"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." —James Beard
James Beard hit the proverbial nail on the head with that quotation. Even after his passing in 1985, it still amazes me how it still rings true years later. Some things never change.
What more can be said about something as wonderful and diverse as food? Besides the obvious fact of it providing sustenance and energy, it also performs other vital functions.
It can expand one's palate, by tasting various cuisines from cultures unfamiliar to us.
Food can exemplify cultural and religious sentiments or affiliations (e.g. kosher foods for those who practice Judaism.)
It can bring loved ones together for a meal, in times of celebration, and of sorrow.
June is "Soul Food Month" and in keeping with the theme of this post, here are some recommendations for reading from the New York Public Library. Perhaps you will feel inspired to check out one of these books and make a recipe for you and your loved ones.
Hog & Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America
This is NOT your ordinary cookbook. It provides a foundation for soul food cooking... its origins and evolution, from past to present. Have you ever wondered why eating chitterlings (aka 'chitlins') is considered a soul food staple? "Hog & Hominy" tells us how and why.
Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine: Recipes and Reminiscences of a Family
Siblings Carole and Norma Jean Darden give readers a cornucopia of mouthwatering soul food recipes that truly tempt the palate and leave readers impatiently waiting to try and cook their recipes.
FYI, the sisters are also proprietors of the established Harlem soul food restaurants Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too & Miss Maude's Spoonbread Too.
Mama's Tea Cakes: 101 Soul Food Desserts
For those with a sweet tooth, this book is for you. Classic soul food dessert recipes like coconut cake, pecan pie and pralines are included. This book is a must have if you love soul food AND you like to bake.
Be forewarned, once you try a recipe, it will be difficult to resist the temptation to make others!
Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African American Cuisine
Soul food does not necessarily have to consist of meat. Author Bryant Terry gives readers the opportunity to partake in soul food cuisine modified for those who are vegetarians. Recipes for condiments, entrees, main courses and desserts aim to be cost effective, delicious and healthy.
Healthy Soul Food
Soul food, delicious as it is, has a reputation that is blemished. It is known for being loaded with fat, calories, sugar and cholesterol. All of these factors can contribute to hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
Love soul food but want to make it healthier? Fabiola Gaines aims to offer readers an alternative to the traditional soul food fare. Readers are given modified alternatives to traditional soul food dishes, with special emphasis on recipes for those who have diabetes.
Labelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About
Patti Labelle is established for her singing, and for her acting. What some may not know, is that she is also recognized for her cooking. One of her most popular works, Labelle Cuisine, gives the audience her spin on popular soul food recipes. She gives succulent recipes laden with a dash of historical flair... stories from her youth and experiences as an entertainer.
Shown through the 'point of view' of tween Ahmad, this film focuses on 3 sisters (Bird, Maxine and Teri) and the close bonds between them and their family after the family matriarch dies. The family meal was the core theme within the film where everyone got together, ate, solved dilemmas and celebrated the bonds they shared. This film, starring Nia Long, Vivica A. Fox and Vanessa L. Williams) spawned a hit Showtime series, which coincidently had another actress named Vanessa Williams, in a different role.
This is just a sampling of the many finds you can peruse at your local library. If your local branch does not have the item you wish, it can be reserved and sent to the branch of your choice. So, come on and celebrate Soul Food month... check out a cookbook and try and out a recipe or two... dig in to the finished product.
And remember, 'food can be good for the soul.'