About Bound to the Fire

In grocery store aisles and kitchens across the country, smiling images of "Aunt Jemima" and other historical and fictional black cooks can be found on various food products and in advertising. Although these images are sanitized and romanticized in American popular culture, they represent the untold stories of enslaved men and women who had a significant impact on the nation's culinary and hospitality traditions even as they were forced to prepare food for their oppressors.

Kelley Fanto Deetz draws upon archaeological evidence, cookbooks, plantation records, and folklore to present a nuanced study of the lives of enslaved plantation cooks from colonial times through emancipation and beyond. She reveals how these men and women were literally “bound to the fire” as they lived and worked in the sweltering and often fetid conditions of plantation house kitchens. These highly skilled cooks drew upon skills and ingredients brought with them from their African homelands to create complex, labor-intensive dishes such as oyster stew, gumbo, and fried fish. However, their white owners overwhelmingly received the credit for their creations.


Advanced Praise for Bound to the Fire

Deetz recasts the image of the plantation cook as a figure of power, dignity, and, frequently, resistance. This is a lively and insightful account of a still-largely-unfamiliar aspect of the history of American slavery.”
–Publisher’s Weekly

“Scholarly yet readable, Deetz’s book honors these American ancestors by reclaiming their rightful places and stories.”
— Emily Dziuban, Booklist, Starred Review

“Bound to the Fire is the from the ground up study we’ve been looking for about the material culture of the enslaved through the lens of the cooks who forged in flame classic Southern foodways. Kelley Deetz has given us a powerful analysis of the life of those Ancestors whose hands stirred the pots in sorrow’s kitchen.”
– Michael Twitty, Author, The Cooking Gene

Contact Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz

Interact with Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz just once and you will never forget her engaging style and commanding presence. Through her talks and writings, Dr. Deetz pushes to lead individuals to action. For additional information, contact her below.