Celebrate Juneteenth with soul food

June 18, 2014 

Juneteenth celebrations started on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the day Union troops landed in that port city and freed those who had been enslaved.

Former slaves celebrated in the streets, and the date, June 19, was celebrated with Juneteenth celebrations in Texas the next year.

It took generations for that celebration to gain a national following, but today it is a holiday celebrated in many ways, but especially with the food that in the 1960s began to be called soul food.

The food of the American South is a wonderful gumbo with influences from Native Americans, Europe, the Caribbean and especially Africa.

Black-eyed peas, peanuts, watermelon, yams, plantains and okra are just a few of the foods Africa contributed to the palette of the American South.

Many other foods were the product of poverty, cuts of meat or species of animals that the rich or affluent turned their collective noses up to. If you worked in the fields all day, then the only time you had to hunt was in the evening, and so nocturnal animals such as raccoons and opossums came onto the menu. When a pig was slaughtered, those bits that were not as sought after, such as ribs, hocks, cheeks, belly and tails, were put to use. How often in the great cuisines of the world has the food from the poorest table become the haute cuisine of later times?

But it is not just the individual ingredients that make soul food so good. It is the combinations in which they are presented. Simple corn meal, with the addition of buttermilk and a few other things, becomes the staple bread of the South in cornbread. Peas and beans are stewed with a few fresh vegetables grown in a backyard plot. Add some leftover pork, and it becomes a soul-satisfying stew.

Don't underestimate soul food. It is being served today in some of the finest restaurants and should be on your table as well, especially on such an important holiday as Juneteenth, which will be celebrated Thursday.

This is a classic combination and, when done right, is absolutely delicious. Whether you decide to make the beans from scratch, from dried beans, or using well-rinsed canned beans will depend on how much time you have to make this recipe. Outstanding results can be had from both methods.

BLACK EYED PEAS AND CORNBREAD

2 cups cooked black-eyed peas

2 cups organic chicken or vegetable stock

2/3 cup chopped ham or smoked sausage (your choice)

2/3 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

3 to 4 cloves chopped garlic

Red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

1 chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)

Sauté the ham or sausage in a little oil until well browned and fragrant, add the onion and bell pepper, season aggressively and cook for at least 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more, but do not burn it. Add the stock and1/4 cup of the cooked peas, taste and season as necessary. Simmer for 30 minutes, add the remaining peas and simmer 10 minutes longer.

Proceed to the cornbread recipe below.

BASIC CORNBREAD RECIPE

3/4 cup self rising flour

3/4 cup stone ground corn meal

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 farm fresh eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and the eggs and mix again. Heat a black cast iron skillet with1/4 cup of oil or, if you are very brave, bacon grease, till its smoking. Carefully pour in the batter and bake for about 20 minutes. It should be pretty easy to remove the cornbread from the pan. Just invert it and give it a good knock on the counter top. Cut the cornbread into slices, split each slice open and slather with lots of butter, top with the black eyed peas and have at it.

HOPPIN' JOHN

Most often made with blackeyed peas, Hoppin' Johns are equally as good with field peas.

2 cups cooked field peas

1 ham hock

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

3-4 chopped cloves of garlic

6 cups best quality chicken stock

1 bay leaf

Salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 cup jasmine rice

Combine the vegetables in a large, heavy bottom stock pot, add a few tablespoon oil and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the ham hock, season aggressively, add the bay leaf and1/4 cup of the peas, simmer for 30 minutes. Pour off 2 cups of the stock, combine the stock and rice in a rice cooker and cook according to directions. When the rice is done, combine with the peas and serve at once. Many people like a little hot sauce with their hoppin' johns.

ROASTED HAM HOCK

This is not a typical Southern recipe, but it is so good it really needed to be included. You may have some problems finding a fresh ham hock, but be persistent and you will be richly rewarded.

2 fresh pork hocks, 3-4 pounds total

1 diced onion

4 slices smoked bacon, chopped

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4-5 ounces beer

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron pot cook the bacon until the fat is rendered, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Make room in the pot, add the shanks, and brown aggressively. This should take about 15 minutes. Pour in the beer, cover the pot and bake in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The shanks should be very tender. This recipe calls for mashed potatoes and cold beer. Yes, it does sound a bit German, but be assured the people in the South have been eating roasted ham hock for generations.

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