Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hugo Chávez Continues The Latin American Revolution! & The Monday Red Beans & Rice Tradition

Francisco Toro wrote an Op-ed centered prominently in The New York Timesentitled "How Hugo Chávez  Became Irrelevant". There's no need for me to go deep into it, as Red Beans & Rice demands far more attention.  But the "cheap-seats recap" is that Toro "doth" proclaimed progressive radicalism as bad and out dated,-along with Fidel Castro-, while political "moderation" is  Godly. And, that Venezuelan voters would overwhelmingly reject Hugo.  Well, Nope! The results are in and Hugo (got to love a progressive-world-change-agent name Hugo) overwhelmed his challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, in a clean and fair democratic election. Given what went down with Gore/Bush and w the current attempts to erase Black votes in the up coming Presidential elections, America could learn a thing of two from Hugo.

Overlooking throngs of cheering supporters both old and young, Hugo Chávez said "Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and [ Simon] Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century." 
                          Red Beans & Rice, A Tradition. 


Historically, Black folk have existed between superstition, that gave us both a desperately needed crutch and a semblance of control-when in fact we had none; and a white supremacist Hell created on earth for Black people. 

 This is why during slavery, the African tradition of jumping over a broom stick, morphed from both a traditional African marriage ceremony and a way to determine who would run the household, to  a Black marriage ceremony in America, evoking a powerful forces to keep the married couple from being torn apart and sold off, which was a common occurrence. 

Four years ago, in Annapolis Maryland during a road construction project, a bundle of "magic" was found in a tattered and mostly disintegrated leather pouch, roped around the top.  Inside was lead shot, nails, pins,- some of them purposely bent, and a stone with a tiny ax on top, which represents the Yorùbá Orisha, Shango. The bag and its contents date back to the early 1700's and records place the find at what was then a crossroads.  

Eshu Legba
Crossroads have special significants in the Yorùbá spiritual world and are guarded by the Orisha, Eshu Legba, who at the cross roads takes the form of an old man with a humped back. Eshu Legba is the messenger between the world of humans and the realm of the Orisha. Clearly some in slaved African/ Black person,  needed to evoke some form of protection arising from the Yorùbá religious tradition, passed down to them.

The Great Migration Series by Jacon Lawrence 

The problem with the Northern urbanization- The Great Migration  of Black people from the South to the North from 1910-1930, is that we've left numerous traditions behind that rooted us to the land and to our people as a race.  The only tradition we now share is the Black church, which I personally cannot honor.  I can appreciate the progressive actions of a church, and a few  individual churches as single institutions, like Saint Sabina on Chicago's South side. But not enough to honor the Black church as a tradition, at least not any more.

I'm therefore learning to create my own traditions based upon my family history and the history of my people.

My first tradition will be to cook Red Beans & Rice, every Monday that I'm at home. Beans were big in my family on the Mississippi, and the Louisiana side- that I'm just now learning about. But only my Aunt Murk cooked Red Beans & Rice.

I've cooked them before, but never as good as last Monday. Cooking Red Beans & Rice is a New Orleans Black tradition. Many Creoles would strongly object to being called Black, but as "Creoles" exist only in New Orleans, in any other place in America they would be Black.  I therefore think it's fair to call the kettle what it is.  The Red Beans & Rice tradition demands some form of ham which was always served on Sundays and the left overs went into Monday's Red Beans & Rice.  Monday was also wash day, which in those days was a laborious process consuming most of the day, so letting the red beans soak and then cook, while washing  was an efficient use of time for the day.

Red Beans & Rice appears to be an easy dish, but it's complicated as I've found out. In order to honor the tradition, you must take it seriously.  So I researched the dish thoroughly finding numerous sites on the internet, many of which were not about red beans but other staples of Louisiana that in turn, provided me more insight into Red Beans & Rice. For instance, Gumbo which was already a tradition passed down to me by my Aunt Murk. What I learned was that she taught me how to cook the "democratic" Cajun version of Gumbo, with a tomato base that she combined with okra ( the African word for gumbo), sea food, chicken, and sausage, which is acceptable, along with any other salvageable left-overs in the refrigerator. This is how I prepare it today.  I further learned that what's generally available in New Orleans is the aristocratic Creole form of Gumbo, that uses only okra and has strict rules of what can go into it,( Seafood) and in what season it can be cooked, fall and winter.  I also was put on the right track for Red Beans & Rice.  I learned that red beans were a traditional meal in African and were brought over to to the Americas with the kidnapped Africans who spoke the Bantu languages and inhabited large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, and the Comoros Islands.  Many of these captured Africans were first brought to Haiti where red beans were introduced there first. The African word for red bean is Maharagwe.

