Transcript of Video:
[Jon] Hi, I’m Jon Townsend and again we’re here at Historic Gunston Hall. I’ve got Michael Twitty, a culinary historian. What are we cooking this morning?
[Jon] Akara. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking.
[Jon] So, Akara, what exactly is this?
[Michael] It’s a fritter that’s made from black-eyed peas.
[Michael] Think of it sort of like a West African version of falafel.
[Michael] Not quite the same, but very similar. It’s eaten as a snack with hot pepper. Basically, you either boil the peas and mash them without the skin, take every bit of skin off, or you pound them dry like we’ve done here. Pulverize them until they were in little pieces, and then took some chopped onion and some chopped parsley and mashed that with it as well. So, what I need to do now is take some of the boiling hot water and pour it on top to soften it and to let it swell a little bit up, and when this batter that we have going on settles, we’ll be able to take it out by the spoonful and fry it in oil and that will make the akara.
[Jon] So it’ll be a nice thick batter that we can work with and easily pop in the pan.
[Jon] So we’ve let this set for a while. We poured boiling water on it
[Michael] With a little bit of flour to help bring it together, but ultimately this is mostly black-eyed peas and onions put together. So, our job right now is to turn it into a little bit of a fritter, so what we’re going to do is put it in some hot fat, fry it up in little drop batches, and then we’ll see what it tastes like.
[Jon] It’s ready to go.
[Michael] Being a cook, being an enslaved cook was a tremendously important job, not just because it represented a great deal of skill and ability for the white household, but because it represented a person who was someone who transmitted knowledge between the field quarter and the big house. Important knowledge that could lead to freedom, that could lead to access to knowledge, education. All of these fruits have come out of our struggle to fully become ourselves, and I want our young people of all backgrounds to be proud of what African Americans have achieved and what all African people have achieved.
[Jon] They’ve got a very interesting look to them and they smell great. I guess I’m going to find out what they taste like.
[Michael] Yep, try one.
[Jon] Here we go. Wonderful fried flavor, it’s got a really interesting flavor that I’m not used to. Those black-eyed peas in a fried bean cake, not something that I’d normally eat, but they taste really good. You know if you’re putting this in a meal with multiple dishes
[Michael] It’s more like a snack.
[Jon] Oh really?
[Michael] It’s more like something you eat as a snack but on Virginia plantation tables, we know this was eaten. Mary Randolph has a recipe for black-eyed pea cakes.
[Michael] So this is sort of like the root of her recipe.
[Michael] So, you can imagine this being a food that she would eat, probably at the time the black-eyed peas were still in dried form, not fresh.
[Michael] So not so much in summer and early fall, but more like winter and spring.
[Jon] Wonderful, and very interesting way of making it and interesting kind of take on what’s going on with peas and how you cook them and how you’re going to use them in your cooking, so wonderful. Thank you so much for bringing this recipe to us and again a very interesting experiment in what food was like in the 18th and 19th century. Those mixes of cultures. Really interesting, so thank you Michael for bringing this to us and thank you all out there for sharing with us. Coming along with us as we experiment, as we savor the flavors of the 18th century.
I want to thank everyone there at Gunston Hall for their wonderful help with this series. If you’re interested in Gunston Hall, make sure to check out their website.