Introduction to Soul Food
When you taste good soul food then it'll take a hold of your soul and hang your unsuspecting innards out to dry. It's that shur-nuf everlovin' down home stick-to-your ribs kinda food that keeps you glued to your seat long after the meal is over and done with, enabling you to sit back, relax, and savor the gentle purrings of a well satisfied stomach, feeling that all's right with the world. Culinary Historian, Sheila Ferguson
Faith Ringgold, The Dinner Quilt, 1986
Bless the hands of those who prepared for us this food and make us thankful for these and all blessings. -Amen
During the Great Migration, African Americans left the Mississippi Delta for Chicago via the Illinois Central Railroad in search of a better life, employment and the unknown. Many regretfully left, others not, all leaving behind a particular pace of life only found in the Delta. But they would only realize this loss once city life had overwhelmed their lives. They would often speak of and long for Īback home.' Many would reminisce about the land their ancestors claimed, cleared and transformed into arable farmland where they raised their own animals and produce to feed their families. In Chicago, savoring southern cooked meals instinctually brought African Americans back to the Delta, reminding many of sights, sounds and smells of the south. African American cooking did not transform with the migration to the north. It evolved as people adapted to the new environment and availability of ingredients as West Africans had done upon their arrival to the new world. Whether on the shores of West Africa, in the Mississippi Delta or in the South Side, African American cuisine continually evolves ritually linking ancestors together creating cultural and familial unity.
|When asked to define soul food, Ed Scott,
a catfish farmer from the Mississippi Delta, said "it is food you can
prepare yourself." Soul food has become marketed as African American
cooking which has its roots in southern slave culture. African American
cuisine has been handed down from generation to generation, from one family
member to another just like other African American rituals. On the familial
level, as in the Scott household, whether a traditional meal of
smothered pork chops and collard greens or his wife Edna's specialty, fried
catfish and french fries, mealtime brings the family together. "Soul
has to do with a style associated with black culture. It's family food.
Each family adds its own touch to dishes," said culinary historian
The act of cooking served as ritual that linked the family together while also providing sustenance and daily nutrition. In African American kitchens throughout Mississippi Delta, food was prepared by instinct, touch, sight and smell. The cook tasted rather than measures. Culinary historian Verta Mae wrote: "And when I cook, I never measure or weigh anything. I cook by vibration. I can tell by the look or smell of it·I just do it by vibration. Different strokes for different folks. Do your thing your way."
|With Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North, soul food became a cultural identifier that reminded migrants of their family and life 'back home.' Soul food differed regionally, and it adapted from place to place because of availability of ingredients. Culinary historian Edna Lewis wrote, "In the sixties the young people in the cities were missing something they thought was in the South. They coined the term soul food and nobody changed it." Soul food restaurants are still found throughout Chicago's South Side serving traditional "down home" meals.||