El Valle de Anton, Panama. El Valle the Volcanic Village. El Valle’s History, Attractions and Information

Salt Cod, Chicken, Slavery and Yams

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November 28, 2014

By the fifth century Basque and Nordic fishermen had discovered the cod banks of the New World and, since they rack dried and salted their catch on land, probably became the first Europeans to inhabit North America even if only seasonally.  European maritime nations were scrambling to reach the Grand Banks after hearing of John Cabot’s 16th century chance encounter with schools of cod so thick they stopped ships. The pursuit of this seemingly inexhaustible commodity, and the salt to process it became a major stimulus for the Age of Discovery. Without this chance cod encounter European seamen might have just continued to fish their own coasts never venturing farther into the Atlantic.  This fledgling industry, requiring two pounds of French or Portuguese salt to dry one of cod, begged for closer and therefore cheaper supplies to process the bounty of the Grand Banks.  Thanks to a temperate climate, and natural trade winds, the Islands of the Caribbean possessed many easily harvested natural salt ponds, called Salinas, to supply the New England, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland fishing economies.   By 1633, some twenty years before the birth of the rum industry, Caribbean salt harvesting had become a lucrative commercial enterprise.  Over the next three hundred years the tonnage of salt, usually carried as ships ballast, exported to North America exceeded that of sugar, rum and molasses combined. Early West Indies planters had no land to devote to the frivolous production of food for their slaves and instead relied on imported salt cod for the help and maybe a little salt beef or pork for themselves.  Originally, corned/salted beef was the sole amendment of the slave diet, but it was replaced by the cheapest grades of Bacalao while the better cuts found their way to Portugal, England and Spain. Corned beef or tasajo retained it cachet for centuries and still is, along with salted cod, a Panamanian standard.

The image shows how salt cod can be stacked like wood and transported

The image shows how salt cod can be stacked like wood and transported

A pound of salted fish or meat was doled out on Sundays to augment the barely survivable diet of the Caribbean plantation slave.  It’s not hard to understand what this protein would have meant to anyone living on a diet of yuca, name, banana and breadfruit or how it was combined in minuscule portions with those foundation carbohydrates to create archetypal recipes.  As the slave population grew so did the demand for cod and when the expanding British Navy adopted it, and American Rum as daily rations, the market for both skyrocketed. Europe’s poor were happy to share in a little salt cod when available and the Portuguese are said to have three bacalao recipes for every day of the year. Recently salt cod in its many pricey permutations has reemerged on trendy restaurant menus in the US accompanied by prerequisite oohs and aahs from the local foodies

For two hundred years salted fish was New England’s major export, bundled with cargo’s of barrel staves, corn, grain and rum … by 1790 the cod aristocracies of Gloucester and Boston Massachusetts were sending 600 cargo ships yearly to the Islands. They would return with salt and hogsheads of molasses to make rum, and then take tobacco, grain and corn to England to trade for guns, cloth and manufactured goods to purchase slaves in Africa, who were then traded for more molasses and salt in the West Indies. This trade route was more of a spider’s web then a triangle since its commodities, like its course, often changed with demand and New England owes it economic ascendance to slave consumption not slave labor. The only preservation technique of the period required salt and by the late 1800’s North America was importing 40 pounds annually from the Caribbean for every resident.  Demand for Caribbean salt spurred by the civil war, ever-increasing cattle empires and the sliver smelting operations of the Comstock Lode continued through the middle of the twentieth century.

Yams And Sickle Cell Anemia {from Slate Magazine}

One profound example of co-evolution involves chromosome 11. Thousands of years ago, various tribes in West Africa began clearing out the dense, ancient forests near their homes and cultivating plots to grow yams, rice and other crops. Their strategy worked well—the crops thrived, becoming a dietary staple—but had an unintended side effect. The old forests had slurped up excess rain quite well; the bare farmland did a poorer job, and left standing pools of water that attracted hordes of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes harbor diseases, especially malaria, which became endemic among Africans there, and the tribes had to come up with genetic defenses to survive. One mutation in particular seemed to help, an A→T swap on the hbb gene on chromosome 11. This mutation changed the shape of some red blood cells, making them less like a disc (the normal shape) and more like a crescent. This in turn helped prevent malaria, which parasitizes red blood cells, from getting a foothold. As a result the mutated hbb gene began to spread in the region, following the clear-cutting yam and rice farmers wherever they expanded.

Unfortunately, when the mutated, crescent-cell-producing gene became relatively common, people started having children with two copies of it. And while having one copy still provided resistance to malaria, having two copies proved deadly, since the crescent, or sickle-shaped, blood cells died off prematurely, and also jammed up inside small blood vessels. Today we call this condition sickle-cell anemia. The hbb mutation never would have wreaked such havoc among these tribes if not for the ancient decision to farm yams and rice [think the Carolina’s] so intensely.

But Chickens were Permitted {from the NY Times} November 28, 2014

Fearful that human chattel [slaves] could buy their freedom from profits made by selling animals, the Virginia General Assembly in 1692 made it illegal for slaves to own horses, cattle or pigs. Poultry, though, wasn’t considered worth mentioning.

This loophole offered an opportunity. Most slaves came from West Africa, where raising chickens had a long history. Soon, African-Americans in the colonial South — both enslaved and free — emerged as the “general chicken merchants,” wrote one white planter. At George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, slaves were forbidden to raise ducks or geese, making the chicken “the only pleasure allowed to Negroes,” one visitor noted. The pleasure was not just culinary, but financial: In 1775, Thomas Jefferson paid two silver Spanish bits to slaves in exchange for three chickens. Such sales were common.

Black cooks were in a position to influence their masters’ choice of dishes, and they naturally favored the meat raised by their friends and relatives. One of the West African specialties that caught on among white people was chicken pieces fried in oil — the meal that now, around the world, is considered quintessentially American”.

http://www.andrewlawler.com/ … Why did the chicken cross the world

 

 

Written by gamboa

February 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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