As June and National Soul Food Month celebrating the heritage and foodways of African Americans and peoples from the African diaspora wraps up, I’ve cooked, enjoyed and reflected on many of the dishes we’ve come to love as soul food. Greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese are just a few of the signature foods that I dished up for friends in the last few weeks. In sharing these dishes, I’ve peppered more than a few of you with questions—what do you cook; what’s your favorite thing to cook, and do you think soul food will become extinct?
We’re busy, calling for take-out, sometimes not cooking and trimming cook time from many of the dishes we’ve known as soul food. Now these tactics may solve today’s meal-making dilemmas, but long term how will they affect the legacy of soul food?
In polling a few friends it seems that greens are their numero uno soul food. Most admitted they’re not picking them as their mothers and grandmothers did. For most of them the green of choice was collards. I have a theory on collards—now don’t get me wrong, cooked properly they are delicious, but I think they’ve grown in popularity because they are easier to clean than mustards, turnips and kale which typically require serious hand-washing in a deep sink to free them of the soil they were grown in. Not picking them?? Both novice and experienced cooks are opting for the ready-to-use pre-washed and cellophane packaged greens at the supermarket. The pros and cons of those greens are fodder for a future post. Greens are food stars —they are packed with nutrients, have crossed over to the general population as a power food and are topics in the music of entertainers. In the music of Jill Scott, Fantasia, and Anthony Hamilton they are lovin’ collards, cornbread, and somebody.
Now cornbread fans weigh in on sweet versus non-sweet, with or without a browned top. On a recent shopping trip I found a prepared pan of cornbread labeled Northern Recipe Cornbread, which was sweet with a moist cake-like texture and browned top. Typically the Southern style cornbread is not as sweet, with a drier texture and distinct corn meal flavor. Our family recipe (below) is a blend of the two styles.
My goal is to keep soul food on the table along with the foods of peoples from the African diaspora. Whether it’s collards and cornbread, spice infused jerk chicken of Haiti, lemon-marinated chicken yassa of West Africa, or feijoada (fayzhe-wada), Brazil’s black bean and meat stew; these are the foods of our heritage. Let’s continue to include these foods in our menus, adapting the preparation to better-for-you cooking techniques that are flavafull.
Southern Style Cornbread
2 tablespoons margarine or bacon drippings
1-1/4 cups corn meal
1 8.5 oz. pkg. cornbread mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Pour melted margarine or bacon drippings into 9-or 10-inch cast iron skillet; sprinkle pan with a little corn meal. Place pan in 4000 oven, 5 minutes to heat. Combine dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and eggs, mixing until moistened. (Do not over mix) Pour mixture into hot pan. Bake at 4000, 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Note: 9-inch square baking pan may be substituted for cast iron skillet.