The History of African American Cooking
African Heritage (300-1619)
Back in this era, most African men were farmers, cattle raisers and fishermen. Planting, sowing and harvesting crops were considered women's work. Cooking was one of the most important skills a young girl needed to learn. One traditional dish called fufu was made of pounded yams. Fufu was served with soup, stew, roasted meat and different sauces. During this time in history, cooking was done over open pits. Africans were very skilled in roasting, frying, stewing, boiling and steaming their foods. Their native foods were yams, okra, watermelon, cassava, groundnuts, black-eyed peas and rice.
Indentured Servants and Slavery - 1619
In August, 1619, the first group of Africans landed in America at Jamestown, Virginia. These Africans were indentured servants. They gave up four to seven years of labor just to pay for transportation to America. Southern plantations consisted of Africans from many different tribal nations. These Africans made up the slave population in southern America. Verbal exchanges of recipes on these Southern plantations led to the development of an international African cooking style in America. The slaves enjoyed cooking pork, yams, sweet potatoes, hominy, corn, ashcakes, cabbage, hoecakes, collards and cowpeas. On these plantations, cooking was done on an open fireplace with large swing blackpots and big skillets.
American Revolution - 1776
Reconstruction - 1865
Both the northern and the southern armies hired black Americans as cooks. Most of the cooking throughout the South was done by black cooks. Slaves created their own recipes and made the best of hard times and scarce supplies. Cajun and creole cooking developed during this period. These foods included jambalaya, bread pudding, dirty rice, gumbo and red beans and rice. Cooking was done on a great big old fireplace with swing pots and skillets with legs.
Post Reconstruction - Westward Movement - 1865
The Great Migration 1900-1945
During this period, a large number of black Americans worked as cooks in private homes, shops, restaurants, schools, hotels and colleges. Many moved to such large cities as Chicago, New York, Ohio, Detroit and Pennsylvania to work. Black cooks, chefs and waiters also worked in pullman cars of the old railroads and on the steamboats. Many black Americans also started small businesses such as fish markets, barbecue and soul food restaurants throughout the United States. These establishments specialized in fried fish, homemade rolls, potato salad, turkey and dressing, fried pork chops, rice and gravy and southern fried chicken. Cooking was done on woodburning and gas stoves.
Civil Rights Movement 1965 - Present
Parham, Vanessa Roberts, The African-American Heritage Cookbook, California: Sandcastle Publishing, 1993.
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