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Home POLITICS Oppression within the kitchen, delight within the eating room: Introducing Caesar, an...

Oppression within the kitchen, delight within the eating room: Introducing Caesar, an enslaved chef and chocolatier in Colonial Virginia


The vacations are approaching, and among the many many treats of the season are chocolate and sizzling cocoa. Whereas these traditions present a hearty dose of sugar, there’s a bittersweet aspect to chocolate’s historical past, too.

This yr, at Stratford Corridor Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, a plantation museum the place, as a historian, I work because the director of programming and training, we ushered within the vacation season with a chocolate program. We highlighted Colonial chocolate-making and its historic ties to American slavery.

This sober look into our nation’s previous helps illuminate these whose labor and contributions have been lengthy ignored, and examines the darker attributes of this favourite candy. There is no such thing as a higher place to set in context the historical past of chocolate and slavery than at a plantation the place cocoa was processed and served by enslaved laborers.

Sizzling commodity for the elite

Individuals have loved chocolate because the Colonial days, after they would sip the wealthy cocoa as a sizzling drink. Cocoa made its method to North America on the identical ships that transported rum and sugar from the Caribbean and South America. The harvesting and cargo of cocoa, like different plantation crops, was an integral a part of the transatlantic commerce and was closely reliant on the labor of enslaved Africans all through the diaspora.

Starting as early because the seventeenth century, cocoa was shipped into the Colonies, and by the early 1700s, Boston, Newport, New York and Philadelphia had been processing cocoa into chocolate to export and to promote domestically. Chocolate was standard within the coffeehouse tradition and was processed on the market and consumption by enslaved laborers within the North.

Farther south, in Virginia, cocoa was changing into a sizzling commodity as properly, and was so standard that it’s estimated that roughly one-third of Virginia’s elite was consuming cocoa in some type or one other. For the rich, this deal with was sipped a number of occasions every week; for others it was out of attain.

At Stratford Corridor, Dontavius Williams demonstrates Colonial chocolate-making as Caesar would have executed it.

On plantations all through the Colonies, through the 18th century, cocoa was making its means into the kitchens and onto the tables of essentially the most rich households. The artwork of chocolate-making – roasting beans, grinding pods onto a stone over a small flame – was a labor-intensive job. An enslaved prepare dinner would have needed to roast the cocoa beans on the open fireplace, shell them by hand, grind the nibs on a heated chocolate stone, after which scrape the uncooked cocoa, add milk or water, cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla, and serve it piping sizzling.

Christmas distinction

One of many first chocolatiers within the Colonies was an enslaved prepare dinner named Caesar. Born in 1732, Caesar was the chef at Stratford Corridor, the house of the Lees of Virginia, and in his kitchen sat one in all solely three chocolate stones within the Colony. The opposite two had been situated on the governor’s palace and on the Carter household property, belonging to one of many wealthiest households in Virginia.

Caesar was liable for cooking a number of meals a day for the Lees and any free one who came over. He was gifted, cooking elaborate and refined meals for Virginia’s gentry. He additionally realized the artwork of constructing chocolate. It’s unknown the place or how he realized this artwork. His predecessor, an indentured Englishman named Richard Mynatt who cooked for the Lees through the 1750s, might have realized chocolate-making from different cooks in Virginia and handed it on to Caesar. Or maybe the Lees, with their obsession with culinary arts, took Caesar to observe the artwork at one of many coffeehouses in Williamsburg, and even on the governor’s palace.

Chocolate and Christmas had a novel relationship to enslaved cooks all through the Colonies. Whereas the particular deal with sweetened the season for the white households, the enslaved communities dwelling and laboring in subject quarters had a really totally different expertise on Christmas.

The work was oppressive within the plantation kitchens at Christmas time. The sphere laborers had been sometimes given the break day, whereas these working within the large home kitchen and as home laborers had been anticipated to work across the clock to make sure an ideal vacation for the white household. The greatest job at hand was to prepare dinner and serve Christmas dinner, and chocolate was a favourite addition to the three-course formal dinner.

Caesar would have needed to direct the execution of such a feast. Oyster stew, meat pies, roasted pheasant, puddings, roasted suckling pig and Virginia ham are a few of the many dishes that may be served in only one course. The night time would end with the sipping of chocolate: toasted, floor and spiced by Caesar, and served in sipping cups made particularly for consuming chocolate.

Element from a 1782 stock of Philip Ludwell Lee’s property, itemizing the identify of chocolatier and chef Caesar.
Stratford Corridor, Writer supplied

Stress and concern throughout holidays

However it’s Caesar’s artwork of chocolate-making that offers his story distinction. As one of many Colony’s earliest chocolatiers, his standing as an enslaved African American places his story on the map of American culinary historical past.

Many years earlier than the 2 well-known enslaved cooks, Monticello’s James Hemings and George Washington’s Chef Hercules, turned recognized for his or her culinary abilities, Caesar was operating one of many Colonies’ most prestigious kitchens inside Stratford Corridor, and making chocolate for the Lees and their friends.

Caesar lived within the kitchen, and his son, Caesar Jr., lived close by and was the postillion – a proper place devoted to using the horses that drew the carriages. When Christmas got here, Caesar might have had his son assist out within the kitchen together with different enslaved cooks and waiters.

The stress of cooking an important dinner of the yr was mixed with the concern of what was to come back on Jan. 1. New Yr’s Day was generally referred to as heartbreak day, when enslaved of us can be bought to repay money owed or rented out to a distinct plantation. Jan. 1 represented an impending doom, and the separation of households and family members.

One can think about, after cooking a lavish three-course meal, that Caesar, as he transitioned to the grinding of chocolate for the Lees to sip, frightened in regards to the disappointment that may quickly take over the neighborhood.

Caesar disappeared from the data by the tip of the 18th century. By 1800, his son Caesar Jr. was nonetheless owned by the Lees, however as that yr ended, Christmas got here and went, and Caesar Jr. was put up for collateral by Henry Lee for cost of his money owed.

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The world Caesar lived in was one fueled by the Columbian Trade, which was constructed from enslaved labor and wealthy with culinary delights: pineapples, Madeira wine, port, champagne, espresso, sugar and cocoa beans. These things traveled from plantation to eating room by way of the Atlantic commerce, and had been central to securing the status of Virginia’s plantation elite. The extra unique and scrumptious the meals, the extra home fame one would reap.

Having cocoa delivered on to your house, and having a chocolatier within the kitchen, had been distinctive. It was via Caesar’s culinary arts that Stratford Corridor turned well-known all through Colonial Virginia as a culinary vacation spot.



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