When is it the proper time to teach your child about soul food? Not just how to cook it, but the meaning and history of soul food.
As a black woman and mother, I want my children to have a sense of our history. And that history includes soul food.
Our ancestors were forced to an unknown land, not knowing the language, customs, or people. They were taken away from their family and traditions and stripped of their identity. One way to remember their old life was through stories passed down from generation to generation and through their food. Soul food.
They took the scraps given to them to create a meal. Okra, rice, and yams came directly from Africa. The unwanted parts of the pig are how we got pig feet, chitlins, hog mogs, etc. And to make these parts pleasing to the palette is how we have the seasoning blends so typical in soul food cuisine.
My grandmothers didn’t cook like one assumes a Southern grandmother would. Nor did my mom. So I’m not sure how I desired to learn more about food at such a young age. I remember watching PBS on the weekends to catch Julia Child, Jeff Smith, and Martin Yan, to name a few (if this doesn’t tell my age, I don’t know what will). I purchased cookbooks and read them like they were suspense novels. My imagination would run wild about how creative I could be in the kitchen.
I didn’t get into soul food until my early 20s. I guess soul food for me was everyday food; being born and raised in Memphis and with roots deep in the country (Dancyville, Stanton and Brownsville, TN), soul food was the norm. One of my aunts was a fantastic cook. My Aunt Lillie was the best. There was nothing she couldn’t cook that didn’t wow you. Even though my aunt is no longer with us, her food is still discussed in conversations. Those dishes she created are still with us…in our hearts. She cooked and enjoyed it. One of my aunts could make homemade biscuits that you knew were straight from heaven. Those delicacies were touched by angels. We would go over to my Aunt Peaches’ house on the weekends to wake up on Sunday mornings to those biscuits. And again, stories are still shared about those biscuits.
Soul food is at the center of fellowship. Cooking from the soul has always been a labor of love. Don’t you feel loved when you have a great meal? Those great Southern cooks cooked for everyone and never turned a hungry soul away. Somehow it was always enough food. People would gather in every room of the house and even outside on a beautiful day, eating, talking, laughing, sharing family stories. Growing up with that has stayed with me.
When I moved out on my own, I wanted to recreate those feelings of my youth centered around food. I also wanted to know why I connected to soul food the way I did. I created my own soul food cookbook from various recipes online to teach myself how to cook.
High on the Hog stirred something in me and left me wanting more. This film is about the history of soul food. Having my own family, I want my children to have that history in food. I want them to have a part of what I did growing up. They may not have the passion I have, but the knowledge of history is essential. High on the Hog on Netflix is a must-watch. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.
That soul food cookbook I created using recipes that I’ve found over the years is also a great talking point for my children. I explain why I did it, and it also has my little notes and tweaks. Something maybe one day, when I’m good and gone, one of them would want to keep and add to it. And they could also make a healthier version of soul food. They didn’t have the flexibility back in the day, but we do now and this is a great place to start.
I want to sit with my girls and show them how to pick greens and make hot water cornbread while having conversations. Not just about what was, but what’s to come.
Soul food is more than just food. It’s life. It should take you back to when life was easy, safe, and happy.
What is one of your favorite memories involving soul food?