Historical African American Cuisine Expands Thanksgiving Menu

Yes! Thanksgiving is here and it’s time to get your grub on!  Folks are knee deep in macaroni noodles, cheeses, eggs, sweet potatoes, collard greens, cornbread, various fowl, pork dishes and a mysterious list of ingredients for various stuffings gleaned from grandma’s recipes.  Which leads us to our next issue.  What are you putting on your table?  Did you know that the typical African American holiday table of the 19th century included oyster stew, yeast bread with blackberry jelly, avocado and crabmeat cocktail, eggplant casserole, suet pudding with rum sauce and squash pie?

According to the Root, our ancestors table reflected that of the region and our circumstances.  The African Americans that were enslaved set a very different table of the scraps and/or leftovers of those that enslaved them.  African American food historian Leni Sorenson describes our rural history as a “farm-to-table” culture. Sorensen, a researcher at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello explores all types of cuisine that were enjoyed by the black community as we emerged from slavery to now. For instance, in South Carolina, things like rice and shellfish may be a culinary staple on the holiday table and in New Orleans all types of seafood from the Gulf Coast.

But once the migration from the south to the  north took place and African Americans took jobs as domestic workers in various businesses and residences, the holiday cuisine changed to include that of the whites they worked for. She explains this process as it pertains to 20th century cooking like this:

“In the 20th century, as blacks migrated north, new dishes emerged in the urban environment. “People moved away from being on farms very dramatically. Urban families began to eat very differently,” Sorensen says. Domestic workers cooked what the families they worked for craved or perhaps stood behind the stove in a hotel kitchen. And that widened their breadth of cooking.”

Read the full report here.  Maybe you’ll sprinkle some rose water and orange essence on some of your dishes and immerse your turkey in wine.  Gobble gobble! 

-J.C. Brooks

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