How can you ever get tired of a good, home-cooked meal? I know I cannot- the idea of fried chicken, fried okra, mac & cheese, and maybe a little corn bread on the side makes my mouth water.
But wait a minute... you may not think of those dishes as your home cooking. But down here, we do.
Southern cooking or for the gastronomically inclined, cuisine, got it roots from African Americans. If you are looking for good, old fashioned, southern comfort food - that's what you are going to find. The most authentic in flavor, ingredients, and the way you actually cook the food comes from what is known as Soul Food.
The whole idea of labeling this style of cooking came from the 1960s, however, the actual roots of it all can be traced back to Africa, and to a lesser extent, Europe. Apparently rice and okra were the staples in the West African diet and were introduced to North Americans as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave route.
Foods such as corn and cassava from the Americas, turnips from Morocco, and cabbage from Portugal would play an important part in the history of African-American cooking.
Since it was illegal for slaves to learn to read or write, many of the recipes that were developed were passed along orally, and even through stories, until the emancipation. The first soul food cookbook is attributed to Abby Fisher, entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking and published in 1881.
From there, hundreds of cookbooks have graced the shelves of every book store and library in America. Southern homes prepare many of the traditional recipes every Sunday. It's tradition. It's a way of life here.
One of the most interesting things I have come to realize in the past year or so, and even more so aware now, is that much of African American history and culture is a part of every person born and raised in the south's history and culture. All of the way down to the very food we put in our mouths. The food we consider "home cooking," what brings comforting memories is nothing more than the fantastic, flavorful foods and recipes that the African Americans created in America's earliest years.
The whole reason I started thinking about the significance of Soul Food is because an event will be coming up soon that I will be attending and working at, and I wanted to understand the cultural significance of what we are sharing. At the end of the day, it's a piece of history, of culinary art, and an important cornerstone of the southern tradition.
If you are curious as to what exactly IS Soul Food, here is a list of the more popular dishes:
Pork for flavoring of vegetables and legumes, gravys/sauces or as a meat - Ham & Bacon
Smoked Ham Hocks
Pigs feet (slow cooked, sometimes pickled or often eaten with a vinegar based sauce).
Fatback (fatty, cured, salted pork, especially the first layers of the back of the pig primarily used in slow-cooking as a seasoning).
Chitterlings or "chitlins" (the cleaned and prepared intestines of pigs, slow cooked and also often eaten with a vinegar-based sauce or sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried) or hog maws (the muscular lining of the pig's stomach, sliced and often cooked with chitterlings).
Poultry giblet, such as chicken liver and gizzards.
Turkey neck bones
Black Eyed Peas (mixed with rice becomes Hoppin' John)
Various greens, including collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens
Okra (vegetable which is native to West Africa, and is eaten fried or stewed and is a traditional ingredient of gumbo. It is sometimes cooked with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot peppers)
Sweet potatoes, often parboiled, sliced, then adorned with butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or other spices, and baked; commonly called "candied sweets" or "candied yams"
Cornbread (a quickbread often baked or made in a skillet, commonly made with buttermilk and seasoned with bacon fat; inspired by the great availability of corn in the Americas and by Native American cultures. Particular variations: hoecake, a type of cornbread which is very thin in texture, and fried in cooking oil in a skillet, whose name is derived from field hands' often cooking it on a shovel or hoe held to an open flame; Hushpuppies, balls of cornmeal deep-fried, usually with salt and diced onions).
-Grits (a cooked coarsely ground cornmeal of Native American origin)
If you are interested in sampling some REALLY good soul food - you have a chance next Saturday in Macon, Georgia.
You could attend the "TASTE OF SOUL" at the Tubman Museum. It will take place on Saturday, April 14th from 3-7pm, and the cost is $25. (Benefits the museum.) This year's theme - "Cooking With a Taste of Soul - Just like Grandma used to make!" This event features great food, live entertainment, music, dance and "Georgia - Men & Women Who Burn." For more information call: 478-743-8544.
Happy Cooking my friends! PS - What's your favorite "SOUL FOOD?" Also, I would be curious to know what your favorite soul food restaurant is!