Monday, October 17, 2011

Maumas Groundnut Cakes

Maumas Groundnut Cakes

I'm not trying to get political here, but despite what Henry Louis Gates says about most lighter skinned African Americans actually having European ancestry, when they assume they are part Native American, the fact is that some populations of African in the southeast have a lot of Native blood.  In the greater New Orleans area this certainly the case.  The great voodoo queen Marie Laveau was at least 1/4 native, probably Choctaw, which would account for her powerful knowledge about the medicinal properties of local native plants, that neither her African or French European ancestry would have given her.  And where in the world would Fat Tuesday be without the Black Indians?? [Yes I know that a good deal of this is imitation...some of it is NOT.]

Marie Laveau

All up and down the eastern sea board, and in some places out west because of the African American Buffalo Soldiers, Africans mixed with native communities.  This especially true of the remnants of natives in the north east.  Famous freedman Cripus Attucks, one of the first people felled in the Boston Massacre, was, as his last name attests, of Alongquin Wampanoag ancestry.  Some accounts have his mother being a full Wampanoag woman.  

Attucks in his 40's

Despite that his own grandmother was of Powhatan ancestry, Thomas Jefferson, who kept slaves and even had children by some of them; lamented in a haughty and paternalistic fashion that the Powhatan's had been reduced to a impoverished people who had lost their language and were mostly mixed with Africans in ancestry.  From this, it got his scheme of removal, to save the Indians from themselves.  He had some idea that in order to save them, he needed to take them from their ancestral land, that they had lived, hunted, and farmed for thousands of years...mostly because of Africans.  It was a dangerous idea that later gave rise to the Trail of Tears in the 1830's under President Andrew Jackson.  Ironically, the Indians that Jefferson wanted to save, peoples such as the Catawba, Saponi, Croatoan, his own Powhatan's, were left out of the removal order and remained in the southeast on land the Jefferson would have them forfeit--they were just too small in number, and too disenfranchised in legality for Jackson to care anything about them--so he left them alone.

Powhatan Beaty, c. 1901

The sea-islands people, known as the Gullah people to outsiders are very famous for their preservation of their African ancestry, including their Sea Island Creole English which has a completely African lexicon.  Yet there is little doubt that many of these people are also of Native American ancestry.  Certainly, they do acknowledge their English ancestry in places.  In the Low Country in South Carolina, for example, they still hold traditional fox hunts, complete with red jackets and howling beagles.  Although, they are fiercely proud, and right the so (!) of their African heritage which they have been kept in tact, they admit that they only real contact that they had for centuries on their islands were Native Americans.  Today they call themselves the Gullah-Geechee, "Geechee" is a word derived from Muskogee Creek.  So many natives along the coast melded in with the populations that would have them; the Siouan speaking Croatoan people of these islands are an example.  Without alliances, they had to hope of surviving the onslaught from across the sea.  While I am in no way trying to uncomplicate the Native American and African American (Indian and Black) history of contentious, often shameful behavior on the part of the former toward the later (in some places).  The fact is that some people live that experience everyday of their lives by being both.  The food traditions that come from them are deserving of their own recognition of being both as well....never mind that this stuff is delicious!

Afro (or Black) Seminole

These cakes were first published in "Native People's" Magazine, and later reprinted in their in-house cookbook entitled Body, Mind & Spirit.  Both are by staff food writer Beverly Cox and food photographer Martin Jacobs.  The forward for the cookbook is by Kiowa writer M Scott Momaday who is also part Cherokee.   Jacobs writes about these:  "Groundnut cakes are a traditional Carolina-peanut-and -molasses candy that was made and sold by the Maumas, street vendors who were often of mixed African American and Native American descent.  They remind us of both the pralines of Louisiana and the maple-syrup candy made by tribes in the Northeast."

2 cups molasses
2 cups dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp. butter
1 buttered cookie sheet
Room temperature butter for rolling

1.  Combine all ingredients, except the peanuts in a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until few drops of the mixture form a soft shape when dropped into a bowl of cold water (my note:  this is what is called the "soft ball stage" in candy making, and comes to 225 deg. F on a candy thermometer).

2.  Stir in the peanuts and continue cooking for a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture form a ball when dropped into cold water (my note:  this is the
"hard ball stage" on a candy therm. and occurs at 260 deg. F).

3.  Drop the mixture by the tbsp. full onto the cookie sheet.  Set out to cool. When cool enough to handle, with buttered hands, roll each candy into a ball and flatten into a cake.  Allow to cool completely 

Variations (these are mine)

When cool enough to handle, roll flatten and roll around the handle of a wooden spoon that has been greased.

Pour into a butter pan that, allow to cool enough to cut, and slice into bars or strips.

You can make these with other nuts, here in the south pecans or hickory nuts are in order.
You can go completely over the top and add chocolate.

These can be made with local honey, instead molasses.

Lionel Delpit, a real "Black Indian" who lead the  7th Ward Mardi Gras Indian gang.  He sadly passed at the age of 54 this past July

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