Jun 19, 2009

Soule Restaurant: Soul Food

The New York Times recently featured a debate over where Soul Food originated; was it a black or white invention?

The term Soul Food emerged in the ‘60’s when soul became a popular adjective for African Americans; however, Soul Food boasts many cultural influences.

During the slavery era, slaves received weekly rations of cornmeal, meat scraps, and black molasses. By using fresh herbs, these rations were converted to flavorful dishes supplemented by gardens of indigenous African crops, including watermelon, sesame and okra.

Green leafy vegetables common in the African diet were substituted with discarded food from the plantation house; the tops of turnips and beets, as well as dandelions, collards, and kale.

Nothing was wasted on plantations. Leftover cornmeal from breading catfish was mixed with milk, egg and onion to make hush puppies.When house slaves entered plantation homes, their cooking options expanded for their masters’ tables. Fried chicken, sweet potatoes (prepared like the African yams), puddings and pies became typical southern fare.

Each state had its own cultural influences; a French accent came from Louisiana where gumbo with shellfish and okra evolved from bouillabaisse, and the Carolina’s Spanish culture introduced jambalaya and sausage. Escaped slaves who took refuge with Native Americans and were subsequently recaptured incorporated the Native American style as well.

Caribbean influences are also evident in southern cooking, adapted during the middle passage.

Today, Soul Food is used to describe a broad expanse of cuisine; ribs, barbecue, fried chicken, candied yams, greens, macaroni and cheese, peas and rice, okra and tomatoes, gumbo, jambalaya, cornbread grits… but they all have one thing in common. They will all make you salivate…

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