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Home POLITICS Oppression within the kitchen, delight within the eating room: the story of...

Oppression within the kitchen, delight within the eating room: the story of 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 facet 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 schooling, 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 isn’t 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.

Scorching commodity for the elite

People have loved chocolate because the Colonial days, after they would sip the wealthy cocoa as a sizzling drink. Cocoa made its option 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 have been processing cocoa into chocolate to export and to promote domestically. Chocolate was fashionable 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 fashionable that it’s estimated that roughly one-third of Virginia’s elite was consuming cocoa in some kind 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 achieved it.

On plantations all through the Colonies, through the 18th century, cocoa was making its approach 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 cook dinner would have needed to roast the cocoa beans on the open fireside, 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 cook 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 every of solely three chocolate stones within the Colony. The opposite two have been positioned 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 discovered the artwork of creating chocolate. It’s unknown the place or how he discovered this artwork. His predecessor, an indentured Englishman named Richard Mynatt who cooked for the Lees through the 1750s, might have discovered 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 look at 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 discipline quarters had a really completely different expertise on Christmas.

The work was oppressive within the plantation kitchens at Christmas time. The sphere laborers have been sometimes given the break day, whereas these working within the massive home kitchen and as home laborers have been anticipated to work across the clock to make sure an ideal vacation for the white household. The largest job at hand was to cook 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 number 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 ingesting chocolate.

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

Stress and concern throughout holidays

However it’s Caesar’s artwork of chocolate-making that provides 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 expertise, Caesar was working one of many Colonies’ most prestigious kitchens inside Stratford Corridor, and making chocolate for the Lees and their company.

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 12 months’s Day was generally often called heartbreak day, when enslaved people can be offered 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, nervous concerning the unhappiness that may quickly take over the group.

Caesar disappeared from the data by the top 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 fee 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. This stuff traveled from plantation to eating room by way of the Atlantic commerce, and have 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 private home, and having a chocolatier within the kitchen, have been distinctive. It was by means of Caesar’s culinary arts that Stratford Corridor turned well-known all through Colonial Virginia as a culinary vacation spot.



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