Recalling the Down-to-Earth, Heavenly Comforts of African-American Foods

Lillian Cannon fries chicken in her home. (Michael Henninger/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Lillian Cannon fries chicken in her home. (Michael Henninger/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

African-American foods bring comfort by being down-to-earth and heavenly at the same time.

While cookbook authors and home chefs hang on to recipes that were handed down from their grandmothers and mothers, they also improvise on the classics. Fried chicken that was once seasoned with only salt and pepper gets flavored with garlic and onion powders and a host of other spices. Grits are served plain or with shrimp and even tomatillo and squash. Vegetable shortening is replacing lard in some recipes, and smoked turkey is being used instead of ham in greens to meet changing tastes and dietary needs.

Before the days of refrigeration, stews were a way of stretching foods in the house and not wasting anything. Over time they are still a way of using leftover vegetables and meats and have gotten richer in flavor with the addition of heavy cream to an oyster stew or half-and-half to a corn soup.

Sweet-potato pie, also known as potato pie, remains the queen of desserts and is a must-make for any holiday. The tubers are either baked or boiled and redolent with nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Vanilla, lemon and imitation rum extracts are added in some cases for more flavor. Poundcake is an all-occasion dessert and served plain, dusted with powdered sugar, with fruits and ice cream or sauce.

It’s important to remember African-American cooking is not monolithic. “It is nuanced and is different from region to region depending on the availability of ingredients, cooking techniques and socio-economic bracket,” says author and food historian Jessica B. Harris.

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SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

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