February is Black History Month,and African Americans have contributed a multitude of inventions, years of service and ideas to the American landscape. They have also contributed a wide variety of food and techniques to our culinary landscape as well. It is am impressive list, with a lasting impact.
Ask most Euro- Americans what African Americans have given to us food wise and they'll all say "Soul Food." That's correct however that's only one facet . They were responsible for much of our agriculture.One of the most important staples the enslaved have given us is rice cultivation. The first seeds came to the North American from Madagascar in 1685. By the 1750's it was one of the biggest staple of the Southern colonies. Senegalese "workers" taught colonists how to plant and cultivate the crop. They also brought cattle raising as well thanks to the Fulani or Fula people from Semegambia . They were expert cattlemen , and showed white masters the African husbandry patterns of open grazing and artificial insemination.. Our modern term cowboy comes form them. Those that worked with the steer were called such. The Fulani people also introduced the idea of drinking milk for sustenance, a food concept so deeply ingrained in our culture , that's it;'s a given that we give kids milk.Food contributions are legendary, from okra to black eyed peas to yams. These have all added to our diets as well as expanding our palates' worlds.Peanuts were their most famous gift, It did start off in Brazil but Portuguese sailors brought it to Africa where it was embraced by locals.
African American cooks and chefs have also contributed a multitude of delicious dishes to the American cookbook. Cornbread is one of their biggest contributions., first having been made as a mush from corn meal. This pone was also similar to a dish called Eba where we get the modern day grits. Fufu is the grandfather of our modern day hoecakes and pancakes, first having been made with palm oil and flour. The ultimate Southern dish, fried chicken comes from plantation kitchens, with the enslaved bringing the traditional deep fried cooking technique to the colonies. Deep frying is actually a preservation technique, similar to heavy salting to preserve not only fowl but also beef.Soul food , of course is another big contribution but it has sad origins. It came from the refuse that plantation owners let their enslaved workers have for sustenance. They were also given a small plot of land to grow vegetables. too. Dinners were usually hamhocks with turnip greens or collards, staples that are eaten today by all Americans.It was washed down with coffee, another African import , from Ethopia's Kaffa region hence the name. Watermelon also came over with the enslaved as did Kola nuts which gives the base for the greatest American invention of all time Coca-Cola.
Without all these contributions American cuisine would not be as tasty or as varied. The African Americans gave us a good portion of our culinary history. They should be lauded for this along with their sacrifices for America.