History of Food

History of Food

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21 - June is National Soul Food Month



JUNE 21 - Today in Food History
- National Peaches & Cream Day
Today is one of those days in food history that seems boring – nothing of significance in relation to food occurred on this day.  We all have been so looking for the beginning of summer, perhaps that is significant enough.  It doesn’t help me in regards of what to post about for June 21. 
You might recall that I addressed the topics that are designated for each month – in addition to separate daily designations.  I have discovered that June is National Soul Food Month
Soul food cuisine consists of a selection of foods traditional in the cuisine of African Americans. It is closely related to the cuisine of the Southern United States. The descriptive terminology may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common definer used to describe African-American culture (for example, soul music).
Soul food derived from prized southern dishes during the American slavery era. Soul Food was mostly known as Southern or comfort food, and is now the foundation for bringing back memories of family dinners and special celebrations. This method of cooking also introduced the foundation from which many popular dishes are made from today. Between 300 -1619, the first group of Africans landed in America in Jamestown, Virginia. African American slaves were farmers, cattle raisers, and fishermen and introduced several plants and seeds to plant such as black-eyed peas, okra, sweet sorghum, and watermelons as part of American’s crops and foods.
The slaves created their own meals from the leftovers that their masters did not eat. They often exchanged recipes verbally with each other which led to the development of African American cuisine. This was how many of their foods were gathered for their meals.
The term soul food became popular in the 1960s. The origins of soul food, however, are much older and can be traced back to Africa—and to a lesser extent, to Europe, as well. Foods such as rice, sorghum (known by Europeans as "guinea corn"), and okra — all common elements of West African cuisine — were introduced to the Americas as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They became dietary staples among enslaved Africans. They also comprise an important part of the cuisine of the American south, in general.
Many culinary historians believe that in the beginning of the 14th century, around the time of early Euro-African exploration, European explorers brought their own food supplies and introduced them into local African diets. 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.
When the Europeans began their African slave trade in the early 15th century, the diet of newly-enslaved Africans changed on the long journeys away from their homelands. It was during this time that some of the indigenous crops of Africa began showing up in the Americas.
European enslavers fed their captive workers as cheaply as possible, often with leftover/waste foods from the plantation, forcing slaves to make do with the ingredients at hand. In slave households, 'vegetables' consisted of the tops of turnips, beets, and dandelions. Soon, African-American slaves were cooking with new types of "greens": collards, kale, cress, mustard, and pokeweed. They also developed recipes which used lard, cornmeal, and offal; discarded cuts of meat such as pigs' feet, oxtail, ham hocks, pig ears, hog jowls, tripe, and skin. Cooks added onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf as flavor enhancers. Slave owners provided their slaves with the poor parts of the pig such as the small intestines: chitterlings/"Chitlins" were a dish of poor people in medieval England and the name was adopted by the African-Americans through their European slave owners. Some African-American slaves supplemented their meager diets by gardening small plots given to them for growing their own vegetables; many engaged in subsistence fishing and hunting, which yielded wild game for the table. Foods such as raccoon, squirrel, opossum, turtle, and rabbit were, until the 1950s, very common fare among the (then-still) predominantly rural and southern African-American population.
Although their love for cooking included pork, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and spoon bread, breakfast was considered the most important meal of the day. A typical breakfast consisted of hoecakes and molasses.
During that time in history, young girls learned to prepare traditional foods such as fufu, which is made with vegetables and pounded yams. Fufu was often served with soup, stew, or roasted meat. The native foods were yams, vegetables, rice, and groundnuts. Africans were also very skilled in frying, roasting, grilling, boiling, and steaming their foods. They also had special talents preparing wild game, and planting small gardens including wild greens and fruit. Women often worked 16 to 18 hours in the fields then prepared one-pot meals for their family.
Cooking was mostly done on open pits or fireplaces with large swing black pots and big irons cast skillets and were prepared by black cooks. Cooking on open pits is now used as grills.
The slaves did not use measuring cups or cooking devices. They had no cookbooks or formal training in cooking. They had no one to learn from except each other.
It was a great challenge for them to create good food with primitive tools and very limited ingredients. They also cooked such foods as biscuits, baked beans, a variety of breads, and barbecue.
They used large amounts of fat, sugar, and salt to season their foods because it was readily available. Salt was also used as a preservative since there was no refrigeration or other methods to keep food cool.
When testing their food for doneness, they used their own senses, and when they felt the need, they added a pinch of seasoning to enhance the flavor of their dish. They knew by their instinct when their food was done as many cooks know today. That’s also why you see many recipes that read "a pinch of salt and pepper" or “bake until golden brown.”
Cajun and Creole were also a familiar style of cooking and included such popular dishes as jambalaya, bread pudding, desserts, dirty rice, gumbo, and red beans and rice.
During that time in history, black cooks verbally exchanged recipes as they remembered them and today many Southerners still cook without a recipe, just by simply remembering main ingredients and adding seasonings and spices to their taste. This way of cooking has produced many great cooks.
By the end of the Civil War, Black Americans cooked on cattle farms and were pioneers as farmers and survived off the land. During these hard and difficult times, they adapted their own cooking habits and techniques and formed many new ones along the way.
In the 1960‘s, Southern-style cooking by Black Americans was renamed “Soul Food” in honor of black cooks who prepared food during the slavery era. It was also a reminder that these cooks paved the way in the development of African American cuisine - now soul food.
Today, people from all walks of life, young and old, enjoy soul food cuisine. Soul food is also prepared in many households in America for family gatherings and special celebrations. The foundation for soul food was laid many years ago, and today and it continues to be a living tradition through the revival of virtually many restaurants across the country that serves and celebrates soul food.
Being a Midwest girl, I can’t help think about how the lines between soul food and the food I grew up with are oh so similar.  Whatever the case may be, I looked forward to Sunday dinners at my home in Missouri, it was a epitome of soul food cuisine.

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