Slaves were given a weekly ration of food which typically included a few pounds of corn meal and a few pounds of fatty pork, which wasn’t much for an entire week. Slaves who worked on plantations like Addy did were almost always hungry. Some slave masters were more generous and provided some additional food, but usually slaves had to figure out how to supplement this food on their own. Sometimes slaves were allowed to grow a little garden so they could add some vegetables to their diets. Often they would fish or hunt in nearby streams and woods. But this had to be done at the end of their long workday, or perhaps on Sunday, if the slave master let the slaves have a Sabbath. Slaves didn’t usually have many tools of their own, so they fashioned traps and fishing poles from things they could find.
Slaves didn’t have much time to cook their food, and they had few ingredients to work with, so a typical meal would be corn mush or fried corn cakes. According to Frederick Douglass, it was very common for corn mush to be placed in a large pan or tray on the ground and for all the slave children to be called to eat. The children would bring a clamshell or piece of shingle and use it as a spoon, or just use their hands to frantically scoop mush out of the pan. There was a survival of the fittest element to this – the bigger, more aggressive children would get more to eat, while smaller, younger, and less aggressive children would get less. Most often, all the children would leave the meal still hungry. For some slaves, corn mush was the food that was eaten at almost all meals. Try it yourself and see what you think. Be sure to share it with others and eat it from the pan, as slave children would have done. Use a clamshell if you can find one, or your hands.
Corn Mush Recipe
- 4 1/2 c. of water
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 c. ground cornmeal
- Stir salt into the water in a medium pot.
- Add buttermilk and bring to a boil
- Stir in cornmeal a little bit at a time until it is mixed in
- Turn heat to low and cook for at least 30 minutes
- Pour into a pan to serve
Corn cakes, or hoe cakes, were another common meal, and may have been cooked directly in the ashes of a fire, on a hoe placed in the fire, or on a board in front of the fire. Slaves weren’t allowed much time for cooking and eating, so the hoe cakes were sometimes made in the field while the slaves were working. They are pretty simple and fast to make, and kids can participate in most of the steps.
Hoe Cake Recipe
- 1 c. cornmeal
- 3/4 c. boiling hot water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 c. lard
- Mix cornmeal and salt in a bowl.
- Add boiling water and mix well.
- Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes
- Melt lard in a skillet. Let it get hot but not smoking.
- Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of batter and shape into a small, thin pancake
- Fry on each side for about 2-3 minutes until lightly brown
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately
What do you think? Would you have liked to eat corn mush and hoe cakes for most of your meals like Addy did?