Who Is Anastasia?

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear, regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a visual folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown and/or painted by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how overgrown and wild it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ...


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Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

May 19, 2009

The Seasonings of Our Lives - The History of Soul Food

The History of Soul Food

People love comfort food. It’s something you eat when you don’t feel well, or had a bad day. It consoles you. My husband seeks comfort in a certain chicken soup I make. There’s no recipe for it. I just make it as I feel it, but its origins came from my grandmother’s kitchen. In most African American families, comfort food is simply Soul Food.

What is Soul Food? Every ethnic group has its own, but traditionally, it’s a term used for African American cuisine. It’s hard to describe, because each dish has a unique signature from the hand that actually prepares it, using ingredients, spices and techniques from various regions in the south and Africa, from family to family throughout generations. Soul food restaurants are found anywhere in the world, particularly in cities with large black populations, i.e., Chicago, New York, London, New Orleans, Washington, St. Louis and Paris, including fried chicken and waffle houses, fish huts or upscale rib joints.

Soul food was created out of necessity during American slavery. African slaves were only given the leftovers and undesirable cuts of meat from their masters’ tables, who took the best for themselves. Vegetables on a slave’s humble table were only grown by and for themselves in a tiny plot outside their cabin door. But, slaves ate better than their owners, who ate mostly fatty foods, little or no vegetables, tons of sweets and drank alcohol, leaving them lethargic. Slaves needed to be energetic to work, so they had large vegetarian meals with iced tea or lemonade instead of spirits. They made do with what was at hand. Fresh vegetables found in Africa were replaced by throwaway foods from their owners, such as the tops of turnips, beets and dandelions. They discovered new greens, like collards, kale, mustard and pokeweed, using lard for flavor from a slaughtered hog and rendered cracklin' from the skin. From the smokehouse, they were given weekly rations of cornmeal, a pound of meat and maybe blackstrap molasses. They used onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, creating savory dishes. Cornmeal became bread; meat (usually pig's feet, hocks, chitterlings, pig ears, hog jowl, tripe, or crackling) was the main dish with big portions of greens, while the molasses and cornmeal were a special dessert.

Southern cooking quickly took on a whole new meaning when the slave became the plantation house cooks. With their palate for spice and herbs brought from Africa, they were able to prepare delectable dishes for their masters. Fried chicken was introduced by the African slave. Plain boiled potatoes paled compared to new sweet potatoes (similar to the African yam). Black cooks created hearty puddings and baked pies from apples, peaches and berries for the master’s table; but made fried pies (Maginty’s) to keep in a pocket for a sweet snack while working in the fields from scrap or dried fruit. Because there was no time to roll out dough to make pies for themselves, they improvised with a short cut we now call a cobbler. The slave’s meat of choice was possum because they could only hunt in the late hours of the night after their work was done. The large pot that was kept boiling in a slave’s cabin became their comfort. After long days in the field or the owner’s house, family and friends could gather around, sing, pray and tell stories of their ancestry.

Some escaped slaves took refuge with Native Americans who taught them to use ground sassafras leaves as a spice, called “filé” (pronounced fee-leay). Every region has its own signature soul food. Rich, saucy dishes with a French accent are from Louisiana; Carolina's Spanish culture favored dishes such as jambalaya and sausage. Soul food also told a story. One is how the hushpuppy got its name from the dredging of the catfish that would have been thrown out. The cook sent it down to the slave quarters where women added milk, egg and onion and fried it up, tossing it to the dogs to keep them quiet while they ate, "Hush Puppy! Hush Puppy!"

Years ago, I moved to Indy and my friend, Becky, said I couldn’t cook soul food. Becky, who was much younger, insisted on lessons. My first lesson was pork neck bones with white beans and hoecakes. “What kind of cakes?” I never heard the term and was afraid to ask, but she explained hoecakes were corn bread batter heaped onto a spade or hoe held over an open fire to make a quick bread. We lived downtown Indianapolis. Where in the world would we find an open fire? She taught me a lot that first winter. Funds were lean and soul food seemed affordable. Not to be confused with hoecakes, ashcakes are a cornmeal mixture baked in an open fire, and the baked bread is washed after cooking, and then served.

Nothing was ever wasted in a black kitchen. Leftover fish became croquettes; stale bread was bread pudding, and every part of a pig was used. The liquid from boiled vegetables is "pot likker," a type of gravy or tea. Good, black cuisine was wholesome food using everything available.Sunday dinners were a traditional time for families to get together for a good home cooked meal, gathering at, not to the biggest house, but the one with the best cook. Usually it was a pitch-in, and the women would cook up a storm. Men didn’t take part, unless there was ‘cueing (barbecue) going on. The term ‘Soul Food’ evolved in the 1960’s; everything was soulful then. Now, when we think of soul food, we think of a much richer table, with trays of ribs, candied yams, greens, fried chicken and catfish and sweet potato pie and melon. Every Black family has its own traditional way of cooking. Some folks like hogshead cheese on saltines, hot sauce and a bottle of beer; crab cakes; carrot and raisin salad; fried corn or pone; red beans and rice; fried liver and onions; beans and ham hocks; stewed okra and tomatoes; cornbread dipped in buttermilk; smothered chicken; fried buffalo fish, pickled or barbecued pig's feet; fried cabbage with wings; bean pie; neck bones; spiced tongue; chittlin's; tripe; gumbo; oxtail stew, pucker-up lemon cake; breaded pork chops with a ‘mess’ of greens; real potato salad, black-eyed peas and grits. A southern dish, grits are eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner; plain, with butter, gravy, cheese or deep-fried. And, thank God southerners brought fried chicken and waffles to the northeast.

For centuries, soul food was cooked and seasoned with pork. We now know a steady diet of trans fats can contribute to obesity, hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes. It’s a fact that African-Americans sometimes have a shortened lifespan because of this, and new methods of cooking soul food use more healthy ways for frying (vegetable/canola oil instead of lard) and using smoked turkey instead of pork.

Brought by cooks in railroad galleys and the great migration to the North, these meals are enjoyed by most everyone, regardless of background. It’s no longer just a black thing, it’s comfort food. Remember this, if your family’s favorite comfort food is lasagna, it’s soul food. If corned beef and cabbage puts you in a trance, it’s soul food. If your grandmother taught you her grandmother’s special cherry pie recipe, and it gives you joy, then it’s soul food. If it’s part of your heritage, makes you feel good all over, and is cooked with love and tradition, it’s soul food.

Updated Hoecakes
1 C self-rising flour
1 C self-rising cornmeal
2 Eggs
1 TBSP sugar
3/4 C buttermilk
1/3 C plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 C bacon grease or oil
Oil or butter for frying
Mix ingredients well except for oil. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls into hot skillet; approx. 2 tablespoons batter per hoecake. Brown until crisp; turn and brown on other side. Drain on paper towels. Leftover batter will keep in fridge up to 2 days. Makes 17 cakes


  1. What an interesting post! I had no idea about the origins of soul food. I have never eaten this type of cuisine and haven't been to places in the US where it is readily available.

  2. Ruth, there's a great soul food restaurant at 582 Lansdowne Avenue, Toronto - between Bloor and Wallace. If it's still there; you should check it out. It's an experience !


I would love to hear from you regarding this post. Please feel free to leave your comments. All the best, Anastasia a/k/a Stacey

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips