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A Culinary Celebration of Women’s History Month Series: Alabama

Benne Seed Wafers, history and ingredients below 
In 1895 and 1896 African-American farmers in the vicinity of Tuskegee, Alabama, generally worked “about seven and a half months during the year” according to researchers from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. “The rest of the time,” says one researcher, “is devoted to visiting, social life, revivals, [and] other religious exercises . . . .” During the “laying-by time,” while the crops were maturing, African-American farmers near Tuskegee held “bush meetings,” revivals, and visited friends for sometimes a whole week at a time. Women served guest something to eat and drink like Benne Seed Wafers and some iced tea. Africans brought Benne (the Bantu word for sesame) seeds to the Americas from sub-Saharan Africa in the 17th century during the Atlantic slave trade. It is one of the oldest cultivated crops grown for its mild nutty-taste, enslaved Africans planted this versatile plant around the borders of their gardens in Alabama and other parts of the South. Benne is high in protein, has no cholesterol and is rich in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B and E.

Benne Seed Wafer Recipe

1 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons of butter (or butter substitute) softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg (or egg substitute) beaten
¾ cup spelt flour (or all purpose flour)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fresh orange juice
¼ tsp grated orange peel
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy skillet, toast seeds over low heat until golden brown then transfer to place to cool. With an electric blender, cream butter and sugar together and mix in eggs, flour, salt, spices, and baking powder to form a soft dough. Drop with a teaspoon onto a well-greased cookie pan, far enough apart to allow spreading while baking. Bake for 10-15 minutes then allow wafers to cool before serving makes 2 dozen.

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