"I tell people all the time, when I'm cooking I don't necessarily have to measure anything," says Shae Williams-Adams. "I just sprinkle until my ancestors tell me to stop." Williams-Adams, 41, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., has traveled the US as a national parks chef for the last 15 years. She wondered where her cooking gene came from until she discovered a family connection to Charity "Duchess" Channing Quamino, an 18th-century enslaved woman so renowned for her pastry that it may have secured her freedom. Reportedly born in 1739 in present-day Ghana or Senegal, Duchess Quamino was kidnapped as a preteen and brought to Newport, R.I., where she was enslaved by a local couple. "Duchess, she was kind of sweet," says Estelle T. Barada, who portrays Quamino in colonial Newport reenactments and has recreated her most famous recipe -- her frosted plum cake. "A very gentle woman. I mean, she used to feed people with sugar." Williams-Adams, noting that hate is learned but love is instinctual, says: "Duchess chose to lean into love through her food."

Read Full Story