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ABOUT US

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Patra Lee Shanklin Jones

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Annie Rebecca Stubbs Dirden

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Rebecca Lynne Dirden Swindle

IT’S IN THE DNA

From the moment that my great-grandmother, Patra Lee Jones could stand on the bottom of an upturned bucket so that she could reach the surface of the kitchen table, she cooked. Patra Lee learned to cook the same way her mother, Julia Ann Shanklin Jones, learned….by doing, by tasting, by feeling, by hearing, and by remembering.  Back then, recipes and how to prepare them were never written down for obvious reasons. To the contrary, recipes and food rituals were spoken and taught.  Patra Lee learned to cook in the same way her mother learned…by doing, by tasting, by feeling, by hearing and by remembering. By the age of 16 years old, Patra Lee bore two daughters, Annie Rebecca, and Jesse Mary. Annie, like her foremothers could only find work as a domestic servant, managing the kitchens and homes of white families. However, it was a little different for Annie because she got to go to school. Annie got to go to school. Although she possessed only a sixth-grade education, it was she who began to write down recipes of all the things that she, her Mother and Grandmother created and served.

Her journey north during the Great Migration led her to the mountains of Appalachia, to the state of West Virginia, home of the Cherokee, Iroquois, Manahoac, Meherrin, Monacan, Nottaway, Occaneechi, Saponi and Shawnee and large numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Scotland, Hungary, Italy, Greece, and Poland. It was in this this mountain melting pot of native people and immigrants where Annie Rebecca deepened her skills and knowledge of diverse cooking traditions and global cuisines. Food was shared and sampled, kitchen to kitchen. And, Annie would not only master their recipes, she would make them better. That was her gift.

It was Annie Rebecca, for whom I am named, who taught me and all of her children and grands, how to cook. As a Grandma's Girl, I was in every kitchen that she graced chopping, peeling, dicing, julienning and cleaning at first. When she felt that I was ready, she taught me mixing, braising, frying, rolling and baking. She passed along to me good cookery skills, masterful presentation, flavor profiles and the intangible gift of palate. My Grandmother knew what good food should taste, feel and smell like like from the garden to the plate. So, I invested not only in myself with the goal of building a legacy business for my family.   

 

My mission is twofold: 1) to create products that celebrated the Pan African and Pan Latin diasporas, and 2) to tell stories. Using the recipes handed down to me by generations of foremothers spanning four continents, I am reclaiming their time. I am inspired by the rich tapestry of cultures and culinary traditions of the unsung and invisible chefs of color who kept families and communities together through food.  My why is very simple: to pay homage to those who have either invented or contributed to the craft of ice cream making. James Hemmings, Sallie Shadd, Augustus Jackson, Alfred Cralle and Rafael Malfavón Andrade to name a few.

 

I believe that there is a need, if not a mandate to recognize and honor the culinary genius of these ancestors, their methods, ingredients, concepts and foodways. Ice cream is the perfect medium for sharing these stories and treasured experiences.

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WHY 1848?

The year 1848 marks the year of independence for Edmond Albius, who as a 12-year-old slave on the island of Bourbon (modern-day Réunion) invented a method to hand pollinate vanilla orchids. Prior to Edmond’s discovery, the only people who were able to cultivate it successfully were the natives of South and Central America and the Caribbean, the Totonacs.

The uprooting of the vanilla orchid from its native land is akin to and consistent with the global slave trade. History tells us that Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez “discovered” vanilla in Mexico and brought it to Spain; however, his homeland lacked the stingless Melipone bee which was the plant’s chief pollinator. This insect was native to Mexico. Almost three hundred years after vanilla was first “discovered,” the French and Dutch colonists got ahold of the orchid; however, they too lacked the ability to grow and pollinate it with any degree of success.

In the 1820s, French colonialists brought the orchids to their colonies with the belief that they’d be able to grow and pollinate the plant in climate-friendly, tropical regions. But the vines remained sterile because again, there was no native insect that would pollinate them. Until 1841.

Edmond figured out how to hand pollinate the vanilla blooms using a stick and his thumb. His intellect and curiosity had achieved something that so many had failed to do before him. His method completely transformed the cultivation of vanilla. Edmond was trotted about by his masters to teach other slaves held on other plantations his techniques. Vanilla plantations and production began to sprout up all across the globe, from Madagascar to Uganda, from India to Indonesia.

Since hand pollination of the vanilla orchid was discovered by a black, slave child, the method and its creator were immediately contested. The stories abound. One of which is how botanist Jean-MichelClaude Richard claimed to have taught the technique to Edmond three to four years prior to his discovery. This tale went on through the beginning of the 20th century when some in the French press made the claim that such a discovery could not possibly be made by a Black man, that Edmond was in fact white.

When the French abolished slavery in 1848, Edmond was made a free man; but he never did receive any financial benefit from his discovery. Edmond enabled many French colonialists to make a fortune; however, he died penniless in 1880. today about 75 percent of the world’s vanilla comes from the islands of Madagascar and Réunion. It is because of Edmond that this brand exists. May we never forget.

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