By APRIL JONES, Pinehurst Community Action
The legacy of America is entrenched with deep and abiding cultural foodways that unite and bind us as a country. Many of those legacies are linked to African American cultural histories and food practices. Our culturally American dishes such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens, black eyed peas, collard greens and more are directly linked to our African foodways that are a part of our cultural history.
Our country has deep cultural roots to the continent of Africa, that is rooted and grounded in our foodways, cultural history and land practices. Crops such as okra, cowpea, millet, rice, gourds, coffee, watermelon and eggplant have deep ties to the continent and are crops and foods that we eat on a daily basis.
Rooted in food
The great migration of African Americans from the deep south to places across the country such as Akron, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, created new foodways that were grounded in the African traditions. As these people of color traveled the long journey from the South to the North, they brought with them the food from home as many were not allowed the freedom to dine in on the trains or at the train stations.
Incorporating the African foodways into their new hometowns allowed for the new transplants to share with their new community the cultural foodways that evoke feelings of comfort, love, acceptance and endurance. Sharing of food and memories is truly the American experience, and these new residents were generous in spirit in sharing their love and cooking cultural expressions that were a success for the communities at large.
As a food activist and a Slow Food USA member, I have extremely fond memories of my grandmother Ophelia Parms making homemade southern dishes from scratch. Food was a way that our family was able to honor our family traditions, and to spread food knowledge and wisdom on to the next generation. Food traditions have a way of rooting us in the past, and allowing for us to have hope for a brighter tomorrow and future.
Cultural traditions founded by professional and home cooks
African Americans created a unique space in the cultural landscape of America by becoming outstanding high-end chefs, local cooks, and home cooks, crafting a legacy of cooking that is rooted and grounded in land traditions and cultural cooking practices. Many of these cooks had a deep and abiding connection to the land practices and cultural practices that were helpful in creating dishes that have withstood the test of time.
Collard greens are one example of one of the dishes that has persevered through centuries, that evokes memories of family, fun, laughter and love. There are numerous varieties of collard greens that are available, from the standard type at the grocery store to vibrant and nutrient dense heirloom varieties. Traced back to the African American cultural traditions, those greens and cut up in a methodical way with an array of onions, garlic, and spices and cooked with some type of meat, whether that is pig feet, turkey neck or some other type of off cut meat.
These cultural foodways evoke memories of smells, sights and sounds that are directly tied to our shared cultural memories. Many of the dishes are ways to cook in an economical way and to be able to get a high yield product without having a lot of cost incorporated.
More information about collard greens
You can learn about two of April’s favorite heirloom collards and read her favorite collard greens recipe below!
Connection to land and foodways is part of the food legacy of African Americans. We can honor these traditions during Black History Month and every month by purchasing from a local farmer, restaurant, or grocery store. Sharing is caring, and we can all share recipes, and cooking foodways that honor our African American traditions. Agriculture is deeply connected to our national foodways and we as a community have an opportunity to be a part of the dialogue and communication on how we can come together as a community around food.
How food binds us together
The food in the African American tradition are truly foods that bind us together as a country. Having a meal is something that we all have to do on a daily basis, and is such a great way for all of us to come together. Whether that is coming together as a family at dinner time or during a holiday tradition or as a community gathering around food. Coming together to honor the foodways of African Americans is a great way to celebrate the legacy and culture of the shared foodways that stretch across the history of America. Taking time to research and honor the different African crops that we eat daily is an amazing way to honor what is American.
April Jones is the founder of the Pinehurst Farmers Market, located in downtown Columbia, S.C., in the Pinehurst neighborhood. April advocates for her community as part of the food justice and food sovereignty movement. She is passionate about community, gardens and farmers markets. She is a writer, public speaker, blogger, recipe developer, book reviewer and more. She contributes content to her blog Frolicking Americana, Columbia Living Magazine and to national magazines including Mother Earth, Country Lore, The Natural Farmer, Grit, Ark Republic, and Ecoparent Magazine, Growers and Co., and more.
April’s favorite collard greens recipe
- 6 small bunches collard greens
- 1 extra large smoked ham hock (make sure it is meaty!)
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp bacon grease
- 1 tbsp seasoned salt
- 2 tsp worcheshire sauce
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes you can go down on this to 1/2 teaspoon if you like less heat.
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- Start by pulling and tearing greens away from stems. Take a hand full of greens, roll them up and cut the rolls horizontally into small pieces. We personally remove the stems but this is a personal decision.
- Next, add greens to empty clean sink and wash them removing all grit, sand and debris thoroughly with cold water until water becomes clear.
- Next rinse the ham hock very well then add to a large pot along with enough water to fully submerge the ham hock then cover with a lid. Cook over medium high heat for about 45 minutes or until ham hock is near being tender.
- Once ham hock is almost tender, add greens and about 4-5 additional cups of water or enough to just barely cover greens to the pot. This will become your pot likker.
- Add along the rest of the ingredients to the pot and cook while covered for at least 2 hours or until completely tender. Most water should have evaporated by this point just having enough to barely cover the greens.