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Soul food: delicious flavors steeped in history and tradition

Soul food: delicious flavors steeped in history and tradition

June is National Soul Food Month, so there’s no better time to highlight the flavorful cuisine that also holds an important place in American history.

Stemming from the rural South, soul food is deeply rooted in African American culinary traditions that trace back several generations. Coined as “soul food” during the Civil Rights movement, the cuisine originated from enslaved people who created delicious meals with ingredients that were available to them, often limited to less-desirable cuts of meat and produce.

This resourcefulness paved the way for a variety of comfort foods we now covet for their mouth-watering flavors. Soul food staples include fried chicken, fried fish, pork, corn bread, collard greens, black-eyed peas, fried okra, turnip greens, yams, banana pudding and more.

Several essential ingredients for soul food dishes are produced here in Virginia, including broiler chickens, which are the state’s top commodity with annual cash receipts of $625 million. And while okra only accounts for a very small portion of Virginia’s overall agricultural production, it is grown on 180 farms across the state.

Pan-fried chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
vegetable oil
prepared chicken breading
gallon zip-top plastic bag

Place a generous amount of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet. Heat the skillet and oil.

Put the chicken pieces and chicken breading in the plastic bag, and shake to coat evenly.

Test the oil by putting a pinch of the breading in the oil to see if the temperature is right. If the oil is hot enough, the breading will bubble immediately.

Once the oil is hot enough, place the chicken in the pan and brown it, turning once to seal the chicken on both sides.

Turn the heat down slightly, and turn twice more. Cook until the chicken is golden brown on the outside, and is cooked to an internal temperature of 165º. The higher the heat you use without burning the chicken, the juicier it will be.

Source: Recipe adapted from Bring it to the Table, the Surprising Southeast Virginia Farm Bureau Women

Fried Okra

10 pods fresh okra
1 cup cornmeal
cooking oil or bacon grease for frying
salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat cooking oil or bacon grease.

Slice okra crosswise approximately ¼- to ⅓" thick. Roll okra slices in cornmeal, and fry in the skillet, turning frequently to avoid scorching. Add more oil or bacon grease as needed. Sprinkle with salt, and fry until okra is evenly browned.

Source: Recipe adapted from Country Treasures from Virginia Farm Bureau Kitchens