Although I was born in Evansville, Indiana I was raised in the South, specifically, South Arkansas and different parts of Louisiana. My time in the North is full of fabulous memories of being with my Nana and my Aunt Kaye, but the South offers something my Northern family just can’t provide, Southern soul food.
Comfort food, or Soul food, as it was named in the 60’s, was birthed during an ugly time in American history.
The slaves, on plantations in the American South, were given the least desirable ingredients to use to cook with. Whatever the white slave owners discarded was what the slaves salvaged to feed themselves and their loved ones.
While the slave owners ate turnips, white potatoes, ham, bacon and sausage, the slaves were given the tough bitter greens of the turnips, the less desirable sweet potatoes and the discarded ham hocks, pig’s feet and pig’s intestines.
And what did the enslaved people create? They created survival food. They created soul food, comfort food.
During the civil rights movement of the 60’s an effort was being made by the black population to take their rightful place in popular culture and the word soul began popping up. “Soul brother, soul sister, soul music, soul food became common words.
In fact, Sylvia Woods, “The Queen of Soul Food” opened the famous Harlem restaurant, Sylvia’s, in 1962.
When I’m sad or homesick or I’m just not feeling well I will often crave a pot of black eyed peas and cornbread. It reminds me of my childhood and happy times of laughter and sharing.
During my teenage years, occasionally, when my monthly cycles were painful and unbearable my mom would cook up a big pot of turnip greens and have me drink the “pot liquor” or turnip tea. The juice of the turnip greens or collard greens are full of iron and vitamin K.
“Pot liquor”, by the way, is the juice created by boiling the greens. Often the nutrients are pulled out of the greens while cooking them, but the juice, the “pot liquor”, continues to hold the good stuff.
Here’s another way to look at the difference between regular food and soul food.
Have you ever been invited to a dinner party and after you arrive you feel the atmosphere is stuffy, formal? Once you’ve sat at the table perhaps you aren’t sure what fork to use or which wine to choose. There seems to be a specific order to things and certain rules to follow. Although, there are times this is necessary to mark a particular occasion, I believe we can all agree it can be awkward.
Flip it over to a time you’ve been invited to a friend’s house and after you arrive you feel the air is light, the music is loud and no one cares if you use eating utensils or not. The “comfort” level is different.
That is soul food. Soul food is just happy to be there. Hanging out with friends and soothing the soul is the only agenda for comfort food.
There is something nourishing and soothing about food cooked without measuring the ingredients.
I read an article recently in the New York Times about soul food. The journalist was interviewing Verta Mae Smart-Grosverner, the author of the cookbook, Vibration Cooking.
Verta Mae said, “When I cook I never measure or weigh anything. I cook from vibration.”
As someone who is a pretty good cook herself that may be one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. It’s true. When cooking from the soul it’s all about feeling.
Cooking comfort food is something I enjoy, but there is something extra special when comfort food is prepared for you by someone you love and who loves you too. It’s like a great big hug.
Do you have a favorite comfort food? Here is a recipe link for my black eyed peas and turnip greens.
Be you, Be beautiful. Be imperfect.