Preserving the Tradition of African American New Year Eats

blackeyed peas over rice

Black-eyed peas over saffron Rice.  Photo by Crystal Johnson

African American New Year’s Eats face a stigma.  Much of the younger African Americans, the yuppies and hipsters realize the food isn’t healthy and there seems to be a resentment about the traditional foods being the leftover grub for Black folks during the slavery days in the United States.  As an African American who grew up in New York as a 70’s child to parents from the south, I have an appreciation for the traditional foods of our history.

Food is correlated to history.  For the first time in years my dad prepared for me what I would call a Soul Food dinner.  The flavors were altered a bit with his age being in the 70’s.   There is a consciousness about blood pressure and salt.  Traditionally, the traditional pig feet and collard greens are  foods laddened with salt.

Pig feet

Pig Feet prepared by Carl Johnson.  Photo by Crystal Johnson

Pig feet are normally drenched in vinegar yet my dad’s gourmet take steered away from the vinegar.  I say pour it on.  It helps cut back the fat anyway.  He put before me Pig feet, chitterlings and black peas over rice.    Let’s talk about the chittlin’s .  A whiff nearly knocked out and brought me back to age 10.  The aroma is the substance of history and tradition.  Chitterlings as they are properly called are the pig’s intestines.  The undesirable parts of the pig were left to the slaves.  Thus, it is understandable that many blacks today take offense maintaining a tradition of eating something we don’t have to eat.

My father also included in the menu, cornbread.  However, he got fancy by putting it in the shape of a rose.  Now I can tell you my dad proudly presented these dishes with love and appreciation of our history.  He prepared these dishes in a way that you may find it in a fine restaurant.   He also prepared the most delicious pressure cooked collard greens lightly seasoned with white pepper.  There was no pot liquor to be found.  Pot liquor is the leftover liquid from collard greens.  Mom used to talk about that when I was a child.  You couldn’t find much historical record of pot liquor when I was a child.  I almost thought it was an old wise tale but today with the internet more of the history of African Americans moving form oral to written history.  Today, we also know the nutrients of collard greens and kale was a healthful blessing to our diet.

chitterlings

Chitterlings aka “Chittlin’s” Photo by Crystal Johnson

I guess what I want people to walk away is there is room to embrace our historic food traditions.  It may involve leaving some of the menu items off or merely changing the preparation.   But in a culture that has tried to stay alive, let’s preserve some of our culinary traditions.   Many cultures around the world maintain food traditions which symbolize oppression as a remembrance.  Maybe preparation of these foods can be a way of recalling Black history in America as we build our way toward a brighter tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “Preserving the Tradition of African American New Year Eats

  1. I love this post. Clear and moving expression of the challenges of carrying culinary traditions forward, and the importance of doing so anyway, and figuring out ways to keep the connections, honor the elders, and feed ourselves body, mind, and spirit. So moved to know that Mr. Carl Johnson is cooking the food, old-school way and with modern touches, while passing along the stories that live inside the pots and serving dishes. Happy New Year!

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