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Soul Food: Recipes and Reflections from African-American Churches

Soul Food: Recipes and Reflections from African-American Churches

by Joyce White

When Joyce White moved to New York City from Alabama, she left small-town life behind and landed ajob as a food editor at a major women's magazine. Weekends, however, found her visiting churches in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvestant, looking for a taste of home. Food has long been a part of the spiritual life of African-American churches, and what she found there,


When Joyce White moved to New York City from Alabama, she left small-town life behind and landed ajob as a food editor at a major women's magazine. Weekends, however, found her visiting churches in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvestant, looking for a taste of home. Food has long been a part of the spiritual life of African-American churches, and what she found there, along with what she missed from home, was the comforting blend of cooking and fellowship that feeds both the body and soul.

In this warm and joyful collection, White offers more than 150 recipes for the foods that worshipers look forward to after services, and she captures the spirit of these sociable meals with warm, conversational and occasionally poignant reflections from African-American churchgoers around the United States.

"We don't just come to church service and leave," says a retired nurse who directs hospitality for a large church in Los Angeles. "Many of us stay here half the day. That way we get a chance to rub shoulders and see what is going on or going wrong with each other."

From delicious renditions of classics such as Sugar-Crusted Biscuits to updated favorites such as Black Beans with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, as well as special fare for entertaining and Kwaanza, the pages of Soul Food are alive with the spirit and love of African-American churches — and the terrific food to be found there.

Editorial Reviews

The very best of traditional African-American cooking, as culled from a nationwide survey of favorite family recipes. A special section on holidays includes dishes designed to celebrate Kwanzaa.
New York Daily News
Praise the Lord and pass the cornbread! That's what happens in African-American churches all over our country and now — Rejoice! Oh, rejoice!
Florence Fabricant
The pages of Soul Food are filled with grainy black-and-white snapshots of church suppers and women in aprons tending big pots of greens on the stove. It is not the first African-American cookbook to wander down this memory lane. But unlike many such books, this one is written with an alluring combination of personal attachment and keen observation. With Soul Food, [Joyce White] has captured the legacy of home-style African-American cooking in big city settings and little backwoods congregations...This is a book about loving to cook, eat and share honest food.
Jonell Nash
Church suppers — the comforting blend of traditional dishes and warm fellowship that truly feed our spirits — fill this cookbook by Joyce White. From John Wesley A.M.E. Church in Detroit to Mount Bethel Baptist in Gulfport, Mississippi, White presents our houses of worship and details glorious occasions for breaking bread. The photographs and recipes for heritage dishes such as Chicken Creole and Angel Biscuits will make you want to shout!
Kansas City Star
A tribute to the bodily, as well as the spiritual, sustenance of the African-American church, Soul Food is a culinary tribute to congregations across the country.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Intended to please a congregation of palates, these church-supper recipes possess a simplicity that suits the accompanying stories about their contributors. After sending forth a call for Sunday favorites to churchgoing folk in cities big and small, White, a freelance food writer, received scores of letters from Harlem and Tyler, Tex., and Biloxi, Miss., and Detroit. The responses embrace a range of dishes suitable for kettles, warming trays and big-handled spoons: Pineapple Cornbread; Fried Green Okra; Baked Chicken and Gravy; Salmon Croquettes; Love-Glazed (pineapple juice and brown sugar) Ham; Hush Puppies. Paprika is fairly ubiquitous; a cup of ketchup features in both Barbecued Shrimp and Neat Meatloaf. In the narratives accompanying these 150 recipes, the cooks are presented as busy, generous, hard-working and religiously devoted. One is "a poet, Sunday school teacher, legal secretary and meeting planner." Of another White wonders how she "has time to cook, considering the wide array of church activities and community projects that she is involved in." The book is more notable for its cultural trimmings than for its recipes. Some readers may find themselves longing for the company of just one lazy sinner with a booty of Italian sausage. (Feb.)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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7.37(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.26(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sugar-Crusted Biscuits

Makes 10 to 12 biscuits

We used to joke in my family that Aunt Mary was a sunshine Christian, which meant that she only went to church when the weather was absolutely splendid, and therefore couldn't use the cold or rain as an excuse to stay home. Aunt Mary lived on the Gulf Coast near Biloxi, Mississippi, and whenever she felt like it, she attended the Mercy Seat Baptist Church. The preachers though, enjoyed coming to her house for dinner, because not only was Aunt Mary a superb cook, she was a restless character and free spirit whose soul they were always trying to save.

I used to visit her during summer vacations from school, and often heard her neighbors say (and sometimes out of spite) that she "cooked fancy and talked proper." And sure enough, in the hours before the preacher came to dinner, Aunt Mary would begin to purse her lips and exaggerate the pronunciation of words, as though she was waiting for a theater curtain call.

She would sprinkle a little cinnamon, or grated orange or lemon rind, on the biscuits, and stick the pan into the oven, In a few minutes the kitchen would be perfumed by a toasty aroma that lingered until late into the Sunday afternoon.

Aunt Mary's recipe:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 egg white, well beaten
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Add theshortening and butter. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the vegetable shortening and butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Add the milk and stir the batter lightly with a fork. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board or pastry cloth. Add a little more flour if the dough is sticky. Knead lightly 4 or 5 times.

Roll out or pat the dough into an 8-inch circle, about 1/2-inch thick. Using a 2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter or glass rim dipped in flour, cut the dough into rounds.

Gently reroll scraps and cut again into rounds. Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet, allowing a little space between each biscuit.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little of the beaten egg white. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on the biscuit tops. Set on the lower shelf of the hot oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Chicken Creole

Serves 4

Patricia Butler is an associate minister at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Handsboro, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast. She is also a licensed chaplain and she is just as likely to conduct a Bible study at the local jail as she is at a drug addict's home.

Pat is also a fine cook, and whenever the church holds a barbecue or picnic, she arrives with a covered dish. The food of the Gulf Coast is a mélange of many ethnic influences: Cajun, Creole, African, and European, and it is savory and delicious.

Reverend Butler sends this recipe for a chicken dish made with okra—an indigenous vegetable of Africa.

1 chicken, 3 1/4-pounds
1/2 pound smoked sausage
1 onion
3 to 4 tomatoes
2 to 3 cloves garlic
3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, or
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups chicken broth or Homemade Chicken Stock
1/2 pound fresh or frozen whole okra pods

Cut the chicken into serving pieces: the breast into halves, the legs and thighs separated, plus the wings, for a total of 8 pieces. Rinse the chicken well under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim away any visible fat from the chicken and discard.

Cut the sausage into bite-size pieces. Slice the onion; coarsely chop the tomatoes; and mince the garlic. Chop the fresh thyme or crush the dried herb.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, and brown over medium-high heat. Remove from the pot and brown the remaining chicken the same way, removing when brown.

When all the chicken is browned, add the sausage and sauté 4 or 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Stir in the onion, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and cayenne. Sauté 2 or 3 minutes, stirring.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Add the chicken broth or stock and bring to a boll. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is almost done.

Cut off and discard the woody end tips of the fresh okra. Stir the pods into the pot and cook 20 minutes longer or until the okra is tender and the chicken is done. Serve with rice.

Meet the Author

Joyce White, a contributing food editor for Heart & Soul magazine, also writes regularly about food, health, lifestyles, and travel for a number of publications. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, the Montreal Gazette, and Essence magazine. She has also worked as an associate food editor at Ladies' Home Journal and as a reporter and editor at the New York Daily News. In 1980 she was awarded a Knight-Ridder journalism fellowship at Stanford University. White is a founding member of the New York Wine Writers Circle and has studied at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.

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