At this dinner series, the dining table is a global crossroads

Feature for WHYY, July 19 2018


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“Welcome home, welcome home,” Frances Rose Subbiando greets me in her soothing lilt when I arrive at the house she shares with her partner and three roommates in Southwest Philadelphia. It’s the first time I’ve been here, but I do feel at home, trying to stay out of the way as Frances Rose and partner Acorn Swiggum bake plantains and steam okra for a dinner they’re hosting here tonight.

On the menu is a taste of 18th-century Philadelphia, and anyone interested in ethically sourced foods and good conversation is welcome to join. It’s part of a series of meals through which Frances Rose and Acorn, both cooks and plant-lovers, have been tracing the migration of ingredients and cuisines across the globe.

“We’re traveling the world around our dining table,” says Frances Rose, who describes herself as a community cook and community hearth-keeper, “allowing us to feel into the foodways, the migrations — both forced and chosen — of people, plants, cultures, cooking techniques.”

Tonight’s meal is a little special. It’s the culmination of a leg on this culinary journey that has followed African cuisine through the diaspora.

Over the past few months, drawing on research and local cookbooks, Frances Rose and Acorn have hosted dinners inspired by West African traditions, then crossed the Atlantic into the Caribbean for dinners themed around Haitian and Puerto Rican flavors, then followed the slave trade into the American South. Now they’ve landed here, for a cuisine not typically associated with Philadelphia: Creole, a blend of European and African cultures more commonly linked to New Orleans.

But, says Frances Rose, who draws heavily on the research of food historians Jessica Harris and William Woys Weaver, Philly was a Creole city too.

“In the 18th century this was the shipbuilding capital of the 13 colonies, which meant lots of ships, both slave and trade, coming from Africa, coming from the Caribbean,” she says. “There were many black people here in the 1700s, both enslaved and free. So these foodways, these ingredients, these flavors, they all came too.”

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Photographs by Kimberly Paynter

radioJen Kinneyreporting