The Astute Recorder


EASY SHRIMP RECIPE: boiled shrimp in beer

Shrimp Boiled in Beer and a Tuskegee July 4th Menu

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I recently enjoyed an easy shrimp recipe. If you're a shrimp lover, you might be wondering if this dish is as good as it looks. I'm here to tell you, yes. Yes it is.

Delightfully succulent and rich, the beer-boiled shrimp recipe is a discovery from Carolyn Quick Tillery's The African-American Heritage Cookbook: Traditional Recipes and Fond Rembrances from Alabama's Renowned Tuskegee Institute (Carol Publishing Group, 1996). The book was a find in itself, featuring a collection of recipes from Booker T. Washington and notable scientist George Washington Carver.

Each year, I am always conflicted in terms of how celebratory July 4th is. It is—on one hand—monumental, honoring the birth of the U.S. and the pronouncement of our individual liberties. At the same time, it is disturbing. For starters, North America was inhabited by a number of native tribes, many of whom lost their land through bloody battles. And, the author of the Declaration of Independence was a hypocrite at best, most famously on the issue of slavery and his views regarding the equality of Africans. So when The African-American Heritage Cookbook practically jumped off the shelf of my local library and into my hands, I thought of it not only as a chance to learn about and savor the traditional meals of African Americans, many of which were developed during the slave era, but also to pay tribute to this cohort for its incomparable contributions to American society and culture.

In her introduction, Tillery talks about Tuskegee as the American motherland for Africans, having magnetized Booker T. Washington, a Hampton Institute graduate, in 1881 to the Alabama region to teach former slaves and their children. Up until 1915, when Washington died, the Up from Slavery author had created what Tillery calls a "black educational mecca."

The Food

Not surprisingly, the creation of many African-American recipes were born out of necessity. Tillery says when Washington had arrived in Alabama, "the common diet of the sharecroppers was fat pork, corn bread, and on occasion, molasses." And while Washington encouraged the sharecroppers to ask for a small plot of land for farming and to raise chickens, Carver would teach them how to best use the land for sustenance. Even better was the fact Carver was quite adept in the kitchen, allowing him to impart his recipes and food knowledge to the women in the community.

As for nutrition, Tillery notes many of the traditional recipes are high in fat and calories and therefore encourages substititutions if you are seeking a low-fat, healthier meal. "Smoked turkey is an excellent replacement for ham when cooking vegetables," Tillery says, and encourages reducing the suggested measurements of sugar and salt where needed.

Shrimp Boiled in Beer

The shrimp boiled in beer recipe can be found on page 16. Just a hint, you'll have fun creating the seasoning (spicy) and yes, those are bay leaves you see in the photo. Also, my tip: the directions call for draining the shrimp after they're fully cooked. However, I kept the broth and let the leftovers soak in it over night. When you heat up leftovers the next day, the flavors are even more magnificent.

I recommend using the beer and spice recipe with other shellfish. Having spent her early childhood in Chesapeake, Va., Jen Moore of Baking Bread, LLC and a friend of The Astute Recorder recalls, with adoring memories, her grandmother boiling crab in a large washtub of beer. "Beer," Jen says, "not only adds flavor but tenderizes the meat. It was the only way my grandmother cooked crab. It was her tradition."

Founding Day (July 4th) Menu

The African-American Heritage Cookbook features suggested Holiday menus for Juneteenth, President's Day or George Washington Carver's birthday and First Ladies' Day Tea (Feb. 14). Below is the menu for Founding Day or July 4th. The recipes for each dish are featured in Tillery's book:

  • Aunt Bay Bay's Barbecue Chicken
  • Fried Catfish Fillets
  • Cole Slaw
  • Festival Salad
  • Mixed Garden Salad and Garden Fresh Dressing
  • Corn Muffins
  • Hush Puppy Patties
  • Red Lemonade

Benne Seeds

In my piece about Thomas Jefferson and his favorite foods, I mention his fondness for sesame, which his slaves introduced to him. Known as "benne" in West Africa, these seeds are used to thicken dishes or enhance flavor. Brought by Africans to the South for good luck, the seeds were used to plant as a borders around cotton fields and upon harvesting, African Americans cooked with them in breads, cakes and wafers. The final recipe in Tillery's book is for benne seed wafers, which boast a blend of orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla. Mouth-watering.

To learn more The African- American Heritage Cookbook, click here.

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