Edna of Freetown
The Community of Freetown, Virginia
“I grew up in Freetown, Virginia, a community of farming people. It wasn’t really a town. The name was adopted because the first residents had all been freed from chattel slavery and they
wanted to be known as a town of Free People.
My grandfather had been one of the first. Over the years since I left home and lived in different cities, I have kept thinking about the people I grew up with and about our way of life. Whenever I go back to visit my sisters and brothers, we relive old times, remembering the past. And when we share again in gathering wild strawberries, canning, rendering lard, finding walnuts, picking persimmons, making fruitcake, I realize how much the bond that held us had to do with food.
Since we are the last of the original families, with no children to remember and carry on, I decided that I wanted to write down just exactly how we did things when I was growing up in Freetown that seemed to make life so rewarding. Although the founders of Freetown have passed away, I am convinced that their ideas do live on for us to learn from, to enlarge upon, and pass on to the following generations. But above all, I want to share with everyone who may read this a time and a place that is so very dear to my heart.”
--Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking
Freetown was Ms. Lewis’ “North Star.” Not only was it the place where she was born, but it was also the place where she learned how to cook. Ms. Lewis’ memories of growing up in Freetown helped to preserve an important historical time period and, through a culinary lens, provide us with insight into the lives, hopes, and dreams of a community recently freed from chattel slavery. Her memories also established Southern regional cuisine as an American classic and in so doing gave us a blueprint for today’s farm-to-table movement.
The people of Freetown were always foremost in Ms. Lewis’ thoughts. Their struggles and triumphs guided her thinking about food and the African-American community’s relationship to food. The original eleven families planted gardens and orchards, and used the valuable skills they had employed during slavery to fearlessly move forward with their lives.
Freetown still exists today, though none of the original families or buildings remain. Ms. Lewis’ family still speaks of Freetown and the people that made such an impression on her as a young girl. Ms. Lewis believed that we still have much to learn from those old folks who managed to endure and thrive in spite of their challenging circumstances. We hope that those of you who have taken the time to read “The Taste of Country Cooking” today will still find this to be true. We hope that Freetown and its lesson will become your “North Star” as well.