Welcome to the Inaugural Dining Through Black History Celebration!
In observance of Black History Month, several Black-owned food and beverage vendors have partnered with The Urban League of Philadelphia. We are commemorating the role of food in the African American experience and raising scholarship funds for a promising high school student.
When you place an order with one of the participating businesses to cater an event, Valentine’s Day celebration, or individual platter, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the Urban League Scholarship Fund.
Below, you will see a list of participating businesses. You may click on each of their links to find out more about them and place orders. In addition, we have included a few historical facts about traditional soul food and southern cuisines. Finally, we invite you to donate directly to The Urban League Scholarship by visiting the following link: [DONATE]
To place an order or learn about one of the participating businesses, click the respective link below.
Details by Ms. Dawn
Eatible Delights Catering
Nutz About Popcorn
Sweet Treat Hut
Win Win Coffee
Historical Facts about Soul Food
Soul food is an ethnic cuisine traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans. The cuisine originated in the Southern United States, with food given to enslaved Blacks by white, Southern plantation owners during the Antebellum period. However, the traditional practices of West Africans and Native Americans influenced soul food from its inception. Enslaved people were typically given a peck of cornmeal and three to four pounds of pork per week. Staples such as cornbread, fried catfish, barbecued ribs, chitterlings, and neckbones came from those rations.
Most enslaved people needed to consume a high-calorie diet, to replenish the calories spent working in the fields performing physically arduous tasks. This led to traditions like frying foods, breading meats and fish with cornmeal, and mixing meats with vegetables (e.g. putting pork in collard greens). Eventually, the larger Southern culture adopted this style of cooking, as enslavers gave special privileges to those with cooking skills.
The term soul food became popular in the 1960s and 1970s during the Black Power movement. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965, became one of the first written users of the term. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) published an article entitled “Soul Food” and became a key proponent for establishing soul food as a part of the Black American identity. African Americans who participated in the Great Migration found the food reminding them of the home and family they left behind in the south.
For more history on soul food, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_food.
A Few Traditional Soul Food Dishes
“You and your friend mac’ and cheese, Candy yams, collard greens, but you knocking me to my knees…” Nas, American Rap Artist
Collard greens date back to prehistoric times and are one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. The ancient Greeks grew kale and collards, although they made no distinction between them.
Greens were part of West African cuisines where the slaves were captured. Collard Greens are a powerhouse food and easy to cultivate. During slavery, African Americans needed crops that could be easily maintained during their downtime since they worked thirteen-hour days.
We’ll often find some variation of fried chicken to be the centerpiece of a soul food meal. Fried chicken is a common racial stereotype, but black people did not invent it. Enslaved Africans popularized the dish following Scottish immigrants settling in the south. In the 1700s, the Scots had a deep-frying chicken in fat tradition, introducing this method to enslaved people in the 1800s.
Fried chicken also created money-making opportunities for blacks, even during slavery. Enslaved people highly valued chickens because many slaveholders allowed them to raise their own chickens. During what little leisure time they had, enslaved people would go to the nearest market and barter or sell live chickens, eggs, or fried chicken. Some made enough money to buy their freedom as a result.Page Break
Yams and Sweet Potatoes
The following text is an excerpt from The Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes Is Structural Racism.
In the United States, the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are used interchangeably, but they are completely different vegetables. Yams are starchy and have a rough, brown exterior. They can grow up to 45 feet long and are eaten in parts of Latin America, West Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. Sweet potatoes are a New World root vegetable, have a softer, reddish skin, a creamier interior, and often, a darker interior. Most American supermarkets are selling you sweet potatoes, not yams.
The mix-up between yams and sweet potatoes originated from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yams are an important part of West African food traditions. European slave traders steered their ships across the Middle Passage, they packed yams, along with black-eyed peas, to feed their captives. Slave merchant John Barbot estimated that 100,000 yams were required to sustain a ship bringing over 500 enslaved people, just 200 yams per person for a journey that could take months. In the Americas, where yams were not readily available, sweet potatoes, which had traveled from Central America with Christopher Columbus, took their place. As Dr. Scott Alves Barton, a chef and culinary educator who teaches at NYU, wrote in the February issue of Food & Wine , sweet potatoes became one of several transfer foods, a through-line allowing enslaved peoples to preserve their traditions and spiritual practices even in the face of captivity and abuse.
Macaroni and Cheese
Americans have served macaroni and cheese since the country’s founding. But a 20th-century economy driven by convenience packaging and industrialization elevated it to an ideal American food. Pasta and processed cheese are inexpensive to make and easy to ship and store.
As with many foods, white culture and African-American culture diverge on the make and use of macaroni and cheese. According to food historian Adrian Miller, President Thomas Jefferson often gets credit for popularizing macaroni and cheese in the United States, but his enslaved black chef, James Hemmings learned to cook it. In the Antebellum South, mac and cheese was a weekend and celebration food. Many African Americans have continued this tradition to this day.
The following text is an excerpt from The A-Maize-Ing History of Cornbread.
As “Southern Living” Test Kitchen Director Robby Melvin explains, what we know today as Southern cornbread began as the product of necessity in the early 18th century. Growing wheat was quite difficult in the colonial South as it would quickly turn rancid from the heat, so wheat flour was a luxury enjoyed only by rich landowners. In contrast, corn was a sturdier grain that had been used centuries earlier by the Aztecs and Mayans, who ground the kernels into a thick meal before pressing the mixture into tortillas. Poorer colonists emulated this process, creating a simple mixture of cornmeal and water that was baked over a hearth and eaten plain or — if they could afford it — with beans.
Understandably, it did not take long for Southerners to start looking for ways to make cornbread actually taste good. They experimented with the addition of farmed products, many of which were pig-based. These included bacon fat, rendered ham hog fat, eggs and buttermilk — all of which imparted flavor and richness to the final product. They also modified the baking process, pouring the mixture directly into a heated cast-iron skillet covered with butter or bacon drippings. Noticeably absent from these recipes, however, was sugar.
Things take a darker turn when discussing cornbread derivatives. Cornbread dressing, the quintessential Thanksgiving side, originated from kush (sometimes called “Confederate cush” in reference to its popularity during the Civil War), a cornbread scramble made by enslaved peoples. For them, kush was a distant memory of kusha, an Islamic West African staple similar to couscous that is speculated to have developed in Senegambia and the Sahel. Whereas a quick Google search for “cornbread dressing” yields recipes calling for sage pork sausages or thick-cut bacon, the original dish was a struggle food put together from the meager rations granted by slave owners. A pinch of salt or an old onion were common additions to the cornmeal base, with pork trimmings being a rare treat.
These early cornbreads are still a far cry from the fluffy fall favorite we enjoy now. In addition to lacking sugar and wheat flour, early versions didn’t have leavening agents. Substances like baking soda and buttermilk that give modern cornbread its rise were not used until the 19th century. Although 18th century recipes can be found today, the key ingredients — buttermilk in particular — have themselves evolved over time, so much so that it is virtually impossible to recreate the original.
How did we end up with the characteristically-cakey cornbread served at BBQ joints? According to Serious Eats, as milling technologies improved, traditional stone mills were phased out in favor of more efficient steel roller mills in the early 20th century. This dramatically changed the quality of cornmeal; the heat produced by steel rollers degraded corn kernels — thus, reducing its natural sweetness and flavor — and reduced the particle size, which would weaken the structural quality of cornbread. To adapt to these challenges, the additions of sugar, wheat flour and chemical leaveners like baking soda transformed cornbread from a limp, patty-like bread to the more indulgent version popular with young children today.