Did you know that there are Black roots behind some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes?
For the Black community, Thanksgiving meals started as church-based celebrations speaking out against slavery.
The African American Registry confirmed this:
“Thanksgiving expression for the American Black community began as a church-based celebration. Black pastors often gave sermons that could be heard loud and clear through the many small Black churches. The sermons would be about struggles, hopes, fears, and triumphs. The sermons usually grieved the institution of slavery; the suffering of the Black people; and often pleaded for that an awakening of a slave-free America would someday come soon.”
Thanksgiving dishes–or soul food–took a special meaning in the community.
In fact, Adrian Miller (who wrote “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time”) insisted that soul food is the same as holiday food.
So, let’s look at these Thanksgiving meals and their distinct backgrounds.
According to the LATIBAL Collard Green Museum, collard greens were among the few vegetables the Black community could grow and harvest for themselves while enslaved.
So, these vegetables became a Black traditional food as the community kept growing them even after emancipation in the late 1800s.
In fact, collard greens recipes have been handed down from generation to generation until today.
Mac And Cheese
James Hemings was a slave to Thomas Jefferson at only 8.
When Hemings turned 19, Jefferson took him to France so he could learn French cooking.
Hemings learned to cook macaroni pie using boiling water and milk.
He brought the recipe home, and it evolved into today’s mac and cheese.
According to Ebony, Hemings would place “sharp American cheese in between layers of butter and milk-coated macaroni. Then baked in a Dutch oven over an open-hearth fireplace stove with hot coals placed on the pot’s lid to bake.”
Dr. Frederick Douglass Opie, a professor of history and foodways at Babson College in Massachusetts, believes cornbread came to be as a survival technique.
“A lot of those things that were a part of our cuisine come out of survival techniques…During the week, enslaved people ate things like hoecakes, cornbread or ashcakes—when you take the cornmeal and combine it with water and you cook that actual cake over ashes.”
And that’s how cornmeal became a crucial supplement to enslaved persons and one of the unmissable Thanksgiving dishes.
Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potato pie is related to the British carrot pie dessert, but probably existed because of its relation to the African American community.
Before pies exploded in popularity across the country, slaves ate them.
They then became a Thanksgiving staple for the Black community.
Back in the day, slaves only received basic ingredients, so they could barely survive.
However, they used those basic ingredients to make something special.
They made kush, a cornbread scramble that became so popular that it transcended racial barriers, became one of the essential Thanksgiving dishes, and even whites started making it.
And That’s Your History Of Black Thanksgiving Dishes
From the humble collard greens to James Hemings’ complicated mac and cheese, each of these Thanksgiving dishes represents Black history and culture.
Which dish will you have this Thanksgiving?