T H E  S W E E T  S T O R Y

The yams of West Africa were carried in the souls of Black folks across the Middle Passage to the Americas.  Slaves were fed the American version of yams during their tortuous journey from Africa to America. The sweet potato discovered and used by European Americans from Native America cultivation probably originated in South or Central American. The American sweet potato with black eyed peas comprised a large portion of slaves’ rations for sustenance and have continued to serve as a conduit to nutrition, delight and fellowship.

Perhaps it is that cultural practice of celebrating the small things, adapting something ordinary into something extraordinary and investing in relationships, that resonates with me and has inspired my culinary and customary traditions. I love extending good food as an offering to those in my circle of influence.  

Alice Water, cook, food advocate and author, began the “from farm to table” movement during the era when I was coming of age as an adult and raising my children. She and Martha Stewart crystallized for me in the modern context what my mother, grandparents, Edna Lewis, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver and countless unsung black icons of agriculture and culinary arts passed on to me as rich legacy. The creation and adornment of a home with the beauty of creativity and resourcefulness in both their decor and food. Creating a space for celebration, connection and community through some of history's most difficult times for Black families and the Black American community. The women before me, both familiar and of history books have so perfectly captured my sentiments about the power in breaking bread together. Food is the opportunity to foster love, affection, understanding and positive community engagement.  

When my children were growing up our holiday dinners were graced with friends, family and acquaintances, sometimes numbering close to 40 people.  I used to read recipes like novels scouring cookbooks and magazines for flavor and spice combinations and trying them out on family and friends.  As a pastor, artist and combination intro-extrovert I love people.  I love creating spaces for conversation and community.  Our lives are made better by food, fellowship and community. 

The Cumberbatch's Sweet Tater Torte is baked from the heart: it is memory, a tribute to those who have gone before, love emanating from the work of my hands, and an ode to family fellowship and the community table.


Jen Cumberbatch

Using Format