Collard greens, black-eyed peas, pig feet, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, chitterlings (Chitt’lins), neckbones, and the list goes on and on. Recognize any of these foods? Of course, you would because many of us eat them regularly or our parents or grandparents prepared them every Sunday and/or holidays. These foods are endearingly called Soul food. But did your elders ever explain to you where soul food originated from?
History of soul food
The history of soul food is choppy at best. Because of the period in America, there were few if any records kept or written about it until the early 60’s. Most of the history along with the meticulous recipes evolved from generation to generation for the past 300-400 years. As you may know, most of the popular cuisines, foods and menu items we enjoy in America today came from Europe, Asia, South America and other countries. But one fact remains, soul food is one of the most popular cuisines today that originated in America.
It goes as far back as slavery. Often the slave master gave the food he couldn’t or wouldn’t eat, such as certain meats and vegetables, to his plantation, farm or ranch slaves. The goal? Feeding them as cheaply as possible while still providing them the energy to work the long hot, days in the sun. Over the years out of necessity, the slaves created and adapted cooking techniques, methods and seasonings to add unique flavors to what they were eating. Those recipes developed and improved over the years, thanks to preceding generations who improve it.
In time slaves became so good at cooking the slave masters would bring them into their homes to cook meals for them. Today soul food has grown into a billion dollar industry known worldwide. Thanks to Black entertainers, soldiers and others who traveled the world, you can find this southern cuisine in such places as Europe, Asia and even South America.
The dishes, known for their robust flavors, soon developed the reputation for staying with you longer than many foods. A good meal could last people most of the day. Because of low finances, a valuable quality for many African Americans who had to find ways to eat for the least cost. This is another factor of why soul food continues to grow popular for families who struggle today in this weak economic climate.
To adapt to a more health-conscious public, healthier cooking methods, ingredients and preparation techniques have come into vogue. Traditionally the recipes contained high amounts of fat, calories and salt. Ingredients known to cause obesity, high blood pressure and other medical ailments when eaten in large quantities. Now healthier cooking methods such as steaming, stir-frying and sautéing have introduced a healthier version of soul food to large numbers of people.
The history reveals a treasure of a people who have struggled long, hard and consistently over the centuries to win freedom and equality.
Benefits of soul food
People indulge in soul food because it tastes so good. But for so many people it is not healthy either, especially if they continue to cook it in the old traditional way. According to the African American Registry;” soul food has been cooked and seasoned with pork products and fried dishes cooked with trans-fat, such as shortening or lard for centuries. Consequently, this leads to disproportionately high occurrences of hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes among African Americans.
Experts suggest that we change the way we prepare our dishes. When frying use Canola or Olive oil. Instead of seasoning vegetables and beans with pork products use smoked turkey, use wheat flour for baking, various herbal spices instead of salt, real butter, baked chicken and fish versus pork and beef, and a lot less sugar.
Soul food has a rich and tasty history, and with a few modifications can to be passed on and cherished. This history should not be lost throughout generations, but neither should we allow for it to make us sick. Make a few healthy changes and begin creating your own cuisines while celebrating an extremely rich history.
Soul food recipes include the ingredients and history that has helped to serve budget-minded families over hundreds of years. It has long stood the test of time as a recession proof tool that has helped struggling families reduce their food cost. The ingredients are the most filling and stick-to-your ribs satisfying food known to man. It’s helped untold numbers of struggling families make it through lean times and eat good for the least amount of money.
Despite a temporary lapse in popularity because of health issues pointed out by health experts a few years ago, it has easily adapted to temporary controversy. Still, the recipes remained popular while it slowly changed to healthier ingredients, cooking methods and preparation techniques.
Like the people who originated it, soul food cooking continues to gain its strength and longevity from its ability to adapt to changing times and consumer demands. As the consumer grows more health conscious, soul food recipes continue to add healthier cooking techniques and ingredients to match the trend.
For example, traditional seasonings like fatback, ham hocks and lard is history and eliminated from most southern recipes today. Now you will find healthier ingredients such as fat-free smoked turkey, natural herbs and spices and healthier cooking techniques. These new changes are used to preserve not only the flavors but the nutrients and vitamins.