PROVIDENCE—Phillis, a South County slave from Senegambia, cooked the best jonnycake.
didn’t create jonnycakes, but she perfected them,” said Ray Rickman,
executive director of Stages of Freedom, a Providence-based organization
promoting black cultural events.
This weekend, Stages of Freedom
will honor Phillis as it celebrates black history with its annual
luncheon, held at Pot de Feu in Providence. Each of the dishes to be
served are Phillis-inspired.
was a cook of Thomas Hazard, a major landowner in South Kingstown.
Hazard, who was also known as “College Tom,” distinguishing him from the
many other Thomas’ in the family, freed his slaves in the 1740s, but
many stayed on to work for him. Phillis was among them.
Many Rhode Island residents, Rickman said, don’t realize the history of slavery in the state.
most know almost nothing about black people being the most skilled
people in all of Rhode Island,” he added. “The reason for that was that
you had slaves, and they were there for life. This wasn’t a temporary
employee. Whatever you did, you got them to do it well, so if you were
rich, like the Hazards, you had 20 slaves and each one had a specialty.”
“Phillis,” he continued, “was just the best cook in all of South County.”
1797, College Tom’s grandson, Thomas Robinson Hazard, known as
“Shepherd Tom,” wrote a book that included an extensive recount of
Phillis’ cooking. The book, which wasn’t actually published until 1915,
was titled “The Jonny-Cake Papers.”
“We consider it the second
black cookbook in America,” Rickman said, “so rich is it with
descriptions of her dishes and cooking techniques.
Phillis and her cooking aren’t the only subjects of “The Jonny-Cake
Papers,” Rickman said, Shepard Tom “just kept coming back to her.”
He added that the Hazard family adored Phillis, considering her to be the best cook in the state.
maybe in America,” he added, “and they brag about her in this book—the
way she cooked, how she cooked, how much she used, where she got her
Within “The Jonny-Cake Papers,” Phillis’ cooking
technique is described in great detail. However, no actual recipes were
ever recorded. The recipes have been recreated based on the cooking
techniques detailed in the book by Bob Burke, owner of Pot Au Feu, with
help from Commis Juwan Cook and Keith Colinsky, both graduates of
Johnson and Wales.
“[Phillis] was first and foremost the authority on baking jonnycake using whitecap flint corn,” Rickman said.
That whitecap flint corn was ground at Hammond’s Mill, now the site the Gilbert Stuart Museum in Saunderstown.
Playing the role of Phillis Saturday will be actress Estelle Barada, who will double as mistress of ceremonies.
addition to jonnycakes, Saturday’s menu will include roasted turkey
breast with oyster cornbread stuffing, succotash, maple-glazed turnips
and, for dessert, rice pudding with dried cranberries and sweet cream.
Each dish, Rickman said, would have used ingredients completely local to
“She had really quality ingredients to use,” he
added. “And remember, the Hazards were rich people. So whatever she
wanted—she was a cook that said ‘I want’—and she would get.”
the event serves as a celebration of Black History Month, it will also
raise funds for the Swim Empowerment program. The program provides the
funds for children of color to take swimming lessons through the
YMCA—black teenagers are the highest risk for drowning, Rickman
explained. Last year, the program sent over 300 children ages 5 to 17 to
the YMCA for swim lessons.
“And this year the goal is 500,”
Rickman said. “Whatever we get we take 100 percent and pay for swimming
lessons.”Rickman said he looks forward to honoring Phillis Saturday,
while enjoying those delicious recipes of hers.
“The details of her secrets of, not only how to bake jonnycakes,” he said, “but how to serve them are extraordinary.”
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