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Soul Food

Country-fried steak, with baked beans and mashed potatoes with white gravy.Soul food cuisine consists of a selection of foods traditional in the cuisine of African Americans. It is closely related to the cuisine of the Southern United States. The descriptive terminology may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common definer used to describe African-American culture (for example, soul music).

Origins
The term soul food became popular in the 1960s. The origins of soul food, however, are much older and can be traced back to Africa -- and to a lesser extent, to Europe, as well. Foods such as rice, sorghum (known by Europeans as "guinea corn"), and okra — all common elements of West African cuisine - were introduced to the Americas as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They became dietary staples among enslaved Africans. They also comprise an important part of the cuisine of the American south, in general. Many culinary historians believe that in the beginning of the 14th century, around the time of early Euro-African exploration, European explorers brought their own food supplies and introduced them into local African diets. Foods such as corn and cassava from the Americas, turnips from Morocco, and cabbage from Portugal would play an important part in the history of African-American cooking.

When the Europeans began their African slave trade in the early 15th century, the diet of newly-enslaved Africans changed on the long journeys away from their homelands. It was during this time that some of the indigenous crops of Africa began showing up in the Americas.

European enslavers fed their captive workers as cheaply as possible, often with leftover/waste foods from the plantation, forcing slaves to make do with the ingredients at hand. In slave households, 'vegetables' consisted of the tops of turnips, beets, and dandelions. Soon, African-American slaves were cooking with new types of "greens": collards, kale, cress, mustard, and pokeweed. They also developed recipes which used lard, cornmeal, and offal; discarded cuts of meat such as pigs' feet, oxtail, ham hocks, chitterlings/"chitlins" (i.e., pigs' small intestines), pig ears, hog jowls, tripe, and skin. Cooks added onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf as flavor enhancers.

Some African-American slaves supplemented their meager diets by gardening small plots given to them for growing their own vegetables; many engaged in subsistence fishing and hunting, which yielded wild game for the table. Foods such as raccoon, squirrel, opossum, turtle, and rabbit were, until the 1950s, very common fare among the (then-still) predominantly rural and southern African-American population.[

Native American cuisine
Southern Native American culture (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek) is the cornerstone of the American south's cuisine. From their cultures came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize) -- either ground into meal, or, limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy (a.k.a., masa), in a Native American technology known as nixtamalization.

Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes, from the familiar cornbread and grits, to liquors such as whiskey and moonshine (which were important trade items).
Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans' diets, as well.

Native Americans of the U.S. south also supplemented their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle, were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used. Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for them to eat organ meats such as liver, brains and intestines.

This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings (commonly called chit’lins) which are fried small intestines of hogs, livermush (a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver), and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early European settlers in the South learned Native American cooking methods, and so cultural diffusion was set in motion for the Southern dish.

Impoverished Whites and Blacks in the South prepared many of the same dishes stemming from the soul tradition, but styles of preparation sometimes varied. Certain techniques popular in soul and southern cuisines (e.g., frying meat, using all parts of the animal for consumption), are shared with ancient cultures all over the world, including Rome, Egypt, and China.[6] Whichever way it was introduced to the American South, fried meat became a common staple.

Cookbooks
Because it was illegal in many states for enslaved Africans to learn to read or write, soul food recipes and cooking techniques tended to be passed along orally, until after Emancipation. The first soul food cookbook is attributed to Abby Fisher, entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking and published in 1881. Good Things to Eat was published in 1911; the author, Rufus Estes, was a former slave who worked for the Pullman railway car service. Many other cookbooks were written by African Americans during that time, but as they were not widely distributed; most are now lost.

Since the mid-20th Century, many cookbooks highlighting soul food and African American foodways, compiled by African Americans, have been published and well-received. Vertamae Grosvenor's Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, originally published in 1970, focused on South Carolina "Lowcountry"/Geechee/Gullah cooking. Its focus on spontaneity in the kitchen—cooking by "vibration" rather than precisely measuring ingredients, as well as "making do" with ingredients on hand—captured the essence of traditional African American cooking techniques. The simple, healthful, basic ingredients of lowcountry cuisine, like shrimp, oysters, crab, fresh produce, rice and sweet potatoes, made it a bestseller.

At the center of Black American food celebrations is, the value of sharing - similar to potlucks in White America. Therefore, African American cookbooks often have a common theme of family and family gatherings. Usher boards and Women's Day committees of various religious congregations large and small, and even public service and social welfare organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) have produced cookbooks to fund their operations and charitable enterprises.

