Growing up in an African-American farming community my mother recalls that the cows were grass-fed and chickens free range well before those phrases ever became coined. Her family raised fruit, vegetables, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, cows and horses. Dependent upon cows for commodities like milk, butter, and buttermilk, consumption of beef or other meat was a rarity. “Our diet was primarily vegetarian,” she says. Activist Dick Gregory confirms the same recalling the Southern eating habits prevalent during his upbringing in the 2012 documentary Soul Food Junkies.
Grandpa’s favorite late night snack was a sweet potato, baked to caramelized perfection nestled among fireplace coals. My grandparent’s elderberries, blackberries, peaches, plums, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and okra were harvested during the summer and canned for winter. Roasted or brine boiled peanuts, pecans and walnuts were their potato chips. In agrarian tradition, by the time I was 7 years old my mother had me cooking full meals from scratch; following Sesame Street I liked to watch Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet.
The myth that Soul or Southern cuisine is boiling over with deep fried foods needs to die. Mom, who grew up in Mississippi, said they really didn’t fry chicken. And the other dishes with “fried” in the name like Fried Fish (it’s not just Catfish y’all), Fried Corn, Fried Chitlins or Fried Okra, are all sauteed in a bit of oil not dumped into a deep fryer coated with flour, the coating is usually corn meal – see the catfish I am frying below. Soul food is whole food – period.