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1619 Through the Lens of Food: Frederick Douglass Part 2

1619 Through the Lens of Food: Frederick Douglass Part 2

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Today we continue our series, 1619 Through the Lens of Food, marking the 400th anniversary of slavery in the United States of America.Here is our second story focusing on Frederick Douglass.

Douglass tells us that in Talbot County slaves received time off during the winter holidays from work with the exception of feeding and maintaining the plantation livestock. Traditionally, enslaved folk hunted small game to supplement their woefully inadequate slave rations. He described how, when given free time, the “industrious ones of our number would employ themselves in” hunting raccoons, possums, rabbits. Most, however, preferred “fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey, and this latter mode of spending the time” slaveholders encouraged. Keeping slaves drunk during holidays proved among the slaveholders’ best strategies to “keep down the spirit of insurrection,” prevent black empowerment, and keep those who profited from slavery safe. Silas Jackson, another man enslaved in Maryland, recalled, “All of the slaves hunted, or those who wanted to, hunted rabbits, opossums, or fished. These were our choice food as we did not get anything special from the overseer.”

Rabbit (or hare) provided a free source of easy to catch and cook fresh protein for rural folk, and rabbit provided a good-tasting break from pork and poultry. With short legs and predictable habitats, wild rabbits had been easier to hunt than other game such as deer.

Fried Rabbit with Sopping Gravy Recipe

Serves 4 to 6

1 rabbit cut in

2 cups of buttermilk                                 
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

For the Gravy

3 tablespoons pan drippings

¼ cup flour

1 ½ cup milk


            Soak rabbit pieces in buttermilk for at least two hours, preferably overnight. Dredge in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Melt vegetable shortening in a twelve-inch, cast-iron frying pan over a medium heat (360 degrees F), heat until shortening shimmers. Place rabbit in skillet until brown. For the gravy, drain three tablespoons of shortening from the skillet. Add flour and stir to deglaze the pan. When brown, stir in milk and simmer until thickened.

Lettice Bryan, The Kentucky Housewife (Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 1839), vii.

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