If you are what you eat, Alabamians are barbeque and banana pudding, fried bird and beef chops, pound cake and pecan pie, fried inexperienced tomatoes and okra, catfish and shrimp, grits and veggies, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie, buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, sliced tomatoes and macaroni and cheese, pimento cheese and boiled peanuts and a lot greater.
Food flavors Alabama’s rich history and culture, supporting define who we are as human beings and state. But who defined the meals that define us? In big measure, it’s been African-Americans.
Beginning with slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction, from brutal, segregated Jim Crow days via civil rights tragedies and triumphs, to nowadays whilst we rejoice meals and cooking and eating places and chefs, African-Americans fashioned our delicacies. From the time Africans had been pressured into slavery in America, they and their descendants prompted and enhanced what we eat and grow in Alabama, throughout the South and the relaxation of the united states of America.
“The advent of enslaved African humans to the place inside the early 18th century drove … cultural and culinary change,” wrote Dana J. Alsen in “The Alabama Food Frontier,” a current file commissioned through the Southern Foodways Alliance for the Alabama Department of Tourism. “Antebellum Alabama foodways have been a melting pot of global cultures. European and African traditions have become maximum suggested.”
New ingredients delivered from Africa within the holds of slave ships soon crammed that melting pot and have become staples in Alabamians’ diets in addition to vegetation for farmers.
“We have tales of Africans actually hiding seeds of their hair so certain vegetation like okra and a number of the spices that are commonplace now in our diets were delivered over literally at the bodies of enslaved Africans,” stated Derryn Moten, chairman of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University in Sir Bernard Law.
New cooking strategies
In latest years, culinary historians and writers have credited Africans with introducing many new cooking techniques (as an instance, one-pot cooking, deep-fats frying and the use of smoked meats as seasoning) as well as dishes to the New World. They created gumbo, an version of a conventional west African stew; stewed tomatoes and okra; corn cakes, grits and shrimp and grits; hoppin’ John, jambalaya, crimson rice and other rice-based dishes; collards and different veggies; chow-chow and different pickled vegetables; boiled peanuts and peanut soup; and chitlins and cracklings, among different meals.
“By the mid-19th century, the most influential and popular American cookbooks all contained recipes proposing African elements, together with okra, area peas, eggplant, veggies, cayenne pepper, sesame seeds, and peanuts,” wrote Emily Blejwas, previously of Auburn University, in the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
What the ones cookbooks written via and for whites did now not contain turned into proper credit score for black chefs. As John Egerton, a founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, wrote within the foreword to “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks”: “Long earlier than the South or the state as an entire got round to debating the deeply fraught social difficulty of racial integration, the South had thoroughly and indivisibly integrated its food. This was now not performed with foresight or purpose; it certainly passed off inside the prescribed direction of events because the black minority did most of the work and the ruling white majority took most of the credit.”
Most historic bills of American food traditions have long left out the role African-Americans played. In “The Jemima Code,” which gained a prestigious James Beard Award in 2016, creator Toni Tipton-Martin documented the contributions black ladies and men made to America’s culinary landscape. She also sought to dispel the tired “Aunt Jemima”/“Mammy” stereotype of African-American chefs, cooks and cookbook authors that “diminishes information, abilities, and capabilities involved in their work, and portrays them as passive and ignorant worker’s incapable of creative culinary artistry.”