The NCNW produced its first cookbook, The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro, in 1958, and revived the practice in 1993, producing a popular series of cookbooks featuring recipes by famous African Americans, among them: The Black Family Reunion Cookbook (1993), Celebrating Our Mothers' Kitchens: Treasured Memories and Tested Recipes (1994), and Mother Africa's Table: A Chronicle of Celebration (1998). The NCNW also recently reissued The Historical Cookbook.

Celebrated traditional Southern chef and author Edna Lewis wrote a series of books between 1972 and 2003, including A Taste of Country Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976) where she weaves stories of her childhood in Freetown, Virginia into her recipes for "real Southern food".

Another organization, the Chicago-based Real Men Charities, in existence since the 1980s, sponsors food-based charitable and educational programs and activities around the USA. As its primary annual, celebrity-studded fundraiser, Real Men Charities sponsors "Real Men Cook" events and programs in fifteen cities nationwide, where African American men gather to present their best recipes—some original, others handed down for generations—for charity.

The event is timed to coincide roughly with Juneteenth and Father's Day and is promoted with the slogan "Every day is Family Day When Real Men Cook." In 2004, Real Men rolled out its Sweet Potato Pound Cake Mix in select food retailers in several cities, and published a cookbook in 2005 titled Real Men Cook: Rites, Rituals and Recipes for Living. Proceeds from these enterprises help fund the organization's varied operations and activities.

List of soul food items:

Meats

  • Country fried steak, also known as "chicken fried steak" (beef deep-fried with a crisp flour or batter coating, traditionally served with brown gravy)
  • Fried chicken (fried in grease with seasoned flour)
  • Fried fish (any of several varieties of fish, including catfish, whiting, porgies, bluegill, sometimes battered in seasoned cornmeal)
  • Pork for flavoring of vegetables and legumes, gravies/sauces or as a meat, especially:
    • ham and bacon.
    • ham hocks (typically smoked)
    • pigs feet (slow cooked, sometimes pickled and often eaten with a vinegar based sauce).
    • fatback (fatty, cured, salted pork, especially the first layers of the back of the pig primarily used in slow-cooking as a seasoning).
    • offal, such as chitterlings or "chitlins" (the cleaned and prepared intestines of pigs, slow cooked and also often eaten with a vinegar-based sauce or sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried) or hog maws (the muscular lining of the pig's stomach, sliced and often cooked with chitterlings).
  • Poultry giblet, such as chicken liver and gizzards.
  • Turkey neck bones

Vegetables
The beans, "greens" and other vegetables are often cooked with ham[citation needed] or pork parts for flavor.

  • Black-eyed peas (often mixed into Hoppin' John and other types of rice and beans dishes).
  • Various greens, including collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens
    Okra (vegetable which is native to West Africa, and is eaten fried or stewed and is a traditional ingredient of gumbo. It is sometimes cooked with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot peppers)
  • Sweet potatoes, often parboiled, sliced, then adorned with butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or other spices, and baked; commonly called "candied sweets" or "candied yams"

Breads & Grains

  • Biscuits (a shortbread similar to scones, commonly served with butter, jam, jelly, sorghum, cane syrup, or gravy; some use to wipe up or "sop" liquids from a dish)
  • Cornbread (a quickbread often baked or made in a skillet, commonly made with buttermilk and seasoned with bacon fat; inspired by the great availability of corn in the Americas and by Native American cultures. Particular variations: hoecake, a type of cornbread which is very thin in texture, and fried in cooking oil in a skillet, whose name is derived from field hands' often cooking it on a shovel or hoe held to an open flame; hushpuppies, balls of cornmeal deep-fried, usually with salt and diced onions).
  • Rice (varieties from Africa were introduced into the U.S in the late 17th century and knowledge of rice cultivation by Africans fostered its widespread production in the U.S.)
  • Grits (a cooked coarsely ground cornmeal of Native American origin)

Beverages

  • Sweet Tea (Traditional Tea with Sugar)
  • Lemonade
  • Kool-Aid

Desserts

  • Sweet potato pie  (parboiled sweet potatoes, then pureed, spiced, and baked in a pie crust, similar in texture to pumpkin pie).
  • Pie or cobbler made of fruits typically found in the southern U.S., especially peach

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