Holiday feasting — African-American styleEveryday ‘soul food’ epitomizes black culture’s culinary tastes.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
Many cultures have their own unique traditions around the holidays when it comes to food. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken a look at some of them — Italian, Latin or Hispanic and British.
And in the melting pot we call America, families with roots in those and many other cultures continue to carry on the eating habits of their ancestors.
For example, those descended from Scandinavian immigrants still eat foods around Christmas such as fattigman, krumkake, lutefisk and lefse. And on the dining room table of many of French descent you can find Buche de Noel (Yule log) and foie gras (liver pate). In some cases, a melding of two or more of those cultures can be found within a single household.
That also can be said for African-Americans, who always have had rich traditions of food, song, spirituality and decorating during the holiday season. Foods such as yams and greens, popular with many African-Americans, have their origins in Africa and reflect creative responses to racial and economic oppression and poverty.
But the thing about culinary customs of African-Americans during the holidays is that the food eaten is generally similar to what they’ve been consuming all year long.
A friend of mine, Georgia native Eddie Gilbert, told me that his family didn’t really eat anything different during the holidays. He said they always had things such as a stuffed hen (chicken), sweet potato pie, macaroni and cheese and collard greens during the holidays, just like they did the rest of the year.
“I never had pumpkin pie until I came here,” said Eddie, who was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base before retiring to civilian life.
One tradition his family did have (and he continues to carry on) was black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
Sweet potatoes are a favorite ingredient in many African-American dishes, including those for Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday celebration of harvest and renewal that runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, which was created to introduce and reinforce seven basic values (Nguuzo Saba) of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African-American people as well as Africans throughout the world African community.
During Kwanzaa, participants affirm their heritage and the importance of family and community by drinking from a unity cup; lighting red, black and green candles on a kinara (candleholder similar to a menorah); exchanging heritage symbols, such as African art; and recounting the lives of people who struggled for African and African-American freedom. (Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, who was on the front lines of that era’s black-liberation movement.)
And then, there’s the food.
In the case of new immigrants, the menu reflects foods native to their homelands.
For example, someone with roots in the Caribbean or other equatorial countries might serve foods that might include things such as platters of fish escovitch, jerk chicken, pigeon peas and rice, codfish fritters, cornmeal dumplings, yams, mackerel rundown, bammy (similar to biscuits), tamarind balls and gizzada (coconut tartlets).
For African-Americans with longtime roots in the U.S., other “soul food” besides sweet potatoes (or yams) and collard greens that can be found at a Kwanzaa feast include fried chicken, cornbread and macaroni and cheese as well as okra, tomatoes and peanuts.
That sounds like the kind of feast I’d like to attend.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.