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After the Civil War, many African Americans migrated north, bringing their culinary knowledge to new parts of the nation. Decades later, with the mainstream popularity of Soul Music in the 1960s, African American food was also dubbed Soul Food. These recipes have been around long before the ‘60s, and are an important part of the culinary history of our nation. In Ann Arbor, the Ann Street Block and other historically African American sections of the city were home to African American restaurants and entertainment celebrating the Blues.
Within Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor has historically been a magnet for social change. In 1970, the University of Michigan campus was the location of several strikes held by The Black Action Movement in response to the administration’s rejection of civil rights requests. The strikers won many of their demands, which included the creation of the Center for African American Studies, the Trotter Multicultural Center, and a Department of Minority Affairs. Here are some recipes from Jessica B. Harris’ book "The Welcome Table" that explore African American cooking.
1 pound small okra pods, topped and tailed 2 cups water salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Wash the okra and cut it into ½ inch rounds. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Place the okra rounds in the saucepan, lower the heat, and cook for 5 minutes. When the okra is fork-tender,remove from heat, add the salt and pepper and the lemon juice, drain, and serve hot. Serves 4 to 6 people.
¾ cup yellow cornmeal ¾ cup flour 2 tablespoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt ¾ cup milk 1 egg 3 tablespoons melted butter Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the milk, egg, and melted butter and beat for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is smooth. Pour the batter into the square pan, place in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes or until the cornbread is lightly browned on the top and a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean.
Smothered pork chops are usually served with rice, so that the sauce from the chops can become gravy for the rice. 6 (1-inch-thick) center-cut pork chops 3 tablespoons bacon drippings 1 lemon, thinly sliced 2 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced 1 small green bell pepper, cored and sliced into rings 1 small red bell pepper, cored and sliced in to rings 4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped 1 cup water 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar Pinch of ground clove Pinch of ground allspice Pinch of ground cinnamon Pinch of celery seed Pinch of cayenne pepper 2 tablespoons sugar Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste In a heavy skillet, brown the porch chops in the bacon drippings. Add the lemon and the onion and bell pepper slices, and continue to sauté. In a small bowl mix the tomatoes, water, vinegar, spices, sugar, salt, and pepper until they are a thick sauce and pour over the pork chops. Cover the skillet and simmer the pork chops over medium heat for 45 minutes, or until they are tender and the tomato mixture has turned into a thick, gravy like sauce.
“Angell Hall.” Bentley Historical Library. http://bentley.umich.edu/exhibits/campus_tour/angell.php. “Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission,” Box 5, Bentley Historical Library. Gibson, Carol and Jones, Lola M. Another Ann Arbor. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2006. Harris, Jessica B. The Welcome Table. New York: Fireside (1996). “Hill Auditorium.” Bentley Historical Library. http://president.umich.edu/history/markers/hillaud.html. Longstreet, Richard. The Buildings of Main Street. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Opie, Frederick Douglass. Hog and Hominy Soul Food from Africa to America. New York: Columbia University Press (2008).
Cover Photo Source: Ann Arbor News."Street Sign, E. Ann St. and N. Fourth Ave., May 1974. Available at https://aadl.org/N186_0213_006.