are brown.
1 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix the meal and salt and add enough boiling water to make a soft dough. Spread the dough out in a well greased frying pan with a flat spoon or knife. Cook until brown. Turn the cake and brown the other side. Serve while hot. Eat with black-eyed peas.