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YOUNGSTOWN Speaker: Black cuisine expresses love, family



Published: Sat, February 15, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The lecture dealt with black food traditions.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Women in the kitchen with playful children running through the house, and sweet smells wafting through the air, teasing those patiently waiting for the food preparation to end.

That was the historical mental picture painted by Youngstown Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark of most black families on Sunday afternoons in days gone by. Brown-Clark gave a lecture on local black American food traditions Wednesday at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society Archival Library.

Brown-Clark said the Sunday family meal was most important in many black families because many black women did domestic work during the week and did not make it home in time to prepare large meals.

On Sunday, families would make up for that with an all-inclusive get-together serving food with a lot of emotion on the side, she said.

"Food in the African-American community was an expression of love," she said.

At funeral gatherings

Another time that blacks would come together with food as a basis for expressing emotion was at funerals.

Brown-Clark said a funeral would bring black families from across the area together, and because most of those blacks had migrated to a variety of places, that was a good time to see a variety of black cuisine.

Brown-Clark said some of the traditional foods blacks eat, such as fried chicken and oyster or clam stew, cannot be directly attributed to black people, but Southern blacks added a mixture of seasonings to those items that make them unique.

Food habits

She also reflected on food habits of area blacks such as canning greens, peaches or anything picked in the summer.

"You could go from kitchen to kitchen right here in Youngstown and see these people doing some extraordinary things," she said.

Brown-Clark said much of what blacks ate during their early history in America was out of necessity. She said blacks did not have access to what was considered the finer pieces of meat, so they took what was left and made it good.

Once those recipes were perfected and blacks began to move North, she said, particular ingredients could not be found and substitutions were made.

If you were dealing with limited resources, "you ate what you could find and you made it good," she said.

Blacks perfected recipes using foods such as rabbit, possum, raccoon and pigs feet, ears and tails. Sweet potatoes, she said, were a mainstay. Blacks would make, and continue to make, things such as pie, biscuits and breads out of the sweet potato.

Many black women, Brown-Clark said, have taken recipes for things such as hot water bread, kidney stew and tripe to their graves.

It is important to remember, however, that all blacks did not eat the same foods, she said. There were social, economical and geographical differences in the kinds of food consumed.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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