We all know what soul food is and isn’t but do you know why you like soul food? Do you know the history behind eating cornbread and greens? Soul food is special because behind every recipe lies a piece of Black history most of may not know. Porscha Williams Fuller, a researcher with her Masters in Public History, specializes in African American Southern foodways, the Great Migration and the urban Black experience in the U.S. from the 1920s until the present day. She will be penning thoughtful and delicious recipes along with the history behind it. Don’t fret; this won’t be your typical, back-down-memory lance, run-of-the-mill food recipes. Instead, Williams Fuller will focus on more of the reason why we eat certain foods and how it came to be. I am so excited to welcome Porscha and have her expertise on Fabulize.
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Below, you will find a brief history about souther food and dishes you may or may not heard of.
Soul Food is a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States. Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in “soul food” are also regional meals and comprise a part of other Southern US cooking, as well. The style of cooking originated during American slavery. African slaves were given only the “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat from their masters (while the white slave owners got the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc.).
We also had only vegetables grown for ourselves. After slavery, many, being poor, could afford only off-cuts of meat, along with offal. Farming, hunting and fishing provided fresh vegetables, fish and wild game, such as possum, rabbit, squirrel and sometimes waterfowl. The intersectionality of African food preparations preserved, class status, laws that prevented equal access and innovative survival prevailed. Africans living in America at the time (and since) more than made do with the food choices we had to work with. Dishes or ingredients commonly found in soul food include:
Biscuits (a shortbread similar to scones, commonly served with butter, jam, jelly, sorghum or cane syrup, or gravy; used to wipe up, or “sop,” liquids from a dish).
Black-eyed peas (cooked separately or with rice, as hoppin’ john).
Butter beans (immature lima beans, usually cooked in butter).
Catfish (dredged in seasoned cornbread and fried). Chicken (often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour).
Chitterlings or chitlins: (the cleaned and prepared intestines of hogs, slow-cooked and often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce; sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried).
Chow-chow (a spicy, homemade pickle relish sometimes made with okra, corn, cabbage, green tomatoes and other vegetables; commonly used to top black-eyed peas and otherwise as a condiment and side dish).
Collard greens (usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens).
Cornbread (shortbread often baked in an iron skillet, sometimes seasoned with bacon fat). Chicken fried steak (beef deep fried in flour or batter, usually served with gravy).
Cracklins: (commonly known as pork rinds and sometimes added to cornbread batter).
Fatback (fatty, cured, salted pork used to season meats and vegetables).
Fried fish: (any of several varieties of fish whiting, catfish, porgies, bluegills dredged in seasoned cornmeal and deep-fried).
Fried ice cream: (Ice cream deep-frozen and coated with cookies and fried).
Grits, often served with fish.
Ham hocks (smoked, used to flavor vegetables and legumes).
Hog maws (or hog jowls, sliced and usually cooked with chitterlings).
Hot sauce (a condiment of cayenne peppers, vinegar, salt, garlic and other spices often used on chitterlings, fried chicken and fish not the same as “Tabasco sauce”, which has heat, but little flavor).
Lima beans (see butter beans).
Macaroni and cheese.
Mashed potatoes (usually with butter and condensed milk). Meatloaf (typically with brown gravy).
Milk and bread (a “po’ folks’ dessert-in-a-glass” of slightly crumbled cornbread, buttermilk and sugar). Mustard greens (usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens).
Neckbones (beef neck bones seasoned and slow-cooked). Okra: (African vegetable eaten fried in cornmeal or stewed, often with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot peppers).
Pigs’ feet: (slow-cooked like chitterlings, sometimes pickled and, like chitterlings, often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce).
Ribs (usually pork, but can also be beef ribs).
Rice (usually served with red beans).
Sorghum syrup (from sorghum, or “Guinea corn,” a sweet grain indigenous to Africa introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century; see biscuits). Succotash (originally, a Native American dish of yellow corn and butter beans, usually cooked in butter).
Sweet potatoes (often parboiled, sliced and then baked, using sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter or margarine, commonly called “candied yams”; also boiled, then pureed and baked into pies).
Turnip greens (usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens).
Yams: (not actually yams, but sweet potatoes).
Though soul food originated in the South, soul food restaurants — from fried chicken and fish “shacks” to upscale dining establishments-are in every African-American community in the nation, especially in cities with large black populations, such as Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
Over centuries, soul food has been cooked and seasoned with pork products, and fried dishes are usually cooked with hydrogenated vegetable oil (“shortening” or “Crisco”), which is a trans fat. Unfortunately, regular consumption of these ingredients without significant exercise or activity to work the calories off often contributes to disproportionately high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes. It has also been a factor in African-Americans often having a shortened lifespan. More modern methods of cooking soul food include using more healthful alternatives for frying (liquid vegetable oil or canola oil) and cooking/stewing using smoked turkey instead of pork.