February is known for Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, but it’s Black History month, too.
It’s a time when events and special lessons help convey the important contributions made by black men and women in the arenas of literature, civil rights, music, inventions, science, sports, entertainment and other fields of endeavor.
And, in that context, it’s a great time to learn about how history has had an influence on the flavors of food.
Obviously, there are regional and historical influences on the flavors of food, such as Caribbean, East African and soul food.
Some may wonder what distinguishes soul food from southern food.
Soul food is a type of southern food.
The two types of food are similar, but it helps to know the history — and the sad reality of the origins of soul food.
While not called soul food initially, this type of cuisine came from the states known as the Deep South — Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
Originally, it began as the basic foods that the enslaved African-Americans were able to eat. Those typically included leftovers or less desirable cuts of meat; starch, such as cornmeal, rice, or sweet potatoes; and, leafy greens.
To make the meat more palatable, black cooks would fry the food in fat or add fat when boiling it, and then would add seasonings and flavors, such as red hot peppers and vinegar. Those flavors are now a popular combination for hot sauce, a common condiment in the South.
Black families would garden to increase their food supply, as a means of survival. These families were resourceful, growing food that came with them during the slave trade, such as okra and black-eyed peas.
While many think of soul food including meat, such as pork — initially the cuisine was mainly a plant-based diet.
During the Emancipation and Reconstruction periods, the freed slaves and their descendants still ate mainly a plant-based diet, with meat used to add flavor, or for special occasions.
Over time, as the African-American community began to prosper, meat became a more regular staple, according to soul food cookbook author Adrian Miller.
Soul food and southern food are influenced by each, with soul food originating first.
While very similar, the primary difference is flavor.
Soul food typically is spicier, sweeter or saltier.
Why do they call it soul food?
The term “soul” started during the Civil Rights movement and became a popular adjective.
Black jazz musicians faced racism trying to play at various venues, and began to play more in their churches instead, giving it a more gospel sound, where the term “soul music” started being used.
From there, “soul” was used to describe other components of black culture, and the word became common when describing the recipes.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Here is a recipe, Soul Food Collard Greens, from iheartrecipes.com:
- 4 pounds collard greens, cleaned and cut
- 1 pound bacon ends, chopped
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 large jalapeno pepper, sliced
- 2 tablespoons to 3 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar
Place the bacon ends in a pot, and place the pot over medium heat.
Brown the bacon, then add in the diced onions and cook until the onions start to sweat (similar to sauté but not meant to brown, only meant to release moisture on low heat for 5 minutes to 10 minutes, or until onions have softened and turned translucent).
Add in the minced garlic, then cook for 1 minute.
Pour in the chicken broth, and turn the heat up to high and let boil for 20 minutes.
Pour in the 2 cups of water, and turn the heat down to medium.
Start adding in the collard greens into the pot.
Once all of the greens are in the pot, sprinkle in the seasoning salt and ground black pepper.
Add in the sliced jalapeno and the vinegar, and stir the ingredients.
Cover the pot, and let simmer for 1 hour and 10 minutes over medium heat. Be sure to peek in and stir periodically.
Published February 12, 2020
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