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1619 Through the Lens of Food: Part 1 Frederick Douglass

1619 Through the Lens of Food: Part 1 Frederick Douglass

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

2019 represents 400th anniversary of the start of American slavery in James Town, Virginia.  In commemorations we are doing a series of stories which also part of a larger project on food in the African canon. Looking at slavery in African American literature. Each of the stories will contain a related historical image and recipe. In part 1 we turn to the writings of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) was an African-American abolitionist, public speaker, editor, activist, and US ambassador to Haiti. Douglass wrote several versions of his autobiography. In his autobiographies Douglass talks about how enslaved people where he lived tried to procure food in the evening. At every gate through which they would pass, they would see “a watchman—at every ferry a guard—on every bridge a sentinel—and in every wood a patrol.He also observed that the enslaved African-Americans slaves on Lloyd’s property had “the habit of spending a part of their nights and Sundays in fishing for oysters, and in this way made up the deficiency of their scanty allowance.”

Bisque of Oysters Recipe


30 medium-sized oysters



Curry seasoning

Salt and red pepper

Potato flour


Bread crumbs


Raw Egg yolks


Place about thirty medium-sized oysters in a saucepan together with their own juice and poach them over a hot fire, after which drain well; then fry a shallot colorless in some butter, together with an onion, sprinkle over them a little curry, and add some of the oyster juice, seasoning with salt and red pepper. Pound the oysters to a good firm paste, moistening them with a little of their juice, and strain through fine tammy cloth. Warm them over the fire, but do not let them boil; add a small quantity of thickening of potato flour mixed with a little water. When about to serve incorporate some cream and fine butter, garnishing with some chopped oysters and mushrooms, mixed with bread crumbs and herbs. Add a little seasoning of salt, pepper, and nutmeg, some raw egg yolks, and roll this mixture into ball-shape pieces, place them on a well-buttered baking sheet in a slack oven, and poach them, then serve.

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