Soul Food

I am a Southern woman. As such, I come from a long line of great Southern cooks. I was born and raised in Atlanta, as were generations of my family before me. While we knew that the Reason for the Season was Christ’s birth, a close second was Christmas dinner. Soul food was standard fare in our family. One grandfather ate pickled pigs feet and the other’s favorite was Rhubarb Pie. Our family’s culinary delights were collard greens, black-eyed peas, fried cornbread, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and creamed corn. On Christmas, we had all that and more. The cooking started days before the actual event. The planning, months before that. Jars of apple jelly put up in the summer were set aside just for the occasion, along with pickles of several varieties. Relatives each had their own specialty, and it didn’t seem like Christmas without Aunt Polly’s homemade divinity, fudge and coconut cake.
I can remember coming into my grandmother’s kitchen from the cold, quiet night, arms full of packages and food. The smells of Christmas fare wafted out to greet us like old friends. As the screen door slammed behind us my apron-clad grandmother would say, “Close that door. It’s colder than a milkshake out there!” The hustle and bustle in her small aqua kitchen rivaled Times Square on New Year’s. Aunts, cousins, or any of the women of the family could be found in the kitchen, with a Christmas apron on, spoon in hand, and sometimes a baby on one hip. The kids felt it our duty to guard the presents until time to play Santa and pass them out. The men sat in the den and waited impatiently for the feast to be served. And served it was. A spread so large it took the entire kitchen table and some additional space in the adjoining dining room. How we ever got all those people seated and served, I’ll never know. Card tables were set up everywhere. It was a masterpiece of logistics and fine china.
The jolly conversations around the tables are some of my favorite memories as a child. There was lots of laughter and enjoying one another’s company. Belts had to be undone because the stuffing was so complete. It seemed to me that the food at Christmas dinner had magical power to bring with it the spirit of celebration…the Spirit of Christmas. Unity of family. Common bloodline celebrated once a year. Stories of Christmas’s past. New memories made. All a part of the holiday cheer.
Over the years, Christmas dinner has changed. Many of the staple recipes of the meal have ceased as the women who made them died off. We have moved the celebration to new places. The family has shrunk as different branches lost touch. New foods have been added, and we no longer use Crisco and fatback in every recipe. And while the venues, and people have come and gone, the spirit of the celebration is the same. It marks an occasion in our family’s life each year. A day to come together and celebrate love, laughter, and the common blood we share. For a day, or at least a meal, we put our differences aside and celebrate our heritage and the Lord that created it. I am fortunate that I was well into my forties before the Christmas dinner torch was passed to me. Now I am the one who gathers the family into my home…one side of the family at least. I am the one who starts cooking the day before, and planning before that. But it is no bother, because I come from a long line of Southern cooks and “soul” food is my specialty. Let the cooking commence! Merry Christmas!

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One thought on “Soul Food

  1. Ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrosly
    with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
    (Joel 2:26

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