Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved the kitchen and learning how to make delicious meals. My father was my first teacher when it came to Caribbean cooking.
From pelau, to mauby, to fried or roast bakes, I learned it all watching him in the kitchen. Men who think cooking is “women’s work” are missing out! My father was a fantastic cook.
I learned how to bake from my mother, along with how to make sorrel, and other sweet treats like homemade soursop or rum raisin ice cream.
There was never a time that delicious meals were missing from my life. I can still taste the lentil soup made by my maternal grandmother, or smell her callaloo, though she passed away five years ago, and stopped cooking it many years prior to that.
Until this morning, I thought that Caribbean foodways alone were my most important culinary influences. After all, Grenada and Trinidad are where my parents were born.
This morning I saw a msg in my Facebook inbox from a friend, which brought tears to my eyes. It said simply, “DOLLIE REID’S GOOD OLE SOUTHERN COOKING!!!!”
The message was in response to my Facebook post about my Southern dinner I made a few nights ago. The tears were in response to how could I not acknowledge another major culinary influence in my life, the beloved Dollie Reid, my mother’s nursing school friend, who welcomed our family into her home for many hot Virginia summers, and fed us so many Southern delicacies? Southern hospitality!
Cooking is a form of self-expression, of nourishing oneself and others, and also a way to keep the memories of our beloved ones alive.
So-called Black people all over the world have been the authorities and go-to people for delicious culinary fare, since ancient times. As descendants of enslaved Africans, our foodways have each taken on a unique twist, according to the regions we were held captive in. We have maintained and transformed our food traditions, as well as passed them on to our children, in joy and in sorrow.
There is a reason we call certain foods “comfort foods.” Most of what is today known as Caribbean and Southern cuisine, are the celebratory meals of the Black folks of those regions. Or, the struggle meals made tantalizing through the use of complicated cooking techniques & elaborate flavor building, using spices & time.
During this global coronavirus pandemic, many people have been returning to the kitchen. Time is now available to spend on recipes which require more preparation, skill, or focus. We are remembering old recipes and cooking “special food.”
Throughout the Caribbean, descendants of enslaved Africans have kept the ritual of cooking “special food” as part of the pampering of postpartum mothers. The Black folks in the South and those of the Caribbean are the same folks, on a different boat.
As Dr. Ivan Van Sertima stated in the title of his aptly named work, “They Came Before Columbus.” Yes, before and after as well. The toil and the hardships of chattel slavery in The Americas are etched into our DNA. The diseases that manifest from the crushing racism that our ancestors experienced and we still experience today, are often triggered by our diets. They can also be healed by it.
As the world prepares to open up for “business as usual,” let’s not return to that abnormal norm. Let’s remember our ancestors, loved ones, and friends-turned-family in our cooking, even if in moderation or revamped recipes.
Social distance has stopped us from gathering in our neighbors kitchens. We are justifiably retreating and isolating. But in this collective moment of silence, we can still make an extra plate at our dinner tables by sharing our recipes virtually or even through snail mail.
Drop something healthy and nourishing off for a postpartum family. Leave some baked items hanging on their door. Or make an extra bottle of your homemade beverage of choice.
You will be remembering those special people who influenced your palate, both living and dead. You will be celebrating the Black history of food as both resource and resistance. You will be providing comfort and facilitating healing. Even more, you will bring togetherness, during a time of separation that will always be remembered. Do it in love!