By Nicole D. Batey
Special at AFRO
Much of American cuisine is influenced by African American cuisine and traditions. The phrase “soul food” originated in the mid-1960s, when “soul” was a common word used to describe urban or black culture.
Soul food is the basis of African American which, at its core, involves home cooking originating in the rural south. “High on The Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America,” is a Netflix documentary based on the book of the same name by Jessica B. Harris. It helps explain and explore the culinary connection between Africa, America, and the history of soul food.
In an interview with Netflix, Ms Harris said of her visit to Benin, West Africa “I will never forget the first time the matriarch made something called leaf sauce, which simply means leaf sauce , but it reminded me so much of collard greens, the taste of things my grandmother cooked.
Crops like okra, Carolina golden rice, black-eyed peas, and yams originated in Africa and were brought to the Americas, along with Africans who were captured and enslaved. Since the enslaved Africans were the ones who tended the crops in the fields, cooked and prepared the meals in the “big house”, they influenced the palates of their owners.
According to “High on The Hog,” President Thomas Jefferson loved macaroni and cheese, a dish created by his enslaved chef, James Hemings, also Sally Hemings’ brother. Macaroni and cheese is a popular dish today among Americans, especially the black community.
After emancipation from slavery in the 1860s, free blacks were often employed as cooks in white households and in restaurants, incorporating their culinary influence into their meals. These food preparations were also carried north during the Great Migration and were solidified in black culture.
Although there were regional variations, such as the Louisiana Creole influence, many of the same foods were eaten throughout the South. Corn was raised as a staple food, to be ground into cornmeal for cornbread, hoecakes in a griddle, and hush puppies, usually fried with fish. According to Brittanica, maize also provided hominy grits, to be eaten as a breakfast food or as a side dish.
In a previous interview with Epicurious, Adrian Miller, winner of the James Beard Award for his book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,” said, “The soul greens are cabbage, cabbage, mustard, turnip, and kale. For anyone who has discovered kale in the past five to ten years, welcome to the party. We’ve been eating it for about 300.”
Soul food represents a story of survival and pride that has been passed down from generation to generation over the years, invoking memories of the past. It has become particularly popular over the past 20 years, and now that healthier and more creative versions of these dishes are more available, soul food is sharing the African American experience across the country and around the world.
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