The food of the negroes is coarse and barbarously prepared, where they live apart from the whites. Their dwellings, as I have observed, have usually but one room, in which they sleep, cook, eat, sit, and receive company. Their culinary utensils, in most cases, consist simply of a large iron pot, an oven, and a few tin pans, all of which, most likely, have been previously well worn and thrown aside in the kitchens of the whites. Sometimes they own a spider, and generally a coffee pot and mill, which, as before, have been broken to use in the “buckra’s house.” They eat either directly out of the cooking instruments, or employ tin pans and cups, and (when they can afford it) thick-grained crockery painted with red flowers. They use their fingers or pocket-knives, steel forks, pewter spoons, and a worn-out table-knife or two. Their food rarely includes more than hominy, corn-bread, rank fat bacon sides, coffee, and cheap molasses for breakfast. The coffee is without milk and sweetened by molasses. At dinner they have corn-bread, rice, — if thrifty, — pork “sides,” and vegetables slimy with grease. At supper the same articles appear as at breakfast, minus the meat. On Sundays a plate of wheat bread, either biscuits or hoe-cake, is prepared for breakfast as a luxury, and what is left is warmed over for dinner and supper; and the coffee is rendered more palatable by a modicum of exceedingly coarse brown sugar. The gardens of the negroes contain only a few species of plants: sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes more rarely, peas, beans, water-melons, and collards, the last altogether preponderating. A family that can afford it keeps a pig impounded during the year, fattening it to kill at Christmas. But the negroes have yielded another proof of Macaulay’s assertion that in every human being there is a tendency to ameliorate his condition. They are ambitious to increase the comforts of life, as well as to give leisure to their females and education to their children. Many of them have invested their earnings in a cow, and most of them rear fowls. But side by side with this tendency may often be descried the fatal disposition that has been the curse of Ireland: the desire, if I may so put it, to burrow in a hole. They will buy an acre or two, build a cottage, move in, and live in sloth and filthiness on what they can raise on their half-cultivated lot.
All the above remarks will apply with but few variations to the condition of the sand-hill whites, most of whom are inveterate beggars.
Since the war many ladies, both among the aristocrats and the respectable class, have been obliged to do their own cooking. In fact, one is esteemed fortunate to be able to employ a cook. The kitchens used to be detached from the dwelling-houses, and after being cooked the meals were brought across the yard to the dining-room. But this plan has fallen into desuetude, the ladies, not liking to bring dishes across the yard, cooking in some apartment of the dwelling-house. Stoves have come into universal use, something which was not the case when there were plenty of negroes to bend over the fire. Most ladies, too, have to be their own house-maids, sweeping out, dusting, and making the beds. The boys cut the wood, and the girls assist their mother. With such families, as a consequence, hospitality has been below par. When company arrives, the lady of the house is taken entirely aback. She is usually altogether prevented from sitting in the parlor, as she has either to cook or to set the table. Even if servants are employed she has to oversee them, as negroes never do anything without being told. The fare is nearly always homely and (owing to the unskillfulness of the amateur lady cook or the ignorance and coarseness of the negro cook) badly prepared. The crockery is not only cracked and old, but is odd. I used to ask—until I learned better—the lady of the house, when dining out, to pass me her plate (as of course families very generally wait on themselves) so that I could help her to some dish before me. “Oh, no,” she would answer; “I won’t trouble you; just hand me the dish, and I will help myself.” Chance sometimes revealed the motive of her obstinacy. All the plates had been given to the guests and to the family (some of the latter, perhaps, taking soup-plates), while, concealed behind the tea-service, she was eating from a saucer. When one course (if, as is exceedingly infrequent, there is more than one) is finished, some member of the family, one of the boys, usually, will arise, clear the table, and put on the dessert.