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Cooking soul food

Soul Food is the name of an ethnic cuisine traditionally prepared and eaten by African-Americans in the Southern part of the United States. Many of the dishes also are included in regional “southern” dishes.

This style of cooking originated during American slavery when African slaves were given only leftover or undesirable cuts of meat from their masters and only had vegetables they could grow themselves, according to the African-American Registry.

After slavery, many people could only afford the off cuts of meat, along with organ meats. Farming, hunting and fishing were other sources of meat and vegetables.

Delores Penn is the cook at Feed My Sheep Community Kitchen, located in Bethel AME Church at 316 E. Jackson St. in Carbondale. The kitchen feeds anyone in the community free of charge.

To Penn, soul food includes things like greens with ham hocks or some kind of salt pork, cornbread, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, chicken feet, hog maw, chitlins, barbecue ribs and pulled pork, and a lot more.

Penn draws a personal line at items like hog feet and maw, although she remembers her auntie eating them.

“I used to wouldn’t eat greens, but now I eat them all the time,” Penn said. “Then of course you have all your desserts and stuff, like coconut cake, sweet potato pie or fried apple pies, those little half-moon-shaped pies.”

The African-American Registry lists the following as soul food in its web site: 

Biscuits: commonly served with butter, jam, jelly, sorghum or cane syrup, or gravy; used to wipe up, or "sop," liquids from a dish.

Black-eyed peas: cooked separately, or with rice as hoppin' john.

Butter beans: immature lima beans, usually cooked in butter.

Catfish: dredged in seasoned cornbread and fried.

Chicken: often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour.

Chicken livers.

Chitterlings or chitlins: the cleaned and prepared intestines of hogs, slow-cooked and often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce; sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried.

Chow-chow: a spicy, homemade pickle relish sometimes made with okra, corn, cabbage, green tomatoes and other vegetables; commonly used to top black-eyed peas and otherwise as a condiment and side dish.

Collard greens: usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens.

Cornbread: short bread often baked in an iron skillet, sometimes seasoned with bacon fat.

Chicken fried steak: beef deep fried in flour or batter, usually served with gravy.

Cracklins: commonly known as pork rinds and sometimes added to cornbread batter.

Fatback: fatty, cured, salted pork used to season meats and vegetables.

Fried fish: usually whiting, catfish, porgies or bluegills dredged in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried.

Fried ice cream: Ice cream deep frozen and coated with cookies and fried.

Grits: coarse ground corn, often served with fish.

Ham hocks: smoked, used to flavor vegetables and legumes.

Hog maws: (or hog jowls), sliced and usually cooked with chitterlings.

Hoghead cheese.

Hot sauce: a condiment of cayenne peppers, vinegar, salt, garlic and other spices often used on chitterlings, fried chicken and fish. (Not the same as "Tabasco sauce," which has heat, but little flavor).

Macaroni and cheese.

Mashed potatoes: usually with butter and condensed milk.

Meatloaf: typically served with brown gravy.

Milk and bread: "po' folks' dessert-in-a-glass" of slightly crumbled cornbread, buttermilk and sugar.

Mustard greens: cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens.

Neckbones: beef neck bones seasoned and slow cooked.

Okra: African vegetable eaten fried in cornmeal or stewed, often with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot peppers.

Pigs' feet: slow-cooked like chitterlings, sometimes pickled and, like chitterlings, often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce.

Red beans.

Ribs: usually pork, but can also be beef ribs.

Rice: usually served with red beans.

Sorghum syrup: from sorghum, or "Guinea corn," a sweet grain indigenous to Africa introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century; see biscuits.

Succotash: originally a Native American dish of yellow corn and butter beans, usually cooked in butter.

Sweet potatoes: often parboiled, sliced and then baked, using sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter or margarine, commonly called "candied yams"; also boiled, then pureed and baked into pies.

Turnip greens: usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens.

In Carbondale, you can get a sample of many of these foods during the 22nd annual Taste of Blackness from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 803 N. Robert A. Stalls Ave. Tickets are $8. For tickets or information, call 618-457-7075 or email



Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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