Soul food recipes shared ahead of Muskogee cook-off this weekend
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1/16/13 at 6:49 AM
Cassandra Gaines can remember the smells of smothered pork chops, pot roast and fried chicken wafting out of her grandmother's kitchen.
She learned to cook all of those foods from her mother. They remind her of the comforts of home.
That's soul food.
"Soul food is comfort food. It's what you were brought up on," Gaines said.
For nine years, Gaines has spread the word about soul food by organizing a soul food cook-off in Muskogee. The event, which is tied to the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, keeps growing every year.
"I am expecting this one to be the biggest soul food cook-off ever," Gaines said of the event that runs Thursday through Sunday.
It has gotten so big that the cook-off has gained national attention and was even featured in the documentary "Soul Food Junkies," which premiered Monday on PBS.
The movie, which won best documentary at the 2012 American Black Film Festival, will be shown Thursday in Muskogee at the Roxy Theater as part of the festivities.
Filmmaker Byron Hurt chronicled the history of soul food and examines how black cultural identity has been linked to the high-calorie, high-fat foods. But the movie also shows how this realization has spurred a movement to find a balance between the comfort foods of home and a healthy lifestyle.
It's a trend that Gaines said she started seeing evolve at the soul food cook-off about two years ago.
"We have a lot of the same cooks every year, but we've got quite a few new ones ... new, young ones," Gaines said. "And they are cooking soul food, but they are cooking much healthier versions."
She said soul food can be healthier by changing seasonings and reducing the oils used.
"Instead of adding a bunch of bacon, you could use more peppers and onions and garlic," Gaines said. "You can do fried chicken in the oven. You can season up the batter and you cannot tell that it was not fried."
Hurt, who lives in New York but is originally from Georgia, explained that his motivation for "Soul Food Junkies" was a family tragedy that can be linked to his father's love of unhealthy soul foods.
"My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. I immediately started to focus in on his eating habits, which have always been a concern," Hurt said. "I wondered how his diet influenced his illness."
One of the contributing factors of pancreatic cancer is a diet that is high in fat, sugar and red meat, Hurt said.
"I started encouraging him to change his diet, and I saw how hard it was for him. I saw firsthand how emotionally connected he was to his food," Hurt said. "I started to wonder, what is it about soul food? What makes it so hard to change our eating habits in the African-American community?"
The movie was an opportunity to educate people about ways to enjoy soul food while also eating healthier.
Hurt said he grew up eating collard greens, mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, potato salad and corn bread, "all those good things ... including sweet potato pies."
When Hurt learned about the cook-off in Muskogee, he thought it was a unique opportunity to talk to many people at once about soul food.
"I have not seen anything like it before. It's a very unique event," Hurt said. "We spent a whole day there, and I found it interesting that it was such a multiracial, cross-cultural event."
In addition to educating people about soul food during the yearly cook-offs, Gaines was recently invited to create an exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.
"What I am going to do is go back 50 years and bring people all the way up to now and show the different types of cooking and all of the contributions that African-American women made to cooking in the kitchen," Gaines said.
She cited tools such as types of egg beaters, pastry forks and a toaster that were inventions by black women.
Gaines will also feature recipes in the exhibit, including these three that she shared with us.
CASSY'S MEAL IN ONE
1 head green cabbage, cored and cut in pieces
1 green pepper cut in strips
1 red pepper cut in strips
1 onion chopped
1 package of Eckridge sausage, sliced in chunks
2 potatoes, sliced
Lawry's seasoning salt to taste
black pepper to taste
garlic powder to taste
1/2 cup of oil
1. Add all ingredients in a Dutch oven and cook slow until vegetables are tender. Will feed up to 8 people. Best served with your favorite cornbread.
CASSY'S SMOTHERED PORK CHOPS
Makes 6 servings (best served with steamed rice or mashed potatoes)
6 lean pork chops
1 medium onion
Lawry's seasoning salt
1 cup of Crisco or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups of flour
1. Wash chops. Sprinkle seasoning salt, black pepper and garlic powder on both side of the chops. Put flour in shallow dish and roll seasoned pork chops in the flour. Pour oil in heated cast-iron skillet and brown meat on both sides. Take meat out.
2. Pour some of the oil out of the skillet - about 1/2 cup - and add flour. Brown flour in skillet and add 1 cup of cold water to thicken. Add another 1/2 cup water, then put meat back in gravy. Slice onions on top and simmer until meat is tender.
CASSY'S HOMEMADE SWEET POTATO PIE
4 large sweet potatoes
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 can evaporated milk
1 stick of margarine or butter
1. Peel potatoes and cut in quarters. Put in a Dutch oven and add water to cover. Cook until tender, pour off water.
2. Mash potatoes and add sugar, vanilla, butter and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and add to potato mixture. Pour milk in your mixture, slowly beat until creamy.
3. Pour into three 9-inch pie crusts and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Test pie with a toothpick - if toothpick comes out clean, pie is ready.
Ninth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Soul Food Cook-off in Muskogee
Thursday: The documentary "Soul Food Junkies," featuring a past cook-off in Muskogee, will be shown at the Roxy Theater. Admission is $5, showing from 7-10 p.m.
Friday: R&B Yearbook featuring live music commemorating legendary R&B artists such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, James Brown and Isaac Hayes. Admission $10, 7 p.m. at the Roxy Theater.
Saturday: Soul Food Cook-off starts at noon at the Muskogee Civic Center. Admission $10, includes food samples and a free drink. More than $10,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the top three cooks in five categories.
Sunday: Gospel Show at the Roxy Theater. Various gospel artists. Featuring Pastor Pamela Wiley. Admission is free and limited to the first 300 people. Pick up passes at the Muskogee Civic Center.
For more information, call 918-684-6363 or 888-687-6137.
Original Print Headline: Comfort For The Soul
Nicole Marshall Middleton 918-581-8459
Soul food is served in the documentary "Soul Food Junkies." LAYLAH AMATULLAH BARRAYN / Courtesy
Candied yams and collard greens are among the favorite side dishes at Wanda J's in Broken Arrow. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Servers dish out soul food in the movie "Soul Food Junkies." LAYLAH AMATULLAH BARRAYN / Courtesy
Sweet potato pie JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World file