The History of Soul Food

         African Americans were introduced to America in the 1600s, and during their enslavement, they created a new cuisine (Middleton). African American slaves called this new cuisine soul food. The concept of soul food originated in the South of America. Whoever loves food should consider soul food because it has a rich history, a diverse selection of dishes, and it has influenced other areas of the culinary world.

            Soul food originated in the Southern part of the United States around the Antebellum period before the Civil War (Regelski). However, the food from that time would not be called soul food until centuries later. When Africans were brought to America, they did not have the freedom to choose what they wanted to eat, instead, they were given rations of food from their slave owners/masters. These rations were given one day of each week and usually consisted of “a starch (cornmeal, rice, or sweet potatoes) a couple of pounds of dried, salted, or smoked meat (beef, fish, or pork) and a jug of molasses” (Miller). Slave owners saw rationing as one way to exert control over slaves because they felt it displayed their greater authority over them. Slaves could not choose what food they ate during the week, but they soon began farming, hunting, and fishing for food. However, those efforts still benefited the slave owners more than the slaves themselves. After slavery, until 1910, sharecropping and church helped shape what would soon be known as soul food. At black church gatherings, foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, watermelon, and sweet potato pies were served. On the other hand, sharecropping involved divided plots of land for individual farmers. The landlords of these plots were former slave masters and received half of the product of what the farmers grew on their plots.

Slaves could not choose what food they ate during the week, but they soon began farming, hunting, and fishing for food. However, those efforts still benefited the slave owners more than the slaves themselves. After slavery, until 1910, sharecropping and church helped shape what would soon be known as soul food. At black church gatherings, foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, watermelon, and sweet potato pies were served. On the other hand, sharecropping involved divided plots of land for individual farmers. The landlords of these plots were former slave masters and received half of the product of what the farmers grew on their plots.

            It was not until 1964 when the term soul food was coined to describe the cuisine (Barbour). In fact, there is more to soul food than dishes, like fried chicken, okra, and pigs feet. There are a variety of soul food dishes, such as fried fish, collard greens, candied yams, and black-eyed peas. Catfish is a popular choice to fry, but other varieties of fried fish include whiting, gills, porgies, and bluegills (“’Soul Food’: a Brief History”). The fish is typically coated in cornmeal and seasonings before it is fried and it is primarily a main dish. Collard greens, on the other hand, are a classic side-dish in a meal. Ham hocks are usually cooked into or alongside collard greens and help enhance the flavor in addition to pieces of bacon mixed in with the greens.

Candied yams are another popular side dish, but unlike collard greens, they are sweet rather than salty. Some cooks like to prepare their candied yams with a marshmallow topping, but it is an optional ingredient. The recipe for candied yams is simple; all that is needed are sugar, brown sugar, and butter (Johnson). Black-eyed peas “are thought to have been introduced to America by African slaves who worked the rice plantations”, and like the previous dishes, is also a side dish (“Hoppin’ John Stew History and Recipe”). There are two ways to prepare black-eyed peas: traditional and Hoppin’ John. Traditional black-eyed peas are prepared with chopped vegetables, such as onions and celery, and like greens, has pieces of bacon mixed in when cooking. Hoppin’ John, however, is black-eyed peas with vegetables, rice, and sausage.

            Furthermore, due to the similarity of dishes, soul food may often be confused with Southern food. Soul food and Southern food have influenced each other, but they are not the same thing. Southern food is, as quoted by Adrian Miller in “Where Soul Food Really Comes From”, “the mother cuisine—it tends to be more on the bland side, not heavily spiced.” Soulfood, however, tends to have more flavor and seasoning. Many cultural cuisines have influenced southern food. French, Spanish, and Native American cultures are just a few of the many cultures that have had an influence on what Southern food is now, but the African roots of soul food have had the biggest impact (Brassfield). Vegetables such as greens, black-eyed peas, okra, and yams were“staples” in the African diet and were not part of the Southern foods before the colonial period (Moss). If slavery had not occurred in United States history, Southern food, as it is now, would likely have a very different menu. Despite its history, Southern food is also referred to as comfort food. Some key comfort food dishes include chitlins, hush puppies, and banana pudding. Basically, comfort food is Southern food that is like a meal, side, or dessert that tastes like a home cooked meal.

            Over the course of nearly 400 years, soul food has not changed much from pre-Civil War times. Soul food has a history of toil and, struggle and triumph, as do many of the world’s cultural cuisines. Though the term for this Southern African-American cuisine wasn’t coined until the 1960s, the ingredients that go into making the food span centuries. From church gatherings to restaurants, soul food has brought together people from across the nation. Despite the common misconception that soul food and Southern food are interchangeable terms, any food lover can soon learn the distinctions. Not only is soul food full of flavor from its many seasonings, but it is also connected to a rich history. Learning the history of a food can strike a new appreciation in anyone who likes Southern cooking.


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