At Washington University Dining Services, we are celebrating the African-American regional cuisines that defined our American palate. Look for great food specials, educational information about the monthlong celebration, and cooking demos all month long across campus.
Migration—by choice or by force—moved African-American culinary traditions across the map, using local ingredients to express deep tastes and ancient cooking techniques. As a result, flavorful regional cuisines began to emerge from the Creole Coast, to the Western Range, to the Agricultural South, and to the Northern States.
Learn more about the regional cuisines that defined our American palate at this LINK
The Creole Coast
In the “Creole Coast,” we are reminded that the Gulf and Lowcountry are where African-American Southern foods connect with their Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin roots. Duck and crawfish get incorporated into a very tasty gumbo featuring Carolina gold rice and shrimp and grits made with heirloom grain products from Anson-Mills. The return to more traditional varieties and preparations of Southern grain help set Sweet Home apart from expectations it might be a typical soul food, meat-and-three style eatery. There aren’t many surprises here, but it’s worth noting that regional ingredients and popular edible heirlooms are being put to work in educating the public about African-American foodways. That Black cooks transformed the bounty of the Southern table to last the year round is reflected in the variety of pickles offered—from okra to green tomatoes, and Afro-Southern takes on chow-chow, a type of spicy relish. READ MORE
The Agricultural South
Going to the more familiar “Agricultural South,” we see different contributions amplified. Brunswick Stew, complete with the addition of rabbit, recalls a famous one pot meal claimed by Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, and popular in all three. Tomatoes, lima beans, corn, onions and spices mixed with chicken and fresh game like squirrel—and in this case domestic rabbit—reflect the meals prepared by enslaved Blacks for themselves that then became popular among white people. The stew pot full of this preparation became a staple at southeastern Southern barbecues. READ MORE
The Western Range
The “Western Range” gives us the opportunity to talk about the vanishing attention we give to Africans and African Americans in the shaping of the American West—as pioneers, homesteaders, gold miners, and freedom seekers. Here Black folks put their skills in foraging, hunting, and fishing to the test, learning from and with Native, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo cultures along the way. Not only is there strong evidence that African herding traditions were integrated into the Spanish and Anglo cultures on the range, but by the late 19th century, one third of the American cowboys were of African descent, including a significant number of the cooks on the trail. “Son of a Gun Stew,” here made with more commonly enjoyed meats, was once a junk pot of livers, brains, and other bits of offal highly spiced to make use of every part of the animal. READ MORE
The Northern States
In the “North States,” we see an alternative to the traditional Southern narrative. Pepperpot, a West Indian variation on gumbo with origins on the Guinea Coast of West Africa, makes its appearance in Philadelphia, New York and other Northern cities in colonial times, sold by women hawkers. We also see an ode to Thomas Downing, part of a dynasty of African American restaurateurs in the 18th and 19th centuries who focused on oysters (the “Big Mac” of the 19th century) and seafood. Downing, born into slavery in Chincoteague, Virginia, not only ran the best oyster house in New York, but his oysters were so prized by Queen Victoria she sent him a gold watch. Like many Black caterers, restaurateurs, and chefs, Downing used his wealth and position to fund abolitionist causes. READ MORE