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Peach Cobbler, Macaroni and Cheese & Greens

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  • 4. Peach Cobbler

    Image via Adrian Miller

    Peach cobbler can thank technology, in part, for its elevated status over other soul-food desserts. Cobblers were once a seasonal fruit dessert only enjoyed during late spring and the summer months. It typically was made in a large cast-iron pot set over a fire. The pot was filled with any available fruit, some additional sweetener, and some spices, and then the entire thing was topped with a crust made from leftover biscuit dough. With improvements in canning technology, fruit cobblers could be eaten year-round. As ovens improved, soul-food cooks could now add a bottom layer of crust, thus making the dish a little fancier. Peaches, it turns out, were once thought of as an aphrodisiac. This may explain why, despite the existence of so many types of cobbler, peach has captured so many hearts.

  • 3. Macaroni and Cheese

    Image via Flickr/stu_spivack

    I know elderly African Americans who believe that mac 'n' cheese is wholly created by soul-food cooks, but that's clearly not the case. The confusion may arise from the fact that enslaved cooks were introduced to this dish outside of an Italian context. Before significant waves of Italian immigrants arrived in the U.S. by the late 1800s, wealthy whites visiting Europe fell in love with mac 'n' cheese and brought recipes back with them. White planters like Thomas Jefferson introduced the dish into Big House kitchens. Enslaved cooks were called upon to prepare the dish, typically on the weekends or when special guests dined on the plantation. After Emancipation, African Americans embraced this dish and made it a part of the culinary repertoire for Sunday dinner. It has retained its special status ever since.

  • 2. Greens

    Image via Adrian Miller

    Vegetables get much love on the soul-food plate, and greens (the edible leaves of certain plants) are the most consistent starring attraction. Most African Americans trace their roots to West Africa, a region where greens are a mainstay of many local cuisines. Enslaved West Africans brought a taste for greens with them across the Atlantic. Because they couldn't get the bitter tropical greens they were used to eating, African Americans substituted the bitter greens that Europeans cultivated—the most popular being cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens. Those greens are eaten year-round, but have special meaning on New Year's Day as symbols of prosperity. For those who have discovered collards and kale in the last five to ten years, welcome to the party. We've been eating them for nearly four centuries.


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