Soul food at Thanksgiving is about so much more than just good food. Often times it’s about family being together and celebrating this holiday that’s all about tradition. It allows us to connect with one another, as well as our culture, heritage and traditions. These dishes are made from ingredients that were available in an abundance in Africa, or in the U.S. during the time of slavery. While many of these ingredients didn’t taste that great on their own, a lot of families were able to put their heart and soul into them to transform them into dishes that anyone would be proud to serve on their Thanksgiving table. Generation after generation has passed down some of these recipes that include not only the ingredients, but how to blend the spices and use a variety of cooking techniques to get the flavor just right. Cooking recipes that are passed on through generations, often brings back memories of those that are no longer with us. This mix of emotions (both happy and sad,) helps us to remember that life is fragile, and we should be Thankful for all of our blessings.
Will any of these dishes be on your Thanksgiving table?
–Cornbread dressing. This dressing is great for those that don’t like traditional stuffing. It’s made with cornbread instead of white or wheat bread chunks and is prepared outside of the bird, hence it technically being dressing and not stuffing. We recommend cooking the corn bread the night before, and then making your dressing the next day. Although Jiffy cornbread is popular and ok if you need a short cut, it is not traditional. If you use a box mix in a rush, make sure and add finely chopped celery, green and red bell peppers and fresh herbs to make it more authentic.
–Giblet gravy. In many African American households, nothing is wasted, including the giblets. Instead of throwing them out this year, use them to make a gravy. The result is a flavorful gravy that you can pour over your dressing, mashed potatoes or virtually anything you want too. To make the gravy make sure you have celery, onion, peppercorn, chicken broth, flour, salt and pepper along with the giblets and some of the drippings from the turkey you are cooking.
-Blacked eyed peas. This bean made its way to the US as early as the 17th century. This dish is often eaten at least once a week in many households & is a must during New Years as a good luck dish. This tradition started after the end of the Civil war, when slaves were officially freed on New Years day. The beans are often prepared with ham hocks, bacon or hog jowls for flavor. It will pair nicely with almost every other dish on your Thanksgiving table.
-Collard greens. You can’t have black eyed peas with collard greens! There’s nothing like the smell of them cooking on Thanksgiving. Collard greens and ham hocks are a staple in many households. It is a very popular dish for New Years as well. Collards can take a long time to get tender and flavorful. Consider putting them in a slow cooker over night. For flavor add onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and apple cider vinegar.
-Macaroni and cheese. Originally, mac and cheese was just boiled pasta and a little Parmesan cheese. The south helped it transition into its current cheesy deliciousness. Forget the boxed stuff, make your own macaroni and cheese for a soul food Thanksgiving. Make sure and use several types of cheese and to bake the dish so that the cheese melts through.
-Candied yams. No matter what your main course will be on Thanksgiving, you can’t forget the yams. Whether you top them with marshmallows or leave them as they are, you will probably be coming back for seconds. Of course the best recipes use sweet potatoes that are washed and peeled, and mixed with both brown sugar and granulated sugar as well as unsalted butter, cinnamon, sale, ground ginger, nutmeg and cracked black pepper.
-Sweet potato pie. Skip the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and make a sweet potato pie. It’s sweet, but not over the top and makes the perfect way to to satisfy your sweet tooth after you’ve eaten everything else.
If you are interested in learning more about soul food, consider visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Not only can your see a variety of different exhibits, but you can visit the Sweet Home Cafe that features soul food like chitterlings or gizzards. The menu is broken up into several different regions including Agricultural South, North States, The Creole Coast and Western Range. This allows you to find a variety of different foods based on the region that they are from.
Image credit PBS.