“You know I am no epicure”: Enslaved Voices in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s Receipt Book

By Rachel Love Monroy

The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen

The Pinckney Papers Project at the University of South Carolina includes both the Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) and Harriott Pinckney Horry (1748-1830) and The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen. Both editions are published by Rotunda, the digital imprint of the University of Virginia Press, in its “American Founding Era Collection.” The Pinckney Family represents one of the most important, yet lesser-known, families of the founding period. Eliza is best known for the management of her father’s South Carolina plantations at a young age and subsequent experimentation with cultivating improved strains of indigo in the colony. Her sons, and their cousin, are the subject of The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825), his brother Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828), and their cousin Charles Pinckney (1756-1824). They served as military, economic, political, and diplomatic leaders in South Carolina and the nation during and after the American Revolution, working as governors, diplomats, military officers, and delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

 

Image 1 – The first page of Eliza’s receipt book marked simply with her name and the date 1756, as well as Rect. Book No. 2. at the top. Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

The pages of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s receipt book reveal one hundred and thirty-nine recipes: ninety-eight culinary, thirty-nine medical, and two household related. With titles from “Plumb Marmalade” to “For an Ague of Fever” they depict an image of Eliza in the kitchen testing, improving, and adjusting her own concoctions. When she reminds us “your mold must be greased with fatt bacon before you put your wafers inn” and “be sure to grease it again each time,” the intimacy of her tone, knowledge of the ingredients, and tactile descriptions paint a picture of Eliza’s fingers stained with currant juice, hands sticky and scented of rosewater, and palate carefully judging.[1] Yet her familiar tone and interjections of advice obscure a different reality. The surviving manuscript is conspicuously clean of grease marks and stains. Eliza’s name is alone printed on the front, but what follows is a forced collective effort not a solitary enterprise. It is Eliza’s work, but it is also the work of enslaved people, their thoughts, inventions, ideas, and alterations. Eliza has erased and appropriated black hands mixing, chopping, stirring, kneading, and folding; black mouths tasting, black minds adjusting, and black voices retelling the recipes recorded in her own hand.

As a plantation mistress in colonial South Carolina Eliza Pinckney was a slave owner. Historians estimate that at the time of her husband Charles Pinckney’s death she kept between two and three hundred slaves.[2] She grew up among slaves in Antigua and inherited them from both her father, George Lucas, and late husband. A 1745 inventory of her father’s slaves at Garden Hill Plantation listed 79 individuals by name.[3] Yet Eliza’s receipt book included no passing mention of black enslaved labor to produce ingredients or execute recipes, no discussion of “Mary-Ann” who “understands roasting poultry in the greatest perfection you ever saw,” or old Ebba who fattens the birds “to as great a nicety.” She left out Daphne who made “a loaf of very nice bread.”[4] In Eliza’s day, recipe books transitioned from products of independent women perfecting their recipes to collections of recipes reflecting the wishes of the household mistress more than her labor. Culinary skill transferred to the author of recipes and away from those who painstakingly executed them. Cooking was still an act of the hands, but not hands in peeling, dicing, or folding, but a hand grasping a pen and recording a recipe on the written page.[5]

Image 2 – An example of the recipes included in Eliza’s receipt book. This page includes recipes for “Little Pudings” and “Rusks.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

Eliza consumed her slaves’ physical labor, as well as their creative power: their knowledge of native ingredients’ medicinal power in her remedies. Her whitewashing of recipes obscures both the role that slaves played and her own contribution. It is difficult to know how the drama unfolded. Did Eliza dictate and observe, or pass along recipes as an absentee cook? Where did her knowledge end and theirs begin? Were these Eliza’s ideas, or recipes developed by enslaved Africans for which she simply took credit? Eliza readily admitted, “You know I am no epicure, but I am pleased they [the slaves] can do things so well, when they are put to it” Eliza kept “young Ebba to do the drudgery part, fetch wood, and water, and scour, and learn as much as she is capable of Cooking and Washing,” while “Old Ebba boils the cow’s victuals, raises and fattens the poultry, Moses is imployed from breakfast until 12 o’clock without doors, after that in the house. Pegg washes and milks.” Mary-Ann pickled oysters very well, while Daphne cooks.[6]

Image 3 – A medicinal recipe from Eliza’s receipt book entitled: “For the Flux.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society

Eliza discounted enslaved workers’ intimate knowledge of rice and sweet potatoes from West Africa and their ability to knead bread to its perfect consistency because they were merely an instrument in her cooking. Hers was the creative enterprise, intellectual pursuit, and scientific experiment. Just as Aristotle had called slaves an “instrument of their owner” a “living tool” Eliza’s slaves acted as her culinary instruments.[7] They were the knives, the ladles, and the frying pans. The kitchen tools were an extension of slave bodies, because to Eliza the slaves were tools themselves, that she held and manipulated. She recognized their contribution no more than she might have noticed the utility of a particular spoon or knife in performing the job at hand. Because just like these inanimate tools, Eliza believed tools of flesh and blood could not perform the task without her. They needed Eliza’s mind, her knowledge, and her creativity to breathe life into their bodies and cook.

 

[1] To make Wafers, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012..

[2] Ted, Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (New York, NY: 1993), 262.

[3] List of Slaves, George Lucas, May 1745, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[4]Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[5]Wendy, Wall, Recipes for Thought Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 50

[6] Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[7] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross (London, 1980), 212.