February is Black History Month.
Founded as a celebration week by historian and journalist Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Black History Month is a time to celebrate African-American accomplishments, which are very much a part of American history. Food is a large part of the culture brought with the enslaved African people to the Americas between the 1600 and 1800s. Some items came over with them from their former west African countries while other foods were new to them, so cooks would add ingredients like spices and peppers to mimic familiar flavors. Now referred to as soul food, these foods have been passed down across generations.
Since we love talking about all types of food here at TMC Digital Media, we wanted to give a quick intro to some popular items you're sure to see next time you're in a soul food restaurant.
While rice was originally native to China, it was also an African crop in certain regions. Rice is not native to North America and came from Africa along with enslaved people who knew how to grow the crop. In warm, wet areas of states such as South Carolina and Georgia, the conditions were ideal for rice cultivation. Rice became popular, making some residents of cities like Savannah and Charleston very wealthy. Today rice is a mainstay in many cultures. In southern food, it is often served with a variety of different beans, including black eye peas or red beans.
While there are various types of greens like callaloo, which is popular in the Caribbean, collard greens are most identified with soul food. A relative of the cabbage and kale, collards are stewed with pork fat, onions, garlic, peppers, and liquid until the leaves have cooked down. Collards are often served with vinegar to bring out the taste. The liquid from the collards is called potlikker. Full of nutrients from the leaves, potlikker can flavor other dishes or serve on the side to dip cornbread.
Native to North America, corn is the main ingredient in many soul food dishes, including cornbread. Inexpensive to make, tasty, and filling, cornbread is still a staple in southern cooking. Just don't make the mistake of getting into a discussion with a Southerner about adding sugar to the recipe.
As Southern residents of the United States know, soul food is not only eaten by African Americans. It is a food category loved by residents of the South of all ethnicities. You can even find Asian soul food restaurants in some areas. And that's because soul food is American food. It's a part of our country's history, so grab a plate of hoppin' John and raise a fork to the history of soul food.