Here is a Guest Test Kitchen feature that is slightly different than our normal submissions. This time around, it is a recipe that pays homage to history and education. Adrienne Barnette is a licensed professional counselor with Carolina Character, and she is also the sister of one of my good college friends. When I heard that Adrienne would embark on an 800 mile trek to Canada and finish with a tribute campfire meal, it seemed like just the way to share another way food has meaning to so many people–past and present. The idea of reconnecting with ancestral roots, retracing history and also replicating simple meals based around a couple of heritage ingredients reminded me of the posts we have shared as collaborations with Kwanzaa Culinarians and Oldways. Now Adrienne details her experience relaying a message of “character education seasoned with social justice” through her Pedal for Peace initiative.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th century black slaves to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and positive character driven black and white allies. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 African slaves had escaped via the “railroad.” Claire Huller, Intervention Specialist and I retraced 800 miles of the Underground Railroad on bicycles from the National Underground Railroad Museum, in Cincinnati, Ohio to the Emancipation Festival in Owen Sound, Canada. The Emancipation Festival is a festival that has been held since 1862 by descendants of enslaved men and women whom took the Underground Railroad to its northern most point and then settled in Owen Sound, Canada. As educators (teacher and counselor), we chose to retrace the Underground Railroad in response to our K-12 students with severe emotional disabilities expressions of, “I feel like a slave.” Listening to our students, we learned that the students attributed feeling like slaves due to the lack of transition were experiencing from their public-separate school to a regular setting school.
To assist our students with understanding history, their expressed feelings, and overcoming their perceived obstacles to obtaining their goals, we began to teach our students about the Underground Railroad. When the school year ended, we began a laborious two week, 800 mile character education curriculum development journey retracing the Underground Railroad on bicycles. The goal was to share with students how enslaved individuals did not allow an obstacle or feeling to prevent them from obtaining their goal of freedom. We successfully completed our journey, and in celebration, along with modern day abolitionists Nicole Moore of Interpreting Slave Life and Juan Hardy, we prepared a freedom meal in Owen Sound, Canada at our campsite.
We believe that our journey along the Underground Railroad began when our students stated that they felt like slaves. We would like to encourage you to let your journey begin by understanding that perceived obstacles and challenges come to us all, but the key to overcoming these obstacles lies within retracing and sharing history to understand that achieving the impossible is possible when you respond to obstacles with positive character.
Fire-chard Sweet Potatoes and Corn on the Cob with Cast Iron Grilled Cheese – Serves 4
4 sweet potatoes
4 ears corn, husks removed
4 ounces unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature
8 slices of bread
4-8 slices of cheddar cheese
Cast iron skillet
Place the coal into the pit, cover with lighter fluid and light with a match. Allow to burn for at least 20 minutes, or until the coals begin to look dusty and white. Top with firewood, lighting with matches until they burn. Leave enough space between the wood to begin the flame, and keep it burning.
While the fire is gradually building a flame, wash each sweet potato with water and individually wrap in aluminum foil. Rinse each ear of corn with water, then and if desired, spread a bit of butter or margarine over the corn, then wrap each one in foil. Next, place a slice or two of cheddar cheese between two slices of bread. Repeat and make three more sandwiches. Set aside.
Carefully place the wrapped sweet potatoes into the bottom of the fire pit where the hot coals are burning. Cook for approximately 30-45 minutes or until done. Halfway through the sweet potatoes cooking time, add the corn. Check doneness by slicing a sweet potato with a knife. You can also use a stick to poke the potatoes to test for tenderness.
Place the skillet on the edge of the fire pit, allowing half of the pan to hover over the hot burning wood. Take approximately 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine and place it into the skillet. Once it begins to melt, rotate so that the margarine covers the entire base of the skillet. Then place the skillet back over the fire. Place one of the sandwiches into the skillet. Once grilled to your preference, flip and cook the other side. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches.
There you have it. Fire pit sweet potatoes and corn on the cob with a grilled cheese-which. We recommend pouring yourself a large glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale as you take a moment of silence to remember and acknowledge that the meal you have prepared is just a taste of “freedom”, in remembrance for the journey which over 100,000 enslaved men and women took on the Underground Railroad to find freedom. It is a simple meal to prepare, and it may be a meal that you have already had before. However I wonder if you thought of this meal previously as a way in which you could remember, share, and acknowledge the individuals with positive character that took the Underground Railroad to freedom.
So why share such a simple recipe? I suppose the answer to this question is as simple as the ingredients for the meal. Freedom is something that many of us have tasted before as it is something that many of us experience every day and because we tend to experience it every day, sometimes we run the risk of taking our own freedoms for granted. Finding freedom is no simple journey. Many sacrificed and died years ago so that we might enjoy and experience freedom today. Our students reminded us through their expressions of feeling like a slave or feeling stuck in modern-day situations can occur to us all. Often we reflect on the moment we are presently in, and we think the past was a yesterday that can be forgotten, but yesterday was not so long ago. We should remember the yesterdays today. We should teach our future about the yesterdays in order to have a positive character driven tomorrow.