Thursday, October 17, 2013

The African Roots of Southern Cooking

 The American Southern cuisine is a unique combination of European and African cultures. To quote from Deep South Magazine:
Southern food is really not that simple. It is an essential American storyteller along with our government and music. It has a long history. Southern food encompasses many regions, people and economics. It’s good, healing food born from strife and survival. The slaves weren’t creating Southern cuisine in order to make history, they were cooking to stay alive....

You have to look at two things: what came with the slaves on the boat and what they had to work with when they got to America. There was a strong Native American influence in the early beginnings of Southern food when slaves began arriving: crops like corn and techniques like frying. Then, you have crops and techniques that came over from West Africa with the slaves, like the peanut (or goober peas), okra (or gumbo) and stewing techniques. There’s also daily survival ingredients like watermelons, which served as canteens in the fields. It’s 95 percent water. The slaves also used the rind as soles for their shoes. So ingredients like this that are now part of Americana and the Native American influence really started shaping Southern food very early on. But you can’t discount other influences like that of the Spanish and Portuguese through Louisiana or the Latin influence through parts of Texas. The slaves worked with what was available to them and adapted their daily diets accordingly. (Read more.)

From Food and Wine:
I can find virtually all of these plants in Charleston," Brock says as he strolls through the garden at the family home of Amsy Mathiam, a human-resources manager and an incredible home cook. Mathiam's father was the Senegalese ambassador to Sweden, and she spent much of her childhood in Stockholm, but her mother made sure she learned to cook traditional Senegalese recipes. Today, she is teaching Brock how to make something called soupe kandia—what he knows as gumbo. "Though it doesn't use ham or tomatoes or a roux, the look and texture are the same," Brock says. The red color comes from palm oil and the thick texture comes from smashing the okra into a paste. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

I read that slaves smuggled okra seeds in their hair because they did not know what was awaiting them in captivity in the way of familiar food.