Excerpt from "'Backyard Stories as a Strategy for Survival: Eat Little and Live Long" by Makeda Thomas in Issue Two of BlackInk, October 2021:
"The “Seaweed King” walked through the kitchen and left parts of himself in the ackee.
What remains when we gather, when we transform, collectively? How do we grow it? Harvest it? Prepare it. And share it? Does it require fire? This is a kind of work that cannot be made on oneself, by oneself. It requires movement; is a mourning dance; is a Brooklyn bongo. Questions remain. Like, what’s Love got to do with it? And, in whose home can we afford to burn the cane? Eat:
Ackee with Seaweed
Grilled Roucou-Spiced King Fish
Roasted Beets + Boiled Yam
Tostones with Pikliz
Issue Two provides an insight into Black British dance and touches on topics ranging from Black British activism to manifestos for existence and excellence alongside digital content.
“Eat Little and Live Long”
Our family recipe book never got beyond about 15 recipes, as most meals were prepared in the breathlessness of the day’s pace - rote and quick; muscle memory; innate timing. Or, out of some spirit; some vibz - a vibration that make you jump and say, “I feel to cook!”. So up you jump and buy the fish or the cornmeal or the fruit to exorcise that spirit after which, everybody sits down with their belly full, mouths full of taste, and belch out “oh, that was good. THAT one was wicked.” And you’d sit there, possibly having partaken, shocking even yourself, “Yes, that cut, ent?!” So, in that kind of way, no one, usually, had time to write down any recipe in any book. So the book stayed at about 15 recipes.
My mother taught me to cook. And it always began with a reminder that her mother, my grandmother Sheila George, died when my mother was just 7 or 9 years old (depending on the day she was telling the story). And so, she was taught to cook by her older sister. So, making sure that we, her daughters, learned to cook by the time we were around that age was of the “utmost importance”.
It was around then that I forgot how to fly.
By then, we were settled in the States, in East Flatbush Brooklyn where one early memory is of my mother making roti. She sold and packaged roti (in neatly folded brown paper bags with a stapled receipt) to individual customers and wholesale to other businesses. This skill she learned from her next door East Indian neighbor in Chaguanas, Trinidad as a young girl. There was also a science - “the magic of stretching flour” she called it.
Most of those recipes in the book were not necessarily family recipes. There was the delicious tomato dressing that I learned from the cook at the Atlantic Center for the Arts during a residency with Jawole Zollar. There was a hops bread recipe I’d gleaned from the internet, obsessed about for a month - bread for days - and have since completely forgotten how to make. The book contained mostly recipes that we’d enjoyed enough to put in a book - for “posterity” - only to realize that it’s all the recipes NOT in the book that will never be forgotten.
“The transcribing of that knowledge as a formal recipe…violates, in a sense, their original flexible and creative oral character…Written recipes are strange things. They are intended for strangers to use in future times and, maybe, in foreign places. Each of these recipes…is an attempt to duplicate a performance of the individual cook’s skill and choices.”
Food is a continued part of my artistic practice. It has been at the center of the Institute’s development. There is a recipe for my late Aunty Girly’s Fish Pelau in my Master’s dissertation called “How to Take Night and Make Day” - a recipe for food that is delicious and - and, as per the title - tied to the wisdom of my ancestors. “Ingredients and structures of cooking are not carried in the genes, but come from historical experiences shared among peoples and across generations.” After “the fire”, these recipes are some of the few remaining tangible artefacts of my family history; an oral memory that combines experience, practice, and replicability. It is from here that I enter this project, Eat Little and Live Long.
Uncle Fela, the fisherman, from whom I got many stories of my grandmother, Alma. He had nine children - all daughters, with names of goddesses - Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite…It was Fela who first told me the history of “Fenty” and our family’s Merikin link. My Uncle Fela told me that my grandmother, Alma Woods, had a whole science to her cooking. When and how she cooked was as important as what. Many of us share similar stories of Mother-Scientist-Artists.
A gathering that could merge food, dance and storytelling. The multi course meal would nod to the opulence of a typical Trinidad Sunday lunch plate which could easily pack 8-10 different dishes on a single plate and thus, visually represent the breadth of Trinidad culture in a way that was befitting - about spectacle - and, with the borders of where one place setting begins and ends, reflect the aesthetics of diaspora - particularly, a Caribbean diasporic that puts a calabash, a clay pot, a Chinese rice bowl, a piece of bamboo, a fig leaf, shells, and a ceramic plate before you from which to consume, as you wish. It represents the historical complexity of the concepts, philosophies, techniques and ingredients of Caribbean food and identity. Eat Little and Live Long makes good on ancestral knowledge to transform stories of loss into tales of togetherness. Through this meal, each guest is invited to literally absorb my family’s history, building on aesthetics and community to articulate a way in which personal history comes into dialogue with public memory.
Eat Little and Live Long
15 August 2019
Seating for 15
Hosted by Mary Anne Edwards
Supported by the Delaware Art Museum
Red Snapper Pelau
Choi Sum in garlic and olive oil
Watercress Salad with Mango Vinaigrette