The term “soul food” was created in 1962, used in a poem by Amiri Baraka in defense of critics who claimed African Americans had no unique cuisine. Baraka, of course, rejected this notion and author Dave Hoekstra further defines and celebrates soul food in his new book, “The People’s Place: Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences from the CivilRights Era to Today” (Chicago Review Press).
To Hoekstra, “Soul food is love. Soul food is a way to find identity within African American communities (not unlike soul music)."
Soul food was also the mortar that brought people together and helped form a movement, whether it was Freedom Riders receiving a meal from Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans or the Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Miss., where Medgar Evans worked upstairs and blues guitarist Elmore James was a regular visitor.
The book contains history of these restaurants — from New Orleans up to Chicago and Detroit and over to the East Coast — but also oral histories of desegregation, Jim Crow laws and fighting for equal rights. You’ll hear James Meredith describing integrating Ole Miss and his fight for justice ever since, the Rev. Jesse Jackson discussing enjoying soul food during the Civil Rights Movement and the experiences of modern-day celebrities such as Chaka Khan and Pres. Barack Obama (who put Tabasco in Chase’s gumbo and was scolded for it).
There are recipes, and I’ve included one here, but choose this book for its valuable history lessons, culinary history of a people and the value of a good meal creating community. As musician Sam Moore declared, "Yum and a slice of American history with a side of cultural preservation thanks to Dave Hoekstra."
In addition to writing books and a former columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times, Hoekstra is the host of the radio program "Nocturnal Journal with Dave Hoekstra" on WGN-720 AM.
Creole Sausage Stuffed Tomatoes
From Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, New Orleans
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound pork sausage
1/2 pound Creole hot sausage (Chaurice)
1/4 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1 clove garlic (mashed and chopped)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Directions: Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cut top from tomatoes and remove pulp. In a skillet, place a tablespoon of butter; add pork and Creole sausage. Mix meats together well while cooking (5 minutes). Add onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, salt, parsley, thyme, and cayenne pepper to the tomato pulp. Mix the ingredients and let cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Tighten the mixture with the bread crumbs. Stuff tomatoes with sausage stuffing and sprinkle tops with remaining bread crumbs and dot with butter. Bake for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook or tomatoes will fall.
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.