It would be highly unacceptable for me to allow the month of February to pass without me acknowledging the influence of soul food on my life and on American food in general. In my own fashionably late salute to Black History Month, I indulge in my all-time favorite type of food and one that is synonymous with African American culture, experience, and culinary influence–soul food. While soul food is most commonly associated with Southern cooking, to me soul food is much more than just the regional origins of many classic African American dishes. Soul food is soul food because of its unifying properties, the sense of fulfillment it leaves you with, and most importantly the unique memories and history that is embedded within the food. I can go to a friend’s house for Sunday dinner and eat a plate full of glazed ham, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and cornbread just like I can at my own house. But something would be missing. Me making jokes with my grandmother and gossiping while we eat would be missing. The flashbacks of seeing my Nana earlier in the day boiling the ham, shredding the cheese, chopping the greens, sugaring the potatoes, and baking the bread would not be associated in the same way and my unyielding appreciation and awe for the food in front of me would not be so spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, eating away from home is great, but sometimes there is nothing like those family meals that you have grown accustomed to since childhood. That’s what soul food is to me. My grandmother’s North Carolinian roots and her acquired New York swag all encompassed in a small kitchen in Queens over a steamy stove and a hot oven is what goes into the soul food that I know and love.
Chef Jeff Henderson and Ramin Ganeshram speak my kind of language when it comes to soul food. In their cookbook, America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook: Over 130 Soul-Filled Recipes they reflect on memories similar to the one I have shared and explain on how those memories helped to develop a sense of deep appreciation to soul food. Henderson and Ganeshram cookbook would. They use their book not only to bring us great recipes of soul food favorites; they also use it to salute the anonymous and acclaimed black Americans who helped to shape the culture and cuisine not only black America, but America in general.Many memories as well as rich historical background information for many of the recipes and food items we know and love are embedded within America I AM. I learned about the African influence on barbecue, the culinary impact of the European, Native American, West and Central African culture collisions, slave impact, and so much more. Honestly, I cannot praise this cookbook enough. It has made me so much more appreciative and proud to be apart of a group so culturally rich. And as a self-proclaimed foodie, it has created a desire for me to learn how to cook even more soul cuisine and to gain more knowledge about the many influences that have brought us to a cuisine that is truly ours–soul food.
For my Black History tributary dish, I prepared one of the recipes from America I AM: Craig Robinson’s Mom’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Yes, us blacks are stereotyped when it comes to fried chicken, but hey in my case the shoe fits so I’m wearing it. Get your hands on America I AM and find yourself a new favorite!