Every chapter of Toni Tipton Martin’s Jemima Code continues to shine a bright light on people from the past who have helped shape and carry on African American cooking traditions. She is able share just enough details of these interesting characters to provide a thirst to learn more about them. This book constantly steers the reader away from the stereotype of early black cooks who never left the confines of a plantation kitchen to people with deep thoughts who traveled the world.
One of these individuals highlighted in this chapter is Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor. She was born in 1937 and raised in Hampton County, South Carolina, in the Low Country. She grew up speaking Gullah, as her parents’ families had been in the area for centuries and were part of the culture. She grew up on Low Country cuisine, and recounted her grandmother Estella Smart’s way with oysters in her first cookbook, published in 1970.In 1958, at the age of 19, Smart took off for Paris, France, looking to pursue theater in the bohemian circles of Europe. She also traveled to cities in Italy and other European countries. In Paris, she recognized that a Senegalese woman selling food on the street was using techniques she knew from home, and she began to write about food and cooking as a way of expressing one’s culture.
The following is a recipe attempt submitted to Boricua Soul Book Club by Rebecca Morrison
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor adds a whole new vibe to cooking in her “Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” originally published in New York in 1970. She includes recipes from her upbringing in the rural South as well as from her time spent in Paris. Toni Tipton-Martin describes the book as a “colorful diary with recipes.”
I decided to try making her Ground Nut Stew, based on the West African dish. The recipe is very basic with no measurements other than “lots of chunky-style peanut butter.” The chicken (which parts, how much aren’t specified) is to be cut up, seasoned and sautéed in peanut oil. When the chicken is brown, add onion and bell pepper and cook till the onion is transparent. Then add red pepper, chicken broth and the peanut butter. “Sauce should be on the stiff side.”
I just kept adding broth and peanut butter until I had a nice, thick sauce. And the red pepper and peanut butter are really nice together.
I had always been curious about Ground Nut Stew because I love peanut butter, and I really liked this very basic recipe. I checked other recipes, and there are many variations, including the addition of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, ginger and okra.
This recipe is from Toni Tipton-Martin’s “The Jemima Code, Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks.”