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Page H. Onorato: I’ll take a plateful of soul, please |

Page H. Onorato: I’ll take a plateful of soul, please

There’s a sign on Highway 38 in South Carolina, about halfway to Bennettsville that reads “Clair’s Soul Food.” It’s a small sign, looks hand painted and features an arrow pointing down a little country road.


I’ve always been tempted to venture down that road to Clair’s, but I’m always in too much of a hurry to get down to Pawley’s Island to stop.

What would I get to eat if I ordered dinner at Clair’s, I wonder? Is it food good for the soul, food cooked with soul or food cooked by soul sisters and brothers? It’s probably a combination of the three, but it definitely includes things like fried chicken, catfish and hushpuppies, sweet potato pie, collards, turnip greens and black eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, grits and peach cobbler.

Sounds like good old Southern cooking to me. So what’s the difference between soul food and Southern food?

The term sold food was coined in the 1960s, a by-product of the Civil Rights movement. African-American citizens claimed soul food as their own, and it surely developed from the days when the enslaved people were provided with the less expensive and desirable cuts of meat, vegetables and grains.

They learned to make delicious and sustaining dishes with these ingredients. Pigs’ feet were pickled and fried, the head and innards of Mr. Hog were ground into sausage and liver puddin’, the chitlin’s (intestines) were boiled and deep fat fried, greens and dried peas were simmered with hocks and jowls, cornbread was baked on hoes and skillets.

Native Americans contributed to the tradition by teaching the newcomers how to use corn, which became the staple of the South. It was dried and ground into meal or treated with lye and transformed into hominy and grits. Deer, opossums, squirrels and rabbits, fish, wild berries and nuts became part of the cuisine.

Soul means different things to different people. We learned to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano as children, using two fingers. We mooned over soul music, the combination of gospel, rhythm and blues and jazz. Remember Percy Sledge and “When a Man Loves a Woman” and The Drifter’s “Under the Boardwalk?” We longed for the day when we’d find a soul mate.

We say “Bless you” when somebody sneezes because of the old belief that when a person sneezes, his soul leaves his body. Some of our grannies said, “Well, bless my soul” when they heard something surprising. Our moms exclaimed over the price of groceries, “I don’t know how we’re going to keep body and soul together.”

Some say animals don’t have souls, but those of us who’ve had a Joey or a Ginger or an Old Yeller know differently. Besides, have you ever look deep into your dog’s eyes? You know that a soul resides in there.

But soul food is something else. Some folks say it isn’t Southern, that it developed when good old home cooking was taken to points north and became appreciated by those other that folk lucky enough to be born this side of the Mason-Dixon line. There’s an old saying about it, however that goes, “All Southern cooking isn’t soul food, but all soul food is Southern cooking.

Just for fun, here’s a simple little quiz as to what’s considered by most to be soul and what’s not. Answer yes if is it soul, no if it’s not.

1. Hoppin’ John 2. Brunswick stew 3. Country captain 4. Shrimp and grits 5. Sweet potato pie 6. Tomato aspic 7. Ambrosia 8. Fried okra 9. Macaroni and cheese 10. Bananas Foster 11. Okra and tomatoes 12. Cornbread 13. Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding 14. Fried catfish 15. Barbequed ribs.

(1-yes, 2-no, 3-no, 4-yes, 5-yes. 6-no, 7-no, 8-yes, 9-yes, 10-no, 11-yes, 12-yes, 13-no, 14-yes, 15-yes.)

Actually, it doesn’t much matter which is which. Just give me a plateful of all of it, please, and I won’t argue.

Page H. Onorato  is a retired teacher.

Category: Skillets  Tags: ,  Comments off
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