Cooking as Racial, Cultural, and Religious History #BlackHistoryMonth

For me, cooking and entertaining is performance art. Every time I plan a party, event, or create a menu for my family, I am engaging in a performance that is a reenactment of what the woman in my family did before me. For some of these women the meals prepared were elaborate and appealed to a sophisticated palate, while for other women the meals met a basic necessity- to feed their families. I am blessed that my experience with cooking and entertaining often comes out of a place of surplus. My menus are rarely restricted by cost, although I’m no Ina Garten- flying in the best of the best ingredients on my private plane (smile). I always cook more than enough food, never preparing less than enough to accommodate a family of 6 because “[you] should always have enough in case a friend or someone hungry stops by and so that your guests don’t feel like an imposition”. This is a lesson I learned from my grandmother.

My mother has often said that I remind her of her great grandmother. Although I never met her, I’ve heard that I cook in a similar fashion as she did. My maternal great great grandmother was a Cape Verdian woman, who was the eldest daughter of 8 children. According to our family historian, my great great grandmother loved greens and had the most beautiful hair.

My maternal great great grandmother (my mother's mother's grandmother), Ada.

My maternal great great grandmother (my mother’s mother’s grandmother), Ada.

This past Thanksgiving I actually think that I embodied her as I was preparing my collard greens for cooking. Let me set the scene. I purchased 8 large bunches of collard greens from the local Farmer’s market. When I got them home I was a little overwhelmed because of their size. I said a quick prayer and then this happened…

 

I think that the video above exhibits my performance of cultural memory through cooking. Arguably, this performance pays homage to my familial history, which is my #BlackHistory I see cooking as well as this blog as a medium for sharing my familial, cultural, and community’s narratives with the public. Surely, some of these narratives are intimate, but the best way to better understand a race, culture, or community is through their food. Food, from what items are used to how it’s prepared and served can reveal so much about a people. The food alone allows the preparer to transmit their knowledge history and experiences to others.

My maternal grandmother recently transitioned into complete spirit form on New Year’s Day. Before we got the news that she passed, I began cooking my New Year’s Day meal. Prior to receiving the phone call my menu was rather small because I was tired. As soon as I found out that she passed I was re energized and cooked, and cooked, and cooked.

My maternal grandmother- Kathryn "Kitty" Brown Lee

My maternal grandmother- Kathryn “Kitty” Brown Lee (November 4, 1930- January 1, 2015)

Although my maternal grandmother wasn’t a cook, she was an entertaining and world traveler living in Ghana and traveling all over the greater and lesser Antilles and Europe; she was a beautiful singer, pianist, and socialite. She was a community activist. She was a founding member of the Suburbanites. The Suburbanites were a civic and social club committed to enhancing the lives of Akron’s (Ohio) residents. In this same spirit, I brought out cooking items that she had brought back with her from her many travels around the world and utilized when entertaining her club members. I know that each time that I cook or serve meals using the items that she has given me that I am sharing a piece of her with those who dine at my table and break bread with me. I have her china and will share photos of that with you when I present my spring tablescape.

Cooking is essentially performance art: the way I blend my spices, the way that I stand over the stove with my left hand on my hip, the way I hold a knife, the prayers/mantras I recite while cooking,  the music I listen/dance to while cooking, etc is all a part of the performance of cooking.  The kitchen is my stage, I thank you for allowing me to share myself and my familial traditions with you through every blog post liked, party attended, every bite eaten, and every spoon licked.

The recipes posted here and the meals prepared in my home are filled with love and soul. I pray that they minister to your spirit and soul in the same manner that they minister to me in their preparation. I am sharing with you my cultural, racial, and religious heritage with each recipe…may you be blessed.

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2 thoughts on “Cooking as Racial, Cultural, and Religious History #BlackHistoryMonth

  1. Hi Lauryn! I absolutely love reading your writings! It is such a blessing to have such an amazing gift that is universally pleasing (I love GOOD food!)…. Please keep writing and sharing your journey and prayerfully I’ll get up enough courage to try one of your recipes!

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