I then had the history down. But the proper preparation remained elusive, as they're so many sources on the internet.  Even "Meagan from Iowa" was a self proclaimed  "expert" and used tomato past and spam, so I had to be wary of whom to trust, which takes a lot of time to figure out on the internet.

 I had a decent cook book that I purchased years ago from the outdoor French Market in the NOLA French Quarter, called "Louisiana Lagniappe".  But the problem with this book is it also has a lot of  non NOLA southern dishes like Tennessee Chicken N' Dumplings and worse, straight up red neck stuff, like Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings with soy sauce fried rice, Mini Rolls Stroganoff, and Chicken Lu-Lu.  No Thank you.

Then I discovered the grand and majestic Picayune Creole Cook Book. I'd heard about this book before and wrote it off as "touristy" because the ones I'd seen on the internet were the latest editions, glossy and in soft cover.  The Times Picayune had stopped printing them in 1989. But a few weeks ago, I came across and older 1954, 10th edition copy in great condition for relatively cheap.  There are twenty editions total, starting with the 1915 one.

This book is a corner stone of Louisiana tradition and not just because it has four hundred recipes including four for Red Beans Rice, including my favorites, Red Beans Burgundy Style and Bacon and Beans a la Creole. This book also has recipes for numerous crawfish dishes, lamb, rabbit, squirrel, duck and venison. And, I've discovered a place on the westside of Chicago "Moo and Oink" that has all of those ingredients. My freezer is now stocked with four rabbits as they're now in season. Soon will be venison, and then squirrel season, which was a favorite of Aunt Murk's.

 The Picayune Creole Cook Book's introduction reads like a history of the people, homes, cultural clashes, traditions, lies, and politics, that combined to make NOLA restaurant dining the experience that it is today. This book focuses on Creole as opposed to Cajun, yet Africa is "politely" left out when explaining the culture of the food. However, a certain honesty does lend the writer ( there are no author's name attached) to say in the introduction, all the earlier books have different intros., 

"these are the old, old recipes which your mother used, and her mother, and her grand mother, and her grand mother, who caught it from the old-time Mammy who could work all kinds of magic in the black raftered kitchen of long ego." 

As this book was written in 1954, we know those "old time mammies" were in slaved Black women. 

 I am honored to have this book because not only does it tie me to my Aunt Murk who instilled in me the art and love of cooking, but also those Black women who toiled in those black raftered kitchens, whom I'm now in spiritual dialogue with them as I learn form them. I picture them watching over me as I perfect their craft to share with my people as the keeper of this sacred tradition.



"From the pass
the essence

of accumulative

the remnants of
lost ceremonies
the loosening and
unwrapping of 
the emergence 
from Shadows
to face the unknown 

-Betye Saar


Anonymous said...

I do not know a Meagan from Iowa but I'm Dorothy from Davenport Iowa and we have a lot of African-Americans from Chicago here and they get along nicely. And at our Figge Art Museum we have two African-American special features going on right now. One is on Beauty in the African-American Culture and the other is on the various African Wooden Statues I think. And so you know my red beans and rice calls for tomato paste as it spices it up. I'm going to email you information about our cooking club. I think we might start our own blog about it. Nice chatting, Dorothy!

Invisible Man said...

Iowa is most certainly on my list and where would be with out tomatoes? Good bless South America, the origin of the tomato!

Anonymous said...

Good blog, keep it up, most bloggers update for a few month and call it quits.
My family is been rooted in Plaquemines Parish
since 1650. We serve our beans in a way called Puree d' Haricots Rouge and add consomme, salt pork, and carrots with the rest of the holly trinity. The beans are served like mushed potatoes.

If you ever find yourself in these parts, let us know and we will cook up some Delicious spicy Cajun Smothered Nutria!