When my family gets together, the central focus is usually a meal–probably just like your family. Sometimes we enjoy some of our traditional favorite foods, such as my mom’s challah bread or brisket, or my grandmother’s noodle pudding. There’s a comfort in the ritual of family meals and a feeling of connectedness to our ancestors’ recipes and traditions, even if we’ve tweaked the recipes over the years to match our modern diet and schedule.
February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada. Started by African-American historian Carter G. Woodsen in 1926 and chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, the month-long celebration recognizes contributions African-Americans have made to our collective culture and history.
African Americans have a rich and delicious food history that we know as soul food. It reminds us of traditional southern cuisine in many ways. Sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, okra, and some other traditional soul food ingredients were brought with slaves from Africa or were combined with foods native to the Americas, and form the basis for some historically African-American dishes that we still know and enjoy today.
These warm and flaky Sweet Potato Biscuits are sure to be a hit with your family, and making them together can lead to a fun celebration of and conversation about Black History Month. These are also known as Sunday morning biscuits because biscuits were often savored on Sundays before families went to church. After church, a big Sunday meal would (and still does) follow in many homes, featuring gumbo, cornbread, collard greens, and other traditional soul foods.
This recipe comes from my friend Christina McHenry’s treasured copy of “The Black Family Reunion Cookbook: Recipes and Food Memories from the National Council of Negro Women,” published in 1991. As Dorothy I. Height, longtime President and CEO of the NCNW says in her introduction to the book, “The sharing of good food among loved ones and good friends not only gives us sustenance but also strength to meet life’s challenges. During decades of public life, I have seen more problems settled in a dining room than in a conference room.”
Rolling and cutting out circles of soft, pliable dough is a wonderful way for our kids to work with their hands and connect to the tangible pleasures of cooking and Black History Month.