Mississippi: The River of Song and more...

Smithsonian Institution
Midwestern Crossroads1: Americans Old and New2: Midwestern Crossroads3: Southern Fusion4: Louisiana: Where Music is King


Traditional Foodways

       Foodways make up a body of knowledge which is much more than simply recipes or just "a dish." What we actually eat is only one part of a larger complex made up of the preparers, cooking processes, menu choices, food origins, rituals, and context in which food is readied and eaten. Cooking revolves around cycles of agriculture, work routines, and social roles of families and groups. Some choices in creating things to eat depend on knowing about foodstuffs, seasonal harvests, and favorite foods of a group. Some choices involve creative problem solving, such as improvisation, essential as cooks incorporate the ingredients at hand as substitutes for unavailable foods.
       Foodways presentations illustrate this web of knowledge that informs food preparation. Exploring foodways gives us an inventory of a family's cooking techniques; paints a portrait of the person who cooks; and shows the designation of work roles in a family. We see how cooking not only challenges the ability to produce pleasant tastes; we learn in what ways cooking attests to the cook's workmanship, inventiveness, and determination. Foodways also include the songs, stories, jokes, medicines, and beliefs associated with the preparation and acceptability of foods within a particular group.

African American Cooking

       Whether we call it soul food or Southern cooking, distinctive foodways of African American communities are built on generations of cross cultural contacts and occupational roles over generations of African Americans. Black Americans before the slave trade applied African styles, cooking techniques, and substitutions to North American foods, for example substituting the American sweet potato for the African yam; or preparing grits, the grist of southern cookery, in a similar way as African foo-foo or "mealie." Blacks were assigned cooking duties in plantation kitchens or, after Emancipation, frequently served as hotel cooks, and, thus, had ample opportunity to put the stamp of an already emerged African American cookery on regional foodways.
       The foodways presenters in Missouri Performing Traditions learned their food and cooking skills from relatives who were hotel cooks, collected herbs for pharmacologists, or served as family cooks. Their collections of recipes, iron cookware, early African American cookbooks, and stories about cooking and working in the kitchen make up the foodways presentations. Food is served when possible so audiences can sample traditional family recipes. Presenting artists: Almetta "Cookie" Jordan and Imani Mtendaji; Lillie Mabel Hall.